Education on the Edge

Day 209

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 21: Education on the Edge

This model wasn’t based on research or best practices; two terms we hear often in education circles. Not that either are not important, but to create real change, do we fix what’s broken, or as in the quote at the beginning of this story suggests, do we create something new for research to base findings on and mold best practices after?

One thing that was certain, was that Ivor Memorial High was not closed based on research or best practices, so Jack thought, why should its resurgence? IMH wasn’t given enough time to do any meaningful analysis on, nor the opportunity to garner proper attention to its successes.

Jack often found mention of public education’s need for substancial innovation in texts he read. He had come to the conclusion that to innovate, education delivery had to be re-imagined from the ground up; from scratch. Everyone from the onset had to believe in the mission, vision, and values. They must be in this for the love of teaching, community, their city, children, and people in general. No unions. No politics. No hierarchy of position for that matter; equal partners from youth to adults of varying abilities and backgrounds, for the social good of social education. Once again not in taking a side to the benefits of politics, unions, or educational hierarchies, but merely to begin this particular model as grounded in our local community and its specific needs as possible.

With four years under his belt as a Trustee, Jack had been exposed to a lot in education circles. He knew he had hardly touched the surface in that short a time frame, but he had learned enough about what occupied his thoughts most – vulnerable, disengaged students, decisions being made with little to know research behind them, and simply having been witness to a beloved local model that deserved a second chance, to know that this was what he wanted to focus his educational interests on.

Every so often Jack would bring up going private at conferences or in general conversations with those in education, but as much as people loved to grumble and talk about the change that was needed, the idea of anything outside of Public Education seemed to be quickly shot down. Mention of some bad private models, and the logistics behind offering a pay model for a demographic that in large part couldn’t pay to have their kids attend K-12 programming were all good arguments. It’s exactly where Jack took the conversation when mention of going private with IMH was first tabled all those years ago. Especially in light of the social economical challenges many of these families faced and for many generations.

Jack didn’t blame people for shutting down any conversation about going private. Instead, he seen it as a challenge. There were many great aspects of Public Education. He’d seen so many examples first hand from visiting classrooms, attending Parent Council and community meetings, Gala’s celebrating student success, and talking to educators from Educational Assistants, to Principals, Superintendants of Education and Directors. Examples of success were on Facebook, Twitter, and many other social and traditional media outlets. The problem was that failures, with the best intentions for success, were really not getting the air time they deserved.

At the end of one Board meeting each month, the Director and Chair of the Board took a few moments to talk about successes from around the district. One meeting, Jack felt the need to speak up. Not that he didn’t love hearing about the wonderful and inspiring success stories because he did. However, there was a different reality being written all over the City that very few were aware of which was highly unfortunate because those stories were critical to the bigger picture of Public Education.

“Mr. Director, through the Chair, first I wanted to say that I really enjoy these stories of our successes. It’s somewhat comforting knowing that we are having a positive impact on so many of our staff and students from all walks of life and varying abilities across this Board. My concern however, is that we often talk about the importance of our students seeing themselves reflected in their education, but I fear there is a significant cohort who do not find their experiences within the walls of our educational facilities, reflected in these celebrations. Not that I want us to discontinue highlighting the positive, but I would also like us to reflect on our many challenges and discuss what we are doing every day to tackle these barriers. There are likely thousands of students and staff for that matter, that are not reaching their full potential and who do not see their reflection in the same mirrors you or I reflect in each day. Mr. Director, through the Chair, I would like us to take this time each month to also recognize this; to highlight that we care, we are listening, and to acknowledge that addressing our challenges is equally as important as recognizing our successes.”

Nothing ever came from that plea. Well, not nothing or we perhaps wouldn’t be where we are today, however every time the Director and Chair spoke of success, Jack recalled that speech and internally, thought about all of the phone calls, emails, and social media posts he had read over the course of that month. He hoped that others around the Boardroom whether it be Trustee, staff, or those in the audience or watching the Livestream feed of their meetings, thought about their own local challenges during those moments too.

Jack wasn’t looking to go Turbo, but he made a promise to advocate for IMH students and staff when lobbying to be their elected official. He had fought hard for both the students and staff, but now he not only wanted to make good on his word, he knew with every inch of his being that IMH must exist again but in a format drastically opposite to that which initiated IMH’s demise. Not out of spite or to prove anything to anyone, but because it was the right thing to do.

There were too many staff and students that didn’t find themselves reflected in our neighborhood schools so why were we fighting change and shutting down conversations about models outside of that with which has always existed and for the most part, all we know and understand?

From that first conversation Jack had with a teacher about going private, he knew that that was a word – or anything of similar meaning, he would not use to describe this new model of school. For one, this wasn’t a private school. It wasn’t not a ‘public’ school either, but it also wasn’t technically free. Is anything really?

This was Education on the Edge. Throw out everything you know, and be open to letting your imagination let in everything that you don’t.

