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Middle School: Where Everybody Belongs

Posted on August 28, 2011 by

It’s the first day of kindergarten…parents lined up at the door, new backpacks grace the backs of eager (and some not so eager) young students dressed in their new school clothes.  Mom and dad hover, some concerned, some triumphant-all documenting the day with flashes from cameras and smart phones.
Flash forward seven years-it’s middle school.  Yikes!  No more hovering-at least not where the kids can see you!  New backpacks-maybe, if they’re cool.  Dressing down instead of dressing up.  Photos? No way-those had to be done at home,
out of sight of the friends. 

I’ve spent the last week working with my 8th and 9th grade leadership students getting ready to welcome every 7th grader to our school. It’s a beautiful thing, really.  Believe it or not, those 7th graders are pretty nervous-they just don’t want anyone to know it. 

At Emerson Junior High, we take two days of summer vacation to train students how to mentor the incoming 7th grade students using the WEB program.  Through team building, get to know you activities, and tons of leadership skills, we build a program to make every kid feel like they belong at our school.
  The day before school starts, we run a four hour orientation that starts as 265 students in the gym, breaks down to small groups, and ends up with the WEB leaders and 10 7th grade ‘webbies’ in classrooms getting to know each other and helping the new kids feel more connected to their new school.  And NO PARENTS are allowed!
WEB has been a fantastic program for our school-we’ve seen discipline issues reduce and connectivitiy increase.  Our school climate thrives with the ‘students helping students succeed’ approach…and despite all the hard work and energy it takes right before we start our ‘real’ teaching jobs, we get a trememdous satisfaction watching the magic happen.
One of the most important things the WEB leaders share with their 7th graders are ‘Words of Wisdom’ about how to survive and thrive in middle school.  They are brutally honest-I guess it comes with their own ‘trial and error’!
Those middle school days can be a real test of our parenting skills – so much to learn, and no handbook to go by!  So, if you’re a parent, a teacher or a middle schooler, take a look at the Emerson Jr. High Words of Wisdom-you might just learn something!
  1. Be on time and pay attention and LISTEN in class.  Don’t procrastinate!
  1. Use your planner. Get things done as soon as possible. Stay organized!
  1. Make a good first impression with your teachers and new friends.
  1. Understand and follow the rules.  Don’t share your locker combo.
  1. Stay healthy. Get plenty of sleep and eat breakfast. Bring a snack and lunch, too!
  1. Follow the dress code. Get to class on time!
  1. Try not to get stressed out. Ask teachers or counselors for help in classes if you need it.
  1. Participate in class and other fun stuff at school.  Make an effort!
  1. Don’t feel shy – include new people in your group of friends. 
Words of Wisdom for us all, don’t you think?
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Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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A Music Miracle: Life Changing Lesson Guest Post from The Crazy Life of a Writing Mom

Posted on August 24, 2011 by

I’m very excited to feature a guest blogger today – Elisa from The Crazy Life of a Writing Mom has written a special memoir post that I know my readers will really enjoy…but it’s not just about writing today!  Elisa is a musician and a mom, and has managed to write a memoir, too!  Be sure to stop by her blog and experience her life as she “…vow(s) … to write one hilarious, embarrassing, or otherwise outrageous moment each day for 365 days straight.”  Amazing!

What was the best day of your life?  Just think about it.  Sure you might consider your wedding day, a birthday, the day your kids were born, the day you joined the circus, or when you got a divorce . . .  But if you had to pick one day–a life-changing one that you’d relive forever, what would it be?

My day would be ten years ago, back when I was a homeless street musician in Hawaii. 
Photobucket
(Cade and Elisa 2000)
Now don’t go picturing me with missing teeth, holey pants and one of those “will work for food” signs.  I was a classy homeless person.  On the begger’s scale from one to ten, I . . . was a nine!    
   
