Last Night’s Quotes at My House

“Yep, I need my own laptop. Yes, I do,” said the seventh grader who is not getting his own laptop. He often mumbles it under his breath as he passes me in the kitchen, on the stairs, going to bed at night.

“Did Jeb Bush win?” asked my second grader, who chose Jeb for President after watching one of the early Republican debates. “His speech was so good and he sounds like a really nice guy. He should win.” A future political talk show host.

“One on one conversations with alcohol are my wheelhouse,” said my husband. “I’ve trained for them my whole life.”

That’s just one night.

“I’m Sad,” He Said

He was supposed to be asleep. 10:30pm. Ski school in the morning after a busy week. His older brothers had been out for over an hour.

“Mom,” he said, dragging his tired little body into the dining room. “I’m sad.”

He is not one to hide his feelings.

So at 10:30, when he should have been sleeping, we snuggled into my bed and had a long talk. “Sometimes my friends are my friends. And sometimes they aren’t.”

With three boys, I have learned that such conversations always end up at recess football. Who did, or did not, pick him for their team that day.

“They are all your friends,” I said. “They love you.”

“But sometimes they are nice to me, and sometimes they aren’t. They act like I’m not their friend… like in football today…”

…as predicted.

“Well, is there anyone who you always trust to be nice no matter what?”

“Well…. Yes.”

“Then that’s who we need to invite over to play as soon as we can.”

He smiled and fell immediately to sleep.

Crafting at 8

Planning ahead so that a sixth grader finishes his Social Studies Egyptian project without tears does not always safeguard a family from late night crafting.

A paper mache sarcophagus due three days after an out-of-town weekend requires a phased approach. If the week prior to that weekend includes two basketball games and lots of math homework, forethought and timing are critical.

So at 8pm on a Wednesday, a week before the due date, I said, “We’d better figure out this paper mache thing.”

I forgot how fun paper mache is. It has been more than 30 years.

At 9pm, my son’s clothes were splattered with cream-colored goo. His arms were caked with dried paste. His hands dipped in and out of the bowl.

“This is awesome!” he said as the clock ticked past bedtime.

Colorado Skiing and Broncos Football

“Are you watching the game up here?”

“You heading back before kickoff?”

On any Broncos game weekend, that’s what friends and strangers alike will ask you on the chairlift, slope-side or riding up the gondola.

This past play-off weekend, despite plenty of snow and gorgeous sunny weather, avid skiers, gunning for their “vertical-feet” record, put seasonal legacies aside for something bigger. Something worth sacrificing a perfect ski day for – our Broncos.

“We’re leaving at 7am.” On Sunday. A ski day.

Everywhere you looked Saturday, skiers wore football jerseys over their jackets. Orange and blue was everywhere. Men, women, children, boys, girls.

And then, there were my skiers and their friends. “We’re leaving at 7.” “Go Broncos!” Huge fans.

Yet of five boys age eight to thirteen, not one wore a Broncos shirt. Expressing their individuality. Egging each other on in competition for best team, best favorite player, best team trivia knowledge. They donned Packers, Falcons, Chiefs, Lions, and even Patriots jerseys and welcomed the attention they got as they sped down black diamonds and crashed off jumps they didn’t quite see.

The Lions’ fan counted ten “Go Lions!”

The Packers fan boasted five or six “Nice jersey, dude! Go Packs!”

But on playoff Sunday, we left at 7.

“Go Broncos!” “Go Peyton!” “Our defense rocks!”

And we were all home for the game. Yelling. At times, covering our eyes. Praying. Cheering. Jumping up and down. Hugging. A team worth the sacrifice of a perfect ski Sunday, because we get to do it again in two weeks.





Most Likely to Succeed

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend a screening of Most Likely to Succeed, hosted by the Colorado Education Initiative (CEI). The film is a thought-provoking documentary about our education system with a look at project-based, student-driven learning at a charter school in San Diego.

After the film, our CEI hosts asked the audience to think about where we stand on a one-to-ten scale for keeping the current teaching model or scaling the High Tech High model across the U.S. public school system.

As a parent, the film hit me emotionally, and my answer is conflicted. But as a human being, I wanted to transport myself to High Tech High and relive ninth grade.