Three Tiers

Day 193

Nipa_Hut
Sample Nipa Hut (or Kamalig or Bahay Kubo), an icon of Filipino rural culture.

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 20: Three Tiers

Before visions of buying schools began floating around his always whirling cranium, Jack had long dreamed of being a business owner himself one day. In fact, he had started up a couple of companies in his youth – as in registering a business name but not going much further than that.

There was of course SellYourself.ca. He also registered his own name in an attempt to do some computer consulting which he did do in his spare time for a couple of years – mostly to family, friends, and neighbors.

In his early twenties, jack was going to design greeting cards with a Pilipino co-worker/friend. They called the business NIPA (a type of stilt house indigenous to the cultures of the Philippines) Graphics. They had a logo and did create and print a few designs, but nothing ever really transpired.

Jack didn’t know anything about running a business then and still didn’t before finally jumping in with both feet mid-forties, pulling others feet in along with him.

That fear of leaving a job and starting a business and the mystery of business ownership, didn’t stop Jack from thinking about these dreams on and off the entire 25 plus years since his adulthood began. Who was he kidding? If he really thought back, he spent a great deal of time as a youth reading in depth about the likes of the Warner Brothers, Disney’s, and Fleischer brothers, which surely planted those early dreams of becoming an entrepreneur. The proof was now on this children’s bookshelves.

If there was one thing Jack knew with half of his life now having passed him by, it was that he didn’t want future generations of kids including his own, feeling stuck and scared like this all of their lives. Dreams of youth are nothing more than a lifetime of could have been’s without the tools to if nothing more, explore in some fashion that with which the heart desires. Especially something that carries over decades and isn’t just some passing fashion.

After his grandfather passed away, Jack thought a lot about starting a foundation in honor of his grandfather. Some lengthy discussions with a family member and internet research on how to start a foundation ensued. A URL with his grandfather’s name (Arvid Andersen), was purchased as well but he starting thinking of all the amazing things his own parents had accomplished throughout their lives and determined that when it did come time to start a charity, that he would find a way to recognize all of them. Sure, they didn’t fight in World War II, survive the Great Depression, or travel the world, but their experiences were fascinating and important and what they had done for their children, friends and extended family, was worthy and inspiring of honor.

When Jack realized that in order to bring back IMH, that he was going to have to not only lead the charge, but he had do so outside of public educations umbrella, he knew he wanted to marry everything; The dreams of business, the desire to open a foundation, and now offering alternative education. How to do it seemed to somehow already have a path carved in his imagination but no words or imagery could pull it out and onto paper as easily or as vividly.

Vividly. It wasn’t really. It wasn’t a dream Jack awoke from one night and could easily write it down as if a novel unraveling from the tip of his pen, but it was there in chunks. Three neat little bubbles like thought clouds as he stared into space. The problem was that the individual clouds had not been fully developed plans either. Sure, many notes and thoughts had continued to enter his thoughts since he first dreamed of being a part of such things, but neither was a business plan awaiting funding or partnerships. They were just dreams.

Maybe three tiers was a crowd, but Jack liked crowds. They exhausted the introvert in him but so did the idea of running any one of these entities never mind all at once. Jack laughed picturing a book he used to read to his two girls. “Dream Big Pig.”

Jack looked over at a recently purchased Hilarious House of Frightenstein album. The Markowitz brothers and their friends once had a dream. Now it’s the longest running kids television show in Canadian history. They put the right roster together. That was the key. Then they went out, took a leap of faith, and did it.

Deep breath.

You’re not doing this alone. You have no intention of doing this alone and never have. You’ve long dreamed of being a part of a team again; One full of so much passion and devotion for the game and not the prize.

Education. Enterprise. Philanthropy.

Three tiers.

Hip, hip ….

Little bitty, ’bout Jack & Cheyenne

Day 174

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Jack and Cheyenne (but not really)

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 19: Little bitty, ’bout Jack & Cheyenne

Jack and Cheyenne met 6 months into Jack’s first term as an elected official, in the middle of his last ditch effort to reverse the decisions to close IMH.

Jack shared equal access to his two girls. He had been separated for 3 years when he and Cheyenne met. That time together had enabled him and his daughters to create a very strong bond between them. Jack found the kid inside. He found patience, determination, and will. Most of all, he found the dad he longed to be and the father he always knew was within him.

Jack had dated a little bit over those years but for the most part it was just the three of them until that Spring of ‘15.

Cheyenne was a single mom who had full custody of her daughter. They had been on their own since her child was 2. Cheyenne was a very successful local manager of a not-for profit and involved in fundraising events when Jack stumbled across her social media profile.

The first connections were really no more than two people building their social  networks, and engaging with like-minded individuals. A month after that first connection however, after many messages back and forth, the two met for the first time over dinner.

They talked for hours about their lives, their work, passions, family, and of course, mostly their children. Jack’s girls, were 8 and 6, and Cheyenne’s daughter was 7.

