Memorial Gazebo Dedication

Sue Wendorf taught at Northern Hills beginning in 2000. She passed away from ovarian cancer in 2009. Before that she was a longtime parent and classroom volunteer. The gazebo was a labor of love to recognize her gifts as a parent, teacher, colleague, and friend.

Goodwilled Graffiti

One of my teachers passed away in the Fall of 2009 after a relatively short battle with cancer. She had taught at Northern Hills for 8 years, but her kids had gone to the school before that and she had been a PTO mainstay and almost daily volunteer. We wanted to find a way to remember her, and her family wanted to give something to the school she loved so much. Some colleagues and friends of hers decided that a gazebo on the playground would be the perfect way to honor Sue. Under its roof, kids at recess could enjoy the shade, write in their journals, draw a picture, trade Pokemon cards, etc. Teachers could bring their kids out during the day and use it as an outdoor classroom. Our school playground also serves as a neighborhood park, so many community members could enjoy the gazebo amongst the plants and flowers we plan to put in this spring.

The dedication ceremony for the gazebo is this coming Friday, May 13, so several of us have been busy getting the landscaping done in time. I stopped by school this Sunday morning to prep the site for the decorative pavers that I’ll install later this week. As I walked up to the site, I noticed that someone had used mud to write a message on the concrete pad of the gazebo. My first assumption was that someone had written something inappropriate, like I’ve seen with most vandalism on school property. I was wrong, but so relieved and uplifted to be wrong. Some kind little person wrote, “I love Northeren HIlls. The school is nice.” I have the same thoughts about the school and I know Sue did as well. I took a look around the playground to see who might have authored it and spotted a shy little boy who attends my school. He had a stick in his hand and was doing some additional messaging on the basketball court. This little guy is a first grader who worries more than a first grader should, but evidently he feels good about where he goes to school. Sue taught first grade and I know that she would have been a great match for this fellow.

I know we aren’t supposed to seek religion at public schools, but that doesn’t stop spirituality from seeking, finding, and reassuring us.

Gracious gazebo graffiti

Gracious gazebo graffiti

I know what you didn’t do last summer

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I know what you didn’t do last summer; the summer achievement gap

It is the beginning of May and my family and I are looking forward to a great summer. The schedule is a lot more flexible for all of us as my kids (ages 8 and 5) will be done with school, and my wife (a university professor) chooses not to teach in the summer. I’m an elementary school principal and have a 12-month contract, but will take a majority of my vacation days in the summer. Because the school year is a time of constant motion for all of us, we really look forward to making great use of the summer for fun, relaxation, and activities that we just don’t have the time to do from September through May.

So what’s on tap for the Rees family this summer?

We’ve got a great city library system in La Crosse, WI and will stop in once a week to get new books. I’ll read those books to and with my kids. We’ll get the kids together with friends from school and church. We’ll participate in the Barnes and Noble summer reading program and stop in for story time. My kids will likely get to buy a new book on each occasion we are at BN. We’ll spend a few weekends at Grandma Bobbi’s house on the lake. The kids will tramp along behind me as we explore the beautiful trout streams of southwest Wisconsin. I’ll explain to them how to differentiate between a brook trout and a brown trout. I’ll point out a caddis fly when I see one. We’ll stop at a gas station on the way home and share a big bag of peanut M&Ms. We’ll put a lot of miles on the canoe on the Black River and at Goose Island. We’ll likely do a few local camping trips and try out our new tent. We’ll make sure they write letters to their grandparents, aunts, and uncles. We’ll turn the kids loose on their bikes in our neighborhood. The kids will walk down to the neighborhood park behind the house and get some good exercise and have fun. At the end of each night, my wife and/or I will be home to give them a bath, read a goodnight book, and tuck them into their beds.

It should be a fantastic summer.

This isn’t a brag list. This isn’t an attempt to pat myself on the back for my parenting skills. This isn’t an attempt to goad other parents into carving out “quality time” for their own kids this summer. This isn’t oblivion about my relative privilege. This isn’t guilt about what I am able to do for/with my children.

This is my recognition that there are many children in my own school who won’t do any/many of these activities with their parents, or with anyone at all. There are many reasons why this won’t happen for these kids—reasons that are understandable, forgivable, inexcusable, solvable, tragic. The reasons don’t really matter. Some parents can’t and some parents won’t. The children won’t have these opportunities away from school, and it does have an impact on their learning and lives.

No amount of school reform will fix family inequalities, but schools will see these effects when students return to class in the fall.