Anyway, my husband Cade and I woke up in “Homeless Park,” at least that’s what the inhabitants called it.  That was the only area where the cops let us sleep.  If they caught locals sleeping on the beach or on the Waikiki strip at night, they’d poke you with their night sticks.     
   
A ton of Vietnam Vets, dreamers and poets slept near us in “Homeless Park.”  I used my violin case as a pillow because if I didn’t guard it, I worried it might get stolen like Cade’s guitar had the night before.  I woke early with a kink in my neck.  It wasn’t cold, Hawaii rarely was, and the scents around always brought life to my eyes. 
       
I saw some native Hawaiians and got scared.  They were big and strong.  They always seemed to be following us.  I imagined their faces turning menacing and that made me worry.  The Vets had told us not to mess with the “Hawaiian Gang,” that they hated people like us.  I shook Cade, “Wake up.  We need to go.  How much money do we have left?”
       
He slowly sat up.  Sand and grass fell from his hair.  After digging through his pockets he turned to me.  “Two dollars.  The rest of the money was in my guitar case.”
       
My head sagged just a bit because I didn’t know how I’d earn enough to buy him another guitar.  Sure we were amazing together–but a violin by itself wasn’t even loud.
       
We went to the Waikiki strip after that.  It was early, which was perfect.  Street performing is just like fishing, it’s better in the early morning and late night.  I set up my case.  I’m sure I looked worse than Jonah the day he got thrown up (but still a 9 on the homeless scale).  I combed a hand through my hair and swore I’d still play with dignity.  My stomach rumbled even though I didn’t want to care.  Cade put the two dollars into my ratty case.  He kissed me on the cheek and told me to “knock ’em dead.”  The scruffy hair on his chin scratched my face and I smiled even though we had nothing except each other.
       
A few tourists walked past as Cade rested against a store window.  He put his big hands into his faded pockets and looked as if he owned the world.  My violin fit easily on my shoulder, before I closed my seven-teen-year-old eyes and played.
Here’s a sample of our music: The Fifth Side
Anyway, I thought about Cade as I played, how I’d left Utah to be with him; how I wouldn’t change it even for some mashed potatoes and gravy.  The sweet notes swam around me.  I remembered hot meals then, the kind that warm your heart and belly.  I figured if I pretended to be full, I really would be.  But that didn’t work, so I played loud and hard.  A long, long time passed.  I played through breakfast and lunch, but when I put my violin to my side, hardly any money filled the case.
“You wanna get dinner?” Cade asked.  “We can split a burger and fries at McDonald’s.”
   
So, that’s what we did. 
   
At first the food tasted like sawdust.  I didn’t know how we’d make enough to buy a guitar.  “Cade I hardly made a dime.  We had over two-hundred dollars in that guitar case and now we have nothing.”
   
He squeezed my hand.  “We still have each other.  Maybe we’re supposed to learn something from this.”
   
We went back to the strip.  I played through the dinner rush.  It got dark and just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, the “Hawaiian Gang” started walking toward us.  They were rough and mean-looking.  They had tattoos, piercing and ukuleles!  I wanted to run, but I wouldn’t let them take my spot.  I played then like my arm was on fire.  I moved to the music and danced to the rhythm.  I guess I did something to catch their attention and everyone else’s because a crowd came. 
   
As I played, tourists and the “Hawaiian Gang” gawked at me.  Cade stepped closer, obviously getting nervous.  One Hawaiian leaned next to a tree.  One stood to my left.  Another guy sat on a bench.  That’s when each of them put their instrument at playing position and joined in with my song.
   
What happened next was a miracle.  We jammed.  The notes came smooth and quick.  I forgot about the money filling my case.  I just closed my eyes and thought about how amazing God is.  I opened my eyes at one point and Cade smiled so big.  I swear tears almost filled his eyes as he motioned toward my feet.  When I looked into the violin case, not only money rested there, but food and drinks did too.
   
I quit playing shortly after that.  We met all the Hawaiians and found out they’d been watching over us since the day we came to the strip.  “This can be a dangerous island,” one guy said, the biggest angel I’ve ever seen.
   