From that first night, the two were inseparable.

When their kids finally met, at an Annie sing along at a local community theatre, it was also love at first site for the three clowns. They ran around the theater, up onto the stage, through the aisles, and joked around and laughed well into the night in the streets outside the show.

The girls had their troubles over the years as siblings do, but it was always evident when push came to shove (literally), that the occasional cat fight was not something they ever wanted to get in the way of them all being family.

Cheyenne was Jack’s cheerleader – all of their biggest boosters. She was constantly lifting all the girls up, complimenting them and when it came to Jack and his dreams and goals, she was quick to share them with anyone and everyone with great pride and genuine belief.

When Cheyenne believed in something, she would stop at nothing to ensure it got the credit, time, and exposure it deserved. The year before Jack and Chy (shy) met, he had started a little community event for his children after he realized he wasn’t going to be able to spend Halloween with them for the first time. He called it an alternate Halloween that happened a week before the actual holiday, which consisted of a gathering in the park with games earlier in the evening, followed by actual trick-or-treating through the neighborhood at participating homes. That first year seen about 20 kids and a dozen or so participating homes but by the fourth year, the event had ballooned to 250 kids, 40 participating homes, insurance, permits, bouncy castles and so much more.

It was all her. A man is only as good as those he surrounds himself with and Cheyenne was a big influence in all of their belief in themselves. She made Jack stronger. Made him feel like he could conquer anything and everything – including the world which is what this project often felt like. It was a substantial endeavor but somehow she made it feel small – manageable.

From the moment Jack first mentioned the idea for the school and its related entities, Cheyenne was iN. She had questions. She was also Jack’s best critic, but not out of disbelief. On the contrary, she pushed him hard which in turn, helped him strengthen, expand on, and better clarify his vision.

To Jack, Cheyenne was this sweet, giving, forgiving, connector. She was a natural networker in all aspects of her life. Before the idea of the school had even been floated, Cheyenne was making many valuable and sincere community connections. She literally connected people in her full time role, and all those that surrounded Chy benefited holistically from her natural instinct to want to help and the hard work she tirelessly put in behind the scenes. Cheyenne made sure that those she felt needed to get together to achieve like-minded goals, from finding a job/an employee to making a dream come true, met.

One day early on in the project, Jack thought to himself, ‘would I be here today attempting to achieve such a lofty endeavor, had Cheyenne not come into our lives?’. The answer was a resounding no. Chy added so much to their lives. She brought this peace. An understanding and patience with him, his girls, and everything life threw at them – which was a lot. Somehow after all these years together, she was still there by all of their sides. Sometimes she looked a little beaten down, but she still found a way to look at Jack with an adoring love. She would cock her head slightly, do this thing with her lips, and stare so innocently and child like his way.

There were many days where Jack wondered why Chy had stuck around as long as she had. They had been through so much in a relatively short time, but he knew by now that her love was unwavering. He trusted her love for all of them and her pure, and dedicated commitment to being there through everything and anything. There was no doubt in his mind that this woman’s heart was one he could always count on.

Divorce had taught Jack that he didn’t need anyone. It allowed him to see what a great father he was, and that he could do anything he set his mind to surrounded by the right people. Now that he had Cheyenne by his side, he also knew that even though he could survive on his own, he no longer wanted to. Cheyenne was the final romantic path for Jack. It took 40 plus years, but now looking back through everything life had thrown in his way, Chy was worth every obstacle. Every heartache. Every tear.

Jack and Cheyenne. Two Canadian kids doin’ the best they can.

The Stories Data Tell

Day 160

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 18: The Stories Data Tell

Data tells a story. The dangers of data of course, is that it can tell whatever story you want it to.

Data can be manipulated. This was true in the case against Ivor Memorial and its value among the Board’s network of schools.

For one, it’s capacity as a vocational school was 550 pupil places. At 300 students, 55% utilization doesn’t look good to the Ministry or a local board. That alone, has school closures graffitied all over it.

With much smaller class sizes however, the school was technically at capacity. That didn’t matter to the Ministry however. It’s capacity model was one size fits like inclusion itself. The board already had one remaining facility in its network of schools for low functioning students with such a small population, that the ministry wouldn’t fund a principal for the school.

Second on the lineup of strikes against IMH, was low graduation rates. There were many factors in this category swaying their numbers to the side of closure.

First, many students found their way to IMH from other high schools in the district. This meant that graduation credit was tied to the school in which the student started their secondary education – even if that meant other Boards.

The third factor in these faulty numbers was that many IMH students were guaranteed a place in the system until they were 21, meaning they would fall out of range of graduation rates based on a four year cohort.

The fourth item as it related to grad rates, was hidden from any reports the ministry collected. It was about a sense of belonging. Staying in school and being around positive influences. At least gaining life skills, making new friendships, and feeling important enough to be treated with patience, kindness, and love. How did graduation rates tell the story of the number of students that simply stuck it out for four to eight years even after battling day in and day out the first 10 years of their elementary education?