I have a seventh grader. Next fall, we will be looking at high schools, helping him decide where he would be happiest, and then applying to a mix of private, public and parochial. In the back of my mind, I favor schools most like the one I went to. I know that there he will read plenty of Shakespeare, survive Calculus and have a strong grasp of History. All the teachers will know him by name. I will get to know most families.

But will that school – the school of my childhood – inspire him to engage wholeheartedly in learning?

What I do know is that I was happiest at school when I was connecting the dots between classes, working on projects, or deep in debate with my classmates. I remember what I learned in 8th grade Social Studies because I can still see the poster my friends and I created about the 1960s hanging on the classroom wall. I remember getting excited about our ideas, working together, and worrying that our teacher would be mad that we burned a flag. I will never forget our independent Senior Project, when six of us wrote and performed a musical. I still have the script in a ratty green folder.

At High Tech High, the ninth graders are tasked with creating a group engineering project that illustrates their views on why civilizations rise and fall. They built a floor-to-ceiling masterpiece on exhibit for the entire community after working in small groups for months. Imagine what they will remember 30 years from now.

What impressed me was that High Tech High is teaching a love for learning, igniting curiosity and creativity, and empowering students to collaborate and lead. I am not sure that the more traditional approach achieves that for most kids, but I still see it as necessary because it did for me.

On a philosophical level, Most Likely to Succeed asks us if the role of the classroom is to teach our children equations, trivia, maps and stories? Or is it to inspire them to think and give them the tools to pursue the life-long education that makes them want to keep on learning? Can you do that without a strong baseline of knowledge? Does the fact that answers to almost anything are on the Internet change what we have to hold in our brains? Can you take any kid, drop them into High Tech High and watch them take off?

As a former student successfully educated under the old model with dips into project-based and experiential learning, I am tied to that tradition. It is my comfort zone. It is what I expected to pass on to my children. But then, if I could go back to high school, I would go to High Tech High in a heartbeat.






When He Runs and They Saunter…

My second grader climbs out of the car each morning and runs down the carpool line. Sometimes shoelaces untied. Sometimes his backpack still open, snack on the verge of spilling onto the sidewalk. Eager to crash into a friend before class starts.

At the end of the day, as I wait in carpool line again, I watch him race across the field – “it’s my shortcut” as if it were his own secret route – and back down the sidewalk to the open door of the minivan. Sometimes shoes untied. Sometimes yelling at other second graders as he passes. “Bye!” He is as eager to come home as he was to arrive at school.

When they were in lower school, our older two boys used to walk the carpool line morning and afternoon slowly, separately. They would get out of the car and after a quick hug, head into school, rarely waiting for their brother to finish his hug and catch up. It was as if they didn’t know each other.

But now, as the little one sprints across his shortcut, taunting his buddies, his brothers walk together. Slowly. They talk all the way down the line, sharing bits of their day, complaints about homework, feats achieved in gym. Since they look nothing alike, one might mistake them for best friends.

And every 8am and 3pm, that scene makes me happy.

How History Enters the Mind of a 13 Year Old Boy

This morning’s news celebrated the release of ten U.S. sailors held captive by Iran. So when my seventh grade son asked me if I remembered the Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979, when approximately 60 US citizens were held captive for 444 days, I was impressed.

He seems to teach himself things in a stream of consciousness approach to learning, his path twisting and turning randomly as bits of information catch his fancy. It’s a cool way to learn, even if it distracts from his homework.

“I do remember.”

“Well, do you remember that they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages got to watch it? I wonder how they did that.”

Of course! Football!

He actually had not yet read the news about the U.S. sailors. The question on this day was completely coincidental. As a football trivia junkie, his reading about the NFL connects him to a broader history. A few days ago, he wanted to know if Richard Nixon was a good President. I talked through his foreign policy skills, China and Watergate. The important fact, it turns out, was that he “was not a good play caller.”

In school, we often use the art or literature of an era as a way to help us understand the past. He uses sports. Reading about past Super Bowls, looking at old photos of athletes and teams and stadiums, and a close following of the NFL timeline all lead to non-football discoveries. He digs into what that event was, or if people liked that President, or why there were hostages, how long they were there, and what people like me remember.

And the next time the Super Bowl comes up with an unsuspecting friend, he will ask, “Did you know that during the Iran Hostage Crisis, they broadcast the Super Bowl so the hostages could watch? How cool is that?!”