Friday, April 29, 2011

Bus 94 and Bus 52

The noise comes first: a cacophony of music, laughter, and children shouting. And then Bus 94 comes into view as it makes the sharp turn. Only in my imagination is it careening around the corner on two wheels. In reality, I know that Bob is a great bus driver--that perfect blend of enforcer of big rules, tolerator of the craziness of elementary students, and navigator of the construction vehicles that line our narrow street.

As the doors open, Lena and Claire clamber down the steps with the other kids. I look to Bob to get his nod of acknowledgement that another bus ride has been successful for my older daughter. On only a few occasions has my silent question been met with a comment. “Just talk to her—remind her to stay in her seat.” Or “she needs to stay on the curb until the bus stops all the way.”

You see, my older daughter Lena has Down syndrome. Her disability qualifies her for specialized transportation—the “short bus” that is the punch-line to insensitive jokes. But we wanted to try her on the big bus. From her earliest days, we have striven to have her included in typical experiences and settings. She attends our neighborhood school, participates in a Brownie troop, sings in the church choir. And to my mind, part of being a kid in Edina is riding the bus to school. Plus, specialized transportation is expensive for the district. And selfishly, navigating two “out-the-door” moments for two kids who are going to the same place at the same time seems complicated and silly.

I worry about her time on the bus. Will other kids be mean to her? Will she have a seat-mate? Someone who looks forward to her getting on the bus and misses her when she is gone? Is some fifth-grader going to teach her swear words or worse? Will she be called a retard? And yet, I am not the only parent who has these worries. They are the worries of a parent with a young child on a bus first, and the worries of a parent whose child has a disability second. Riding the bus is a rite of passage, and navigating the social chaos that is present on the bus is good experience for the social chaos of the rest of life. Not all bus riding experiences are positive, for kids with and without disabilities.  We are lucky. We have a few kind and responsible neighborhood kids, including Lena’s sister Claire, who alert me early to any issues. We are lucky. Bob is kind and conscientious and cares about her success on the bus. So far, we are lucky. 94 is a “good bus”, where the kids seem generally respectful of each other. And so, Lena rides the bus. Just like all the other kids.

Here’s to many more afternoons of seeing that bus come around the corner at the end of the day.

Alisa Skatrud

Our youngest, Mark, is changing schools next year. He is transferring from Our Lady of Grace to South View for his middle school experience. We’re comfortable with the fit – academically, socially, emotionally. What I’m not comfortable with is the fact I’ll have to give up my daily dose of Vicki.

Vicki is the driver of Edina Bus 52, swinging through the neighborhood 4 times a day. I could set my watch by it. Our boys have gone through most of elementary with Vicki, acquiring her with the move to the new house. At first, Vicki drove Bus 78 along this route; I still miss the squeaking brakes to notify me that the old bus was almost over the hill and at our house.

Vicki has become important to our family because of her consistency, her stability, her sameness. She has a welcoming word every morning for my son, calling him by name. She has been especially important to Mark because he is the only elementary boy we have left, so he rides the bus without a brother. She knows when huge events are happening in his life, and has a consoling word or two when necessary. When she stops, I get a weather update, traffic notes, and a conversation with an adult out of the deal.

Her latest, greatest feat was the day the History Project was due, and my son had his usual massive backpack, laden with snow pants, boots and the rest of the winter accoutrement, but also a large unwieldy bag containing the much-worried-about History Box project. In his panic to get off the bus and set up the project in a timely (and really decorative) manner, he left his backpack on the bus. Vicki, knowing how concerning this would be to my child, and knowing how important backpacks become once you reach fifth grade, personally drove the backpack over to my son’s school after her last morning route. He, of course, thought I brought it up to school – but I didn’t even know this had occurred. She never mentioned it to him – just all in a day’s work.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. I’m so very grateful our village has Vicki. Other Bus 52 families will get her next year, and their children will benefit from her careful, conscientious care. I will wave as I see her throughout the community. And I will miss her.

Liz Abt Ellenberger

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bully for You

When my son was the victim of bullying, I received advice from well-meaning friends that tiptoed around the inference that he was not tough enough. “He should just really let the other kid have it!” or “He needs to stand up to him!” along with other veiled “Be a man!” advice was offered. My gentle son did none of those things. It is just not his nature.