As well, students with IEP’s writing standardized tests affects any schools scores, never mind a school that is completely geared to these students. You didn’t want to get Jack started on this waste of public funds, especially how it wrongfully and blindly labeled a school like Ivor Memorial. The Fraser Institute used these test score results to ghettoize schools and entire communities. Data doesn’t highlight the many wonderful school and community programs behind the scenes.

Lastly, the board of education didn’t hold IMH in any regard. It should have been a beacon. A flagship for special education training and highlighting what personal inclusion looks like. People had to find the school on their own most often when it should have been a facility the board was proud of for how it changed the lives of its students and their families. Heck, for how it changed the lives of its staff and the many volunteers too. The entire city should have known about this school and held it in the same high regards. Jack himself only learned about Ivor Memorial and what it had come to represent, when the decision to close it had already been made.

The success of this school went so far beyond numbers. When you value a car, you are looking at a guestimated number based on age and mileage but if that car was well maintained, technically it’s worth more. Were those highway miles? Was it oil sprayed? Was it constantly towing a large trailer or moving heavy loads? At least with a car you are comparing the same model vehicle when you are generalizing it’s worth. With IMH, they were comparing a minivan to a Cadillac. Both have their value but a family of four and a young doctor are going to have different evaluations of these vehicles and at different times in their lives.

Jack was great at math. It was always a strong point of his which continued into his career managing digital information and building databases. He knew the power of data and the many ways you could manipulate it. He himself had written many data stories over the years, so seeing information negatively shaped to justify closing a school that didn’t fit into the ambiguous ministry definition of inclusion angered, changed, and inspired jack.

The truth was, there was no data on IMH. This is both because the local board never planned for the school to become what it’s last principal and staff formed it into, and because Board staff didn’t understand it, see any value in it, or wanted it to continue.

There is of course that data that lay between the 1’s and 0’s. Hidden to only those deeply impacted by that with which we try to extract numbers from. Not unlike a great novel leaving much to the imagination, the story of the Ivor Memorial students was really only truly known to those that lived it, and those who took enough time to genuinely listen to what wasn’t easily visible, audible or tangible to those so tangled in political and  corporate edubabble.

The story that data will tell of these IMH students is one that will take a lifetime to formulate. Jack already knew how it would end. So many did. Four years out and the students and staff still talked so fondly of their experience at Ivor Memorial. If his own experiences and the love he still fostered for his own high school was any indicator, Jack knew the result of IMH’s data story would be the same. One of great fondness and admiration for all of those who were touched by that school from the moment it had a purpose instead of a place where misfit staff and students were cast. That’s the data that truly matters where education is concerned.

Math is extremely important. Especially how it empowers us with the tools to tell the other side of the story that the data you’ve been given so carefully omits.

Although it was criminal how IMH met its demise, it was for a good reason. That reason is why Jack (why everyone) was here today.

IMH could have never truly been what it needed and deserved to be the way the system was modeled then.

The time and climate was now ripe for Ivor Memorial’s rebirth. The reality post-IMH’s story was telling was increasing suspensions and expulsions, more students transitioning to alternative learning plans outside of mainstream schools, and new generations of students slipping through educations cracks without a choice like IMH to get them excited about education again.

The ministry and the local board had their shot to get it right. Jack and company were now taking education into their own hands.

Sideways

Day 134

Sideways 

Pablo Picasso was quoted as saying, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

The beginning of this tale is rather silly. I’m not apologizing. I am just giving you a heads up. If you’ve lost your funny, I might lose you at ‘I’m a girl’, while writing in an English accent.

The underlying purpose of this project is of course anything but silly. Having said that, the end goal is that creativity will absolutely take the driver’s seat through the visioning, planning, implementation, and life cycle of this idea which we hope is infinite.

Education as a whole, stole my creativity. It shut down my funny. So, to borrow a line from U2, we’re stealing it back.

Bear with me as I release years of stymied humor. Allow my inner child to be free, creative, witty, emotional, random and full of wonder.

I don’t want you to take me seriously. I want you to come laugh with me – or better yet at me. Be free. Find that thwarted creative. Discover the wonder that was once alive and thriving within that little boy, girl, kangaroo, or all of the above in you.

Life is serious enough. This project is serious enough. We’re serious enough in our adult, caregiver, employee, employer roles.

I know you are iN. I can smell your curiosity through your screen. Or you’re sitting too close and that’s pastrami I just caught a whiff of. Ew. Here’s a virtual mint.

The Beginning

Day 125

Part 2 – True Adventures Yet To Be Lived

Chapter 17: The Beginning

The original disheartened admission of the need for a school on the fringes of public ed, dedicated to children and youth with varying needs, was certainly not Jack’s brainchild.