I kept trying to give them a good portion of the money, but they wouldn’t take any of it.  They said we needed it more than they did.  And just before leaving, they told us about a kid who was selling his guitar for $20.
   
Cade and I took the food from the case (some orange juice and a loaf of banana bread).  We ate and walked to a sandbar that had surfaced in the ebbing waves.  We stayed there for hours, talking about how amazing life is.  The night was ethereal, so unreal I wouldn’t mind repeating it forever.
   
All we had was about fifty bucks, my violin, God and each other.  And that was enough.
For more information on Elisa’s upcoming memoir, please visit The Golden Sky (My Journal About Zeke) or her blog The Crazy Life of a Writing Mom .

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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OUR Children – Do You Hear Them?

Posted on August 21, 2011 by


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A child murdered by her parent.  A child hit by a car in front of her house.  A child caught in the struggle between foster and biological parents.  A child entering a new school in a new city.  A child moving away from her friends.  A child rebelling dangerously against her parents.  A child living homeless.  A child unexpectedly losing her mother.

This week children are weighing heavily on my mind.  Preparing to return to my classroom, I am overrun with emotions, nerves, memories, fears, and expectations.  Starting up a new school year is supposed to be exciting-a fresh start, a new chapter in the life of a child, a time for families to gather together and celebrate a new beginning.  Yet as I go through each day, it seems as if I’m bombarded by children in crisis.  It scares me.

I’ve been teaching for 20 years, mostly all of those in junior high schools. I’m used to dealing with kids as they experience the joys of ‘tween’ and ‘teen’ years.  But this month it feels different.  Less exciting.  More serious.

What is happening to our children? Are things really so different from when I walked the halls of my school as a 9th grader, mainly concerned about how my overalls looked (it was the 70’s) and if my hair had curled correctly that morning?  Sure, I had friends who had family problems, and knew kids who got in trouble.  But all this?

http://masonimages.com/

Who is making the choices here?  Parents know that we need to empower our children, teach them how to be confident, strong, mature humans.  We choose to give them experiences that will nurture their talents, expose them to the world, and teach them how to survive when they leave home.  We remember images of our babies, smiling up at us as we hold them.  Our toddlers curiously pulling everything out of drawers.  Our  kindergarteners learning to write and glue and skip.  Our elementary school students lining up, playing ball, and performing class musicals.  Our teens biking to school alone, having slumber parties, getting their drivers license.  Our graduates, leaving home.  But these kids-what are they learning?  That life is hard.  That children can be powerless.  That even good parents can make bad choices.  That no one is listening?



http://masonimages.com/



No parent thinks that as they send their child out for the day that a car will hit them and knock them out of their shoes, left unconscious on the street.  No parent thinks their estranged partner will commit the unthinkable act of taking their child’s life.  No parent thinks their child will steal, lie or cheat.  No parent wants bad things to happen to their child.  But they do and it’s scary and I’m mad.
I’m mad that children are victims.  I’m mad that adults don’t take the time to look kids in the eye and really SEE them.  Slow it down.  Pay attention.  Pause.  Listen.  You will be amazed what you can learn-not just about your own kid, but about all kids.  What is in their control?  Really think about why they act the way they do-they’re trying to tell us something.  Think about what is out of their control.  Think about what choices have been made for them.
http://masonimages.com/

What I’ve learned from decades of working with teens is that they almost always want to do the right thing.   Kids don’t always know what the ‘right’ thing  is-but they usually can find their way if someone takes the time to listen to them.  I’ve learned that kids like limits-they like to have things to choose from.  And yes, they will challenge – testing limits is a natural process in learning.  They like choice.  Kids don’t like to be boxed in and feel like all the adults in their life know what’s best for them.  They like to be listened to.  I’ve learned that children shouldn’t be seen and not heard.