One day, I saw my son and the boy who had been bullying him hanging out and laughing together at school. When I asked my son what happened, he told me they made a pact to use words and not their hands to work out their problems. As God is my witness–it’s true. I haven’t changed a word of that statement from my then-9-year-old.

 My son didn’t do what many of us are hard-wired to do. What society, history, war, reality TV, sitcoms, movies, politics and sometimes parents tell us to do. Bully back, push back, fight back as a first response. Meet aggression with aggression, thus creating a cycle of behavior that continues to diminish all of us. I know, it’s hard not to defend fighting back—after all, in the short-term it seems to work, sometimes. Sometimes it just makes it worse. I admit, I had to work through my knee-jerk emotional response of wanting to give that kid of piece of my mind! But in the long run, those aggressive responses just shame and intimidate the bully, who then moves on to gather reinforcements, bully more or be bullied himself, ad-nauseam. And so, the cycle continues.

I credit my son’s gentle nature, but I also credit his school that teaches conflict resolution to all the kids, and takes bullying behavior seriously. Positive intervention by adults, early on, is important. In addition, my son’s school gives students the tools to work through conflict and supports peer/teacher intervention quickly in cases of bullying. This link outlines the peacemaking process being used at Highlands. (It is also used at South View and is being introduced at Concord.)

This does not change the truth that kids (and adults) will still bully, and bullying will happen. But, the peacemaking process teaches that even in these inevitable moments of conflict, there is opportunity to learn and grow. My hope for a more peaceful world ahead lies with these kids, their teachers and a school district that values teaching conflict resolution skills as an essential part of a child’s education.

We could all benefit from learning more about compassion, peaceful communication and reconciliation. The language of nonviolent communication used by peacemakers teaches us that a different approach is worth a try. Thousands of years of human interaction based upon aggression hasn’t seemed to solve the problem, so why not try something new? And why not start with ourselves in our own lives? It’s usually as good a place as any to practice peacemaking.

For more information on the conflict resolution program used by my child’s school, check out these additional parent resources from Diane Gossen.  

Lori Anne Yang

You'll have an opportunity to participate in a community dialogue about bullying tonight at Fick Auditorium. Click here for details.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why I Volunteer

(A meeting room somewhere in the Edina Community Center)

“Hello. My name is Chris Deets and I am a school volunteer-a-holic.”

“Hi Chris,” comes the tired welcome from the group.

“It all began four years ago when a well-meaning but very twisted friend asked me to work the popcorn stand at my daughter’s school carnival.  The next year I was in charge of communications for the carnival.  The year after that I was co-chair of the carnival, and this year I’ve led the gift-wrap fundraiser, the carnival, the adults-only gala, the recycling committee…”

At that point I wake up in a cold sweat, heart racing, and look around to see if I really am in a room of mostly moms, all of us with dark circles under crazed eyes, kicked out of our homes by our families for negligence.

In our over-extended, hyper-fast, bright-lights big-city world, why does anyone volunteer precious time at an elementary school? And when you start, how do you stop?

I googled “why do so many people volunteer at their schools” and received articles like this one, and this particularly bitter one from an L.A. mom.  (Then there’s this one that will probably make our district administrators wake up in their own cold sweats.)

There are some obvious reasons for why many of us volunteer at our schools: it’s human nature to give; our schools need everything they can get; many of us can’t say no to anything—least all a school staff member.

For me, however, volunteering at Normandale is about the same thing my entire life has been about for the past nine years: my kids.

Volunteering at school lets me see my
daughter's second home: her locker.
I volunteer because it’s one way I can be in my kids’ lives.  I like my son and daughter.  Not just as kids—but as people.  I like who they are. We have fun together.  They are my friends.  I am their parent, but I am also their friend.  (And yes, contrary to what a blogger says here you really can be both.) And so, since over three-quarters of my kids’ lives is spent doing two things—sleeping and being at school—if I want to be with them, I need to somehow be at their school with them.
Volunteering enables me see what they eat for lunch, who their librarian is, what is on the inside of their lockers. Because I volunteer so much, I now can walk down the halls of Normandale and say hello to my daughter’s friends Ilia and Lindsey. I can high-five my son’s friends Jacob and Noel. I can wish my daughter’s fabulous second-grade teacher, Madame Peralta, a good day.

Because I volunteer and spend so much time at their school, I can do those things. And I feel part of their world. 

I wouldn’t trade it for anything in my world. 

I will miss it so much when they graduate.

And it’s why I volunteer.

