Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Tribute to Some Things I Was Not Known for in Upper Darby

For weeks, if not months, I have been following the saga of some proposed budget cuts in the Upper Darby School district where I grew up.  I had hoped that they were just threatened and the clear heads and calm minds would prevail and resources would be found from somewhere.  But, it is not at all clear that this will happen, and I am beginning to go from just talking about potential implications to wanting to say something about it.

Am I the first?  Well, no.  I am FB friends with many from a year or two ahead of me to as much as seven or eight years behind me (we had a block with kids of all ages when I was in 5th-12th grade).  Many have posted about a petition.  I'm somewhat skeptical of what a petition on FB will do.  However, today my father forwarded an article to me.  You can read it if you click here.  This article was written by  Maria Pantaritis, who, like many at the Highland Park elementary school, got transferred the year that I was in fourth grade.  She was one class behind me and went to Highland Park, Beverly Hills Middle School, and Upper Darby High School just like I did.  She knew Tina Fey, Nora Murphy, (both of whom she mentioned) and many of the same cast of classmates I did all the way through.  Maria mentioned one of my elementary school music teachers, Ms Buynak.  She probably could have mentioned Mr Mackis from middle school as well.  Even Tina Fey was reported to have sent an email about the arts issue.  The memories that all came rushing back finally got me off my butt on this issue.

Because until today I sat on the sideline, it may be too late now.  But, I just signed the petition.

Now, I want to take a moment to comment.  At least one article referred to cuts in gym, library, vocal arts, technology, and foreign language.  The one that most people would associate with me would be library.  I loved library as an elementary school student and my wife always jokes about how much time I spent in East Pattee (now the Paterno wing of the library at Penn State) when we were undergrads.  As someone whose life has been so focused on academics, I bet no one would be surprised that I would stand up and protest cutting library.  I also have had the chance to see what library cuts can do to kids' reading when not much reading goes on in the home and the sheer joy of having some volunteers reopen libraries in several Baltimore City Schools.  It would be a shame to lose what a library can offer elementary school kids.  Thinking big about writing is what has led to this blog.  I know it's not so big, but just the idea that I would want to share my writing comes from reading so much of what other people wrote when I was a kid.

But it is not just about the library.

I wasn't known for my art.  I was the geeky kid who made a paramecium for my pressed copper project in middle school.  I was the one who got a very minor part in Annie Get Your Gun.  And I was the one who despite taking piano lessons for six years never got that good and left all signs of participation in music other than the piano lessons behind after eighth grade.  But, I've turned into the one who loves to play electric bass in the church worship band.  Who has written a number of songs over the years.  Nothing earth shattering but good stuff.  And I just enjoy it.  Where did it all start?  Elementary school.  A small group of us sang "O Ladybug, now come, and stand..."  as some of the first third graders ever to sing in the school's spring program.  I remember one girl sand Tomorrow from Annie (I think).  It was all good.  And while I gave it up and then came back to it, so many kids saw if through.  If the foundation had not been set, what would have happened to all of them?

As for gym, well, I was not much of an athlete in elementary school.  I remember often getting picked toward the end for kickball teams, although I swear it had as much to do with the plaid Toughskins I was forced to wear (here is a reasonable image) as with my sports ability.  Nevertheless, our gym teacher also ran a gymnastic club.  And I played soccer on the middle school team before switching over to track.  While I left the track behind for almost two decades after high school, I came back to it.  (And, as one colleague tells me, with a vengeance).  I have also watched two of my sons try lacrosse and tried a bit of golf myself.  Why?  Because I at least tried everything in elementary school.  I was encouraged to. I was given a chance to.  And where would I be without it?  Where would anyone who is participating in a lifelong sport be without elementary school gym?

As for foreign language?  I never mastered any.  But the experience with French occasionally pays off and did give me some confidence for learning a bit of Swahili at one point.  And, as my graduate school advisor points out--math and economics has its own language which is foreign to most.  The concept of mastering a new method of communication is critical.  Not having that in middle school would be a serious loss.

Technology?  Well, it depends on what technology means these days.  Having "shop" as we called it back in the day was critical for me.  Especially print shop.  I learned a lot about how to set type which has helped me think about how to design some things since then.  And computers are critical.  It's not knowing how to use Word (or