Jack spent three years advocating for the Ministry and local Boards to drive both feet into the air brakes of their misguided inclusion train, and reverse decisions to close facilities offering these inspiring, alternative settings. He ran in the Municipal election on mostly that premise, won, and the first task he tackled was just that.

He  desperately attempted to help his new colleagues see their need to reconsider. Countless emails were sent over many weeks. Images were attached, of the inclusion everyone understood – a Down syndrome cheerleader, in contrast with a snapshot of the last graduating class of of the student body he was advocating for. The children looked no different than any other except each child had a learning disability. Lastly, Jack cited research based on the other side of the discussion, and advice from regarded professionals in the field of special education warning against forced inclusion.

This was the story that could not have been shared with Trustees the previous term, for if they had known of works similar to James Kauffman M., ED. and Daniel Hallahan, P., ED., had they followed stories from neighboring boards and how when faced with a similar dilemma, they proudly cited the importances of these choices and kept one school open. Had decision-makers been encouraged to look at larger metropolises like Harbour City, with 40 some odd alternative schools, their decision to close both schools serving these students would have very likely been different.

Jack realized very early on in this new role, just how hard reversing a political decision was.

Although Jack failed to change the previous Board’s vote, that school was something he often referenced in public and private discussions. Sometimes a bit off topic, sometimes while choking up,  holding back a tear, and from time to time, sometimes with a little anger and frustration in his voice.  He did so respectively, but although he was more or less encouraged to realize this type of facility would not return to their network of schools, Jack wasn’t someone who gave up on the issues he felt very strongly about.

Even though Jack was new to education and his political role, the longer he served and the more he learned about the inner workings of publicly funded education, the more he remembered those pre-election mentions of education on the edge. Not even two years in, Jack found himself becoming increasinging aware of the direction this dream of an alternative school needed to move in.

~

This entire story began with a newspaper article. A few of them actually.  Jack had lived in Waterfall City his entire life, had been educated under this same Board, but yet new nothing about  Ivor ‘The Driver’ Memorial High School (IMH). Suddenly, this school was frequently being discussed in local mainstream and indi media circles.

IMH as it turned out, had been among many in Waterfall City that once focused on vocational programming. Jack would even later learn that his uncle Melvin, who himself had a learning disability of type unknown to the family, had attended IMH. Other uncles had also graduated from vocational schools and gone on to do very well for themselves in fact.

In recent years however, leading up to its closing, IMH, through the leadership of its principle and dedicated staff, had evolved into a school where primarily students with various challenges attended.

Jack had this growing urge to drop into IMH to see for himself, what it was all about. That wasn’t an easy task for a quiet, introverted artist but one day early fall, he did just that. He sent the Principal a message, citing recent articles read and conversations he had had with staff he knew from the school, and within a week, through the Principles invitation, found himself at their parent council meeting.

The dynamics were polar opposite to parent council meetings Jack had attended at his girls schools. From advocating for an audio system or grade 8 trips, to pure survival, the contrast between a standard community school, and IMH, was daunting.

You see, IMH had been voted to close, along with its sister school across the city for students with more mild intellectual needs. IMH itself, was nothing to look at. Obviously in desperate need of repair but that wasn’t of concern to staff, students, or families. They loved this school and everything it represented.

This was the first parent council formed at Ivor Memorial in some 10 years, and they were here to fight alongside the students who had equally been inspired by the the announcement of their schools closure, to take to protesting on school and City Hall grounds.

For years these students and their families had fumbled through mainstream education, until finally finding their way to IMH – sometimes by chance, sometimes through hoops. Obviously the decision to close had been on executive minds for sometime, as they tried to limit it’s enrollment numbers.

That first October meeting, Jack found himself leaving as a community representative on Parent Council.  He had felt an instant connection with this group, but couldn’t put a finger on why it had immediately been so strong. When he had his first tour of the facility during school hours a couple of weeks later, the kindred relationships between staff, students, and the families all made it very clear why Jack had felt an instant draw to IMH before he had even stepped in through those front doors.

It was unique in so many ways, from it’s community mentorship program, breakfast clubs sponsored by the local professional hockey team, music playing in the hallways over the PA system between classes, signs everywhere helping the students navigate the building, dogs wondering the halls with their own staff ID, a greenhouse, smaller staff to student ratios, and some 200 partnerships throughout the City.

The tour guide, an extremely passionate IMH educator, often found herself choking up discussing the love for her school and her students. With each staff member we met, the adoration and advocacy of the need for this special space, dug deeper into Jack’s psyche. Who was Jack kidding. They had him at dogs, reminding him of an early 20’s employer where the owner’s pooches roamed the office freely, stopping by occasionally for a pet.

What really caught Jack’s attention most during his tour of IMH, was the flow of students who came into Principal Pat Seaton’s office, just to say hi. He was well regarded, and the mutual respect he had for his students was obvious. Where other kids, including Jack as a teen, avoided the office, this was a safe place throughout the day for many. One student even had explicit language on his hat (his hat), but it wasn’t something of focus. Neither was language in general either it seemed. Discouraged, but not a game changer among the broader picture.