Chris Deets

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It Was the Root Beer

“It was the root beer,” I thought, with that familiar “Ding! Ding! Ding!” that accompanies many of my revelations.  It was most certainly the homemade root beer I’d packed with pride in my fifth-grader's lunch a few weeks ago. 

The root beer apparently became something of a valued commodity that fateful lunch hour. This fact was reported to me by my daughter, and became very apparent about three weeks later. The SIGG vessel was passed from one child, to another, to another: each sip savored, each swallow enjoyed, each and every germ spread.  Sweet as the root beer was, it came with a bitter bite.

A student in your child’s class has been diagnosed with MONONUCLEOSIS

Yes, it was my child who made the above headline. That would be the same child who so generously shared her root beer with half of the fifth grade.  Mono, incidentally, is spread through the sharing of saliva.

If your classroom is anything like my child’s the last few weeks, the health alerts are coming across email faster than the breaking news ticker on CNN.  The alerts aren’t all run-of-the-mill strep throats either. They are eyebrow-raising horrors like influenza, and our very own root-beer flavored mono. It seems that the extended winter we were subjected to this year is being accompanied by an extended and enhanced season of illness.

During a casual chat with a friend of mine who happens to be a pediatrician, I learned that this time of year is notorious for lots of nasty bugs.  Immune systems are worn down, hand-washing drills are relaxed, and we are all still penned up indoors. During that chat I also learned that except for teenagers (who tend to share lots of saliva with each other), the student population most likely to come down with mono is 5-6 year-olds.  My own pediatrician told us that without a fever, mono is not contagious. . . unless the infected person licks you. That explains a lot about a teenager’s and a kindergartener’s propensity to spreading the virus.

Hmmmm. . . the similarities between kindergarteners and teenagers. . . sounds like an interesting blog for another day.

In the meantime, take my advice:  leave the homemade root beer at home.  Remind your young ones to wash their hands often, and ask them to refrain from licking anyone.


In the above post, I use the term “homemade” loosely.  One can create a root beer-flavored syrup at home easily using store-bought root beer extract.  Carbonation can be achieved by purchasing either dry ice or a $200 contraption from a kitchen store.  Here is a link to a recipe:

If you happen to have a PhD in Chemistry, or love someone who does, you could create your own extract.  Here is a link to get started: 

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Mill

photo credit: Edina Historical Society
Edina Public Schools is launching a new community blog today. We're calling it The Mill, a nod to Edina's history. In 1857, a mill was built on Minnehaha Creek, near the current intersection of 50th Street and Browndale Avenue. Pioneer farmers and Native Americans brought their wheat, rye, oats, barley and corn to the gristmill to be ground into flour and meal.

More than a wheel of industry, though, the mill was a gathering place--the news center and the hub of social life. All roads led to the mill; a school house, a church, a blacksmith shop, post office and Grange hall soon grew up around it. The mill hummed along. Painted red, it was the heart of the community.

photo credit: Edina Historical Society

The Mill blog is a modern gathering place for our community. Our Mill harnesses not the mighty Minnehaha, but instead social media tools and a cataract of community energy to gather stories of Edina Public Schools. Small stories that otherwise go unnoticed. Stories that personalize the Edina Public Schools. Of course there will be stories about how and why we excel, but you will also read about the challenges, places where we can improve. I hope you will find stories as diverse, complex and interesting as our community. If you don't see your perspective reflected here, consider contributing your own post.

New content will appear on Tuesdays and Fridays, written by a revolving group of community members. The posts are only a beginning, however. In order to build an effective, interactive community discussion, we are relying on you to add your voice, your experiences and your perspectives. Comments will be moderated before being shared publicly; comments meant to build community and evolve the conversation by offering new information, insight or ideas will be published. We're even offering incentives: each week from now until June 10, everyone who comments will be entered in a random drawing to win fun, mill-related items. This week's prize is a t-shirt, courtesy of the Edina Historical Society, featuring a painting of the Edina Mill by Leonard Fellman.

So far as we can tell, no other school district in the country has a community blog of this kind. Thank you to Dr. Dressen and the communications department for taking this powerful step toward engaging the community with authentic content, decentralizing information-sharing in our district, and building a forum for meaningful dialogue. Together, we are setting the mill wheels in motion once again.

Cheryl Gunness, Editor

An Edina Millstone rests at the site near 50th Street and
Browndale Avenue