What I’m still learning is that bad things happen.  Adults will make choices that have superb and terrible impact on kids, and that’s the way life works.  I’m still learning that kids are strong, resilient and remarkable and can survive and thrive despite amazing experiences that would send most of us screaming into the abyss.

Please, listen and hear what they’re saying.  Give them a voice.  Give them a choice.



http://masonimages.com/



Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Family Favorites: Catch Our Baseball Fever

Posted on August 16, 2011 by

Over the years, our family has found quite a few cool things to do together-some pretty typical, some definitely not.  One of our family favorites is going to baseball games.

We spend huge amounts of time at the Little League Fields, and have learned so much about how adults and children learn from each other there (see my post ‘Speak Softy’ for more).  But during the summer when little league has settled down, we still have a baseball urge to fill.  Our local AAA team is where we head.  The Sacramento Rivercats play at Raley Field in West Sacramento, CA, as the minor league team for the Oakland A’s, and are the closest way to watch live professional baseball.  We like to go several times each summer-it’s an inexpensive, relaxing way to spend an evening (or afternoon-but around here in the summer that can be HOT!). 

Last weekend my son and I jumped into the car and drove about 20 minutes to the ball field.  Traffic was heavy, and parking was worse.  Just as I was about to give up, a welcome sight came before us: an unknown parking lot!  My little Prius found an out of the way spot, and we trekked on foot towards the stadium armed with blankets and full of anticipation.

We arrived early enough to pick up our tickets from will call, and my son sprinted inside towards the lawn where kids hang out in hopes of nabbing an autograph or two from one of the players as they warm up.  Sadly, no one was signing, but we did find a spot on the grass big enough to spread out  and settle in.  Families surrounded us on the lawn, laughing and happy as the game begins.

Minor league fields are tiny compared to those of the ‘big leagues’-but that’s exactly what we like about it – and the cheap lawn seats offer the best, most intimate views!  Kids run, wiggle, cheer and scamper for foul balls in a way that would be impossible in a major league stadium like A T & T Park, home to the S.F. Giants, or The Coliseum where the Oakland A’s play.  There, we feel like trapped animals waiting for the herd to be released.  At Raley Field, kids can imagine themselves out on the field, playing with the big guys.  They know that with hard luck and a bit of work, the Rivercats’ players will be moved up, living out their dreams.

But the best part of all, for me, is the time I spend with my son.  Sitting side by side, talking, laughing, and shelling peanuts I learn all sorts of things about him-like how he likes it when I act goofy (he really said that), and how at 11 years old he still enjoys using his mom as a backrest to snuggle against.  We didn’t catch any foul balls, and the Dinger Dog machine didn’t shoot any flying hot dogs our way that night.  But as the game ended and the fireworks blazed for the last time, I thought about how lucky I am to be living in this moment with him, and hope that when he grows up, he will make baseball games a family favorite, too.  Remember-it’s not which team wins or loses, only that you ‘catch’ the game that counts.

So next time you’re wondering what to do on a warm summer evening, why not create some memories and take in a minor league ball game?  Snuggling under the bright lights with your family is a pretty powerful thing.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Friday Photo: Beacons

Posted on August 12, 2011 by

Sometimes as I’m moving around in my day, an image gets stuck in my head that I can’t shake. Sometimes it conjures up a memory, a feeling, or provides an impulse to do something. Often, though, I just see something that I want to capture in my mind for no particular reason-it just speaks to me. I’d like to offer these images up for ‘thought contributions’-as a way to generate a community of ideas together.

This week’s Friday Photo was taken a few months ago, on a special ‘girl’s weekend’ road trip I take every year with four of my most favorite women.  Each of them brings different gifts to my life:  humor, wisdom, insightfulness, and compassion.  I haven’t seen these ladies at all this summer, and I guess I’m missing them!  I know that like this lighthouse, they are shining beacons of friendship in my life.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this ‘Beacons’ photo- please leave me a comment! 

What image do your friends bring to mind?  What gifts do they give to you?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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