As Jack was leaving, a couple of former students had popped in for a visit. They missed their school. They missed their principal. Jack stepped back and watched this interaction for a bit, before tapping Pat on the shoulder to say his goodbyes.

“We’ll be in touch, Pat.”

‘Thanks for coming, Jack. We’ll see you at next parent council.”

Jack hadn’t felt this included – this at home, for a long time. He was now a member of this school and he was honored.

He was never the same after that day. He later visited the school to sit in on classes from english and construction, to their composite class. He watched how staff patiently and with great compassion, took turns dealing with escalating student behavior like it was just a normal and very human part of their day. How didn’t office educator’s get this?

In the new year, now an official Trustee candidate, Jack attended the school for a discussion between the Board’s Director, standing Trustee, staff, students, families, and community members, moderated and hosted by a local neighborhood action group. So many in the community had joined the cause to save this school and this program, and this was the Boards attempt to explain how these students and future generations, would be okay under their new full inclusion model.

In Jack’s hand, as he arrived and took a seat in the front row of the IMH gymnasium, was a copy of a book called the Illusion of Full Inclusion (Kauffman/Hallahan). Ironically, it had just arrived that day so Jack brought it and put it on the chair next to him.

Although the moderator kept the meeting civil, neither speaker was able to breath comfort into the hearts and minds of anyone in the room, including IMH Student Council President Will (Megaphone) Martin. With megaphone in hand, Will and his fellow students, who had been quiet throughout, made sure it was known at one point that they would never give up on their fight to save the school that had changed their lives.

A petition of over 1000 signatures asking to preserve the school was presented at the meeting, which included advice from many educators and those who worked with these students in communities across Canada. It meant nothing.

The remaining months were spent reading Kauffman and Hallahan, knocking on doors in an effort to represent IMH in the political arena, and attending rallies.  Will Martin was inspiring people all across the city with his valiant and persistent efforts to make sure everyone and anyone knew about their cause, and why it was important to overturn a decision to close a school nobody but it’s staff and students, truly understood.

In late spring, the school held its annual talent show. It was the perfect example of why having an entire school for these students, rather than a handful of small alternative programs spread throughout the city, was an important option to have. These students would have never taken part in anything like this at their home schools. Jack had a tear in his eyes throughout most of the remarkable performances. These students were amazing. Inspiring. Resilient. They were attending dances, had friends (including girlfriends or boyfriends), for the first time. They were truly included. It was at this moment, where Jack fully understood just how personal inclusion was.

Jack attended a conference many years later where a speaker stated, in talking about these very options in education, that “When everyone is different, nobody is different.” This school exemplified this.

June seen the last ever graduating class of IMH walk across the stage. It was a packed auditorium, and an extremely emotional event. The students all looked sharp. Many were the first to graduate high school in their families, and some were the first to enter into post secondary studies.  These students stayed in school and didn’t just get by, they thrived and enjoyed every last minute of the latter part of their educational journeys. School had not been a great experience until IMH. That alone was worth its weight in ministry funding.

Now, it was all over. The halls silent. The Canadian flag standing guard over the echoes of 50 years of IMH grads, including Jacks’ late uncle Mel. The building, soon to be ashes alongside the program that had so majestically and holistically grown out of nothing – no thanks to any executive design.

The students watched in anguish, as the school was brought to rubble later that same year. It’s a hard enough thing for anyone to watch, nevermind students with special needs wondering why someone would close the first school they had truly found a home within.

What did this say about their value and place in society?

Roads Not Travelled

Day 67

Part 1 – Who am I?  But not totally.

Chapter 13: Roads Not Travelled

It’s been said that travelling makes a great leader. I believe international travel is what’s assumed here. Maybe one day I’ll leave this continent beyond ascending/descending back into somewhere North America.

Like papers, travel can also be looked at in an alternative light as well. Not that I don’t think there is great value and learning in seeing the world first hand and not via blurred faces in Google Streetview. I am not questioning world travels value. I may not have seen the world, but I have had many great adventures none the less.

I dream of seeing Denmark first. Having had a grandfather born in Odense – the home of Hans Christian Anderson as we were often reminded, and listening to his stories of home made me want to visit these roots first. England would be my second choice for both the magic in the accent, and the fact that I am not only two parts English, we have close family friends from England. Their influence has left a long-standing desire to venture to these lands.

Africa, Hawaii, Scotland (because of my paternal lineage), and Mexico are also up there. I would however, like to meet the natives while I travel like my grandfather always made a point to. He was never content to lump around a resort in a speedo downing Corona’s until he passed out in the baking hot sun. “I’ll thank you for one but not another”, was my grandfather’s alcohol modo. He made a point to explore and make connections with the locals on all of his travels. These experiences made his stories come across as a lived adventure rather than an all expense list of resorts he’d stumbled around through for a week.

I’ve seen more of the United States than I have Canada. Other than various Ontario destinations, numerous trips to Quebec or a one night adventure in Alberta, there’s so much I want to explore here at home.

I am very lucky in both my jobs to work with a very diverse group, so there has been a lot of learning about different cultures worldwide. Seeing firsthand is feeling the true spirit, struggle, and cultural differences I know, but there is so much to learn, appreciate and gain from our multicultural neighborhoods. Although historically our diversity has been very white European in our town, the past 40 years have really changed our landscape for the better.

I have walked the runway in Model search America, travelled around California for 9 days mostly on my own during a wild mid-twenties adventure, travelled a bit with sport, have worked many jobs since a child from paper boy and referee, to car polisher, warehouse hand, computer-aided designer and of course, elected official. I’ve driven to places like Boston and Montreal myself in pursuit of a good baseball game, saved an 80 year old sports tradition, been engaged, married, divorced, had children, fallen in and out of love, have had my heartbroken, cried on the floor of an emergency vet saying goodbye to a dear friend, buried friends too soon, lost a mentor, and so much more.

None of this may seem like a lot to a world traveller, but I have certainly ventured almost every road in a diverse little big city of many communities, cultures, landscapes and opportunities. I have a lot of friends and acquaintances from never having left, playing sports, working many different jobs, and being involved in my community.

There is also a lot of exploring and learning-based travelling we can do through the documentaries we watch or books we read as well of course. Whether it’s Philomena, 42, Milk, The Kite Runner, Tuesdays with Morrie, Because We Are Canadians, or Words of Peace in a Native Land. Art is a wonderful and empowering way to make world travellers of all of us all whether it’s venturing through history or taking us into the living rooms and backyards of the worlds human spirit.

I am an Explorer at Life and it’s been a wonderful adventure thus far that has left me with no regrets, although sorry for those I have hurt along the way. These are the things we will carry with us always in a lifelong pursuit of learning about ourselves and the world around us.

My grandfather often dreamed about creating one last story as he rocked in his old red chair retelling one of many travel tales, including one we were supposed to take together. I will bring his spirit with me when I cross into international borders one day but for now, I will simply enjoy life’s adventure.

Qualifications

Day 66

Part 1 – Who am I?  But not totally.

Chapter 14: Qualifications

Am I qualified for this adventure in which I seek? For the first time in my life, I will allow myself the confidence to answer a quick and firm ‘abosfrogginlutely’.

I’ve spent the past month seemingly trying to help you understand what a mostly uneducated,  still living in his hometown 40 something has to give to a project of this magnitude, but actually, this has all been about my own belief in self. It has been a lifelong struggle with self-confidence but at 44, I am finally there. Not kind of. Not almost. I have arrived.

I am so much more than stamps in a passport or letters on a piece of paper. Not to belittle the value in either but this whole project is about seeing the world through an alternative lens and I think a life seen through these passionate green eyes, qualifies me to realize so much more than I have allowed myself.

Leadership is about the team you surround yourself with. Matching values, intentions, and a strong mix of skills. I cannot do this alone and nor do I wish to.

I grew up playing sports and being a member of a team. I have long wanted to feel the energy of being a part of a group so driven to go all the way like many teams I played on as a child. I miss that passion, but I believe that pneumonia scented spark can exist in business, in community, and at home.

There is a great deal of change and innovation that must come, for more to know what it’s like to be an equal architect of a strong, supportive, winning team. By winning, I mean having fun, learning, and finding a sense of family through success and failures because we can’t ‘win’ every time. When we are as passionate about the journey as we are our end desires, there can be equal satisfaction in watching your friend across the pond celebrate their victories.

INSE will be highly successful if you’re belief in our vision is equal to our passion for this concept to see the light of day.

We can do this together if you’re iN.

Well commUnity

Day 22

Part 1 – Who am I?  But not totally.

Chapter 11: Well commUnity


If I were to highlight what I loved most about going to church and being a part of any one faith, hands down it’s the food.

No seriously, what I appreciated most through my own experiences, was the sense of community and belonging that, inspired by young, admiring love, most drew me in while exploring Catholicism in my early 30’s.

Although that eighth month long journey found me faithless and sitting in tiny pews in a freakishly small church on the side of the highway, it reminded me of that sense of association I felt when I played hockey as a child. That family. Mostly, it made me see that religion, quite literally in this case, comes in all shapes and sizes.

It was another year before the thought of faith entered my life again, once again taking us back to that summer with the Natives in the valley. Although I hadn’t yet been versed in their belief system through that experience, I did learn a great deal about their traditions, their spirit, their strength and desire to protect Mother Earth. From Sacred Fires to an illuminating sweat lodge ceremony in the midst of a quiet urban forest,  that growingly addictive sense of community was once again present in my life.

People were living in trees, tending to the fire 24/7 to ensure the flame did not burn out, and others were organizing efforts to bring food and water to all those sacrificing time and spirit to save this paradise from destruction. For the first time ever, I was witness to the story not well told in a time when Facebook and Twitter didn’t exist. These were the moments that made me realize the importance of learning about all sides of any situation.

That battle may have been lost in some regards, but things were changed and important lessons were learned.

It was around this time that I truly found writing again – a passion that I had let digress since those young, inspired middle school years. Writing led to being published. Led to meeting so many people volunteering their time to better their communities. Led to starting my own advocacy. Led to fighting for my children. Led to being an elected official. Led to this very story about the very thing I want to bring to our little city, to make it a better place by filling a void left by decisions I respectfully disagree with.

I clean alley’s. I run an event for kids each year. I pick up garbage while walking the dog at night.  I’m a politician. I am also a baseball coach. All of this inspired forward by people in my past and present whether strangers in the park or through the stories of giving back to his community brought out in my grandfather.

Community also comes in various shapes and sizes. From our sports leagues, our own streets, our broader towns and most importantly, our family networks. Knowing the importance of community and having the skill set to work together through good times and challenges, is key.

Being an active part of my community has strengthened everything else in my life from passion, acceptance, belonging, worth, communication, patience, humbleness, and kindness. I love the person I am more and more as I connect deeper with my community.

My work is better. My family is better. I am better.

I involve my girls as often as I can in the work I do in my community from cleaning parks, to arguing on the doorstep of strangers I hope will vote for me about who will knock on doors. I want them to know the value and importance of being involved, not to mention the peace I might find if they would only stop teasing the crud out of one another for 5 minutes. Long enough to go to the loo would be nice.

As with everything else, there is a balance between work, play, community and family so that is important to remember, but what engagement beyond our own lives naturally gives back to our spirits is invaluable and the key to a stronger, more harmonious and respecting society.

We must understand and value all roles played by all individuals across all aspects of our city networks to truly understand our own value and worth in and amongst the greater picture.

Once again, it’s okay to want something in return for engaging in your community. Like promoting your business or looking to network to find employment. I will guarantee however that if you go in expecting nothing, you will come out richer in ways you couldn’t have imagined. You’ll have people shopping at your business. You’ll find employment. You’ll also come out with something far greater than pulling thorns out of your tailpipe cleaning up overrun alleys or collecting business card bits out of the lint catcher thingy that were left in the back of your jeans. You’ll find connection. Pure, real, connection if you are sincere and real in your intentions.

Religious or not, you will find faith in something. Belonging. Appreciation. Understanding. Love. Acceptance.

Subdivisions

Day 19

Music has been a big part of my life for as long as I remember.

The first record I ever received was one I didn’t, and to this day still don’t, understand why I was given such a present. This particular album I couldn’t even find on digital purchase sites like iTunes for the longest time but today I do see it on GooglePlay.

The band was a Canadian group out of British Columbia called Chilliwack, and the album was Breakdown in Paradise circa 1979. I would have been 6 or 7 depending on how long the record had been out when I was gifted it. I am not even sure I had a record player at that time or even remember being all that into music yet.

Eventually I did get a record player and I know I grew to love this album. When I pulled it out many years ago for the first time in awhile, I even remembered where it skipped and cringed as the moments drew close like I did as a youth.

I found a copy that didn’t skip at a garage sale sometime in my thirties so I was able to retire listening to the scratched copy and leave that as a keepsake only. It will always be my favorite record because of this weird tie to my great-grandfather Croft whom the gift was from. He would die in 1982 and aside from a few brief memories of him sitting on the couch watching television or the occasional flashback at the scent of a pipe, this album is all I have of his memory.

My first cassette tape was of another Canadian band. It arrived at our home as a monthly selection as part of my dad’s Columbia House membership. I had remembered my cousin Al having many Rush records and I believe I asked my father if I could have it. The album was Signals which along with Grace Under Pressure, remains among my favorite albums of all time.

There is so much power in music from how it livens our souls, to the trips it takes us on when certain tracks play on the radio.

Rush’s lyrics have always been very powerful and magical to me. Neil Pert is a remarkable drummer and writer. There will never be anyone better at either of these two categories in my personal opinion.

This song has always struck a chord with me. It would fit well in a soundtrack should this story find it’s way to the silver screen one day.

“Subdivisions”

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order
An insulated border
In between the bright lights
And the far unlit unknownGrowing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided
In the mass production zone
Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone

[Chorus:]
(Subdivisions)
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
(Subdivisions)
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out
Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction
Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly
Just to feel the living night

Some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats
Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere
To relax their restless flight
Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights…

[Chorus]

 

A couple of fun Rush facts:

  • About the Subdivisions video including where the scenes were shot and who the main character is.
  • A fun movie about a couple of Rush fans starring Paul Rudd and Jason Segel- I Love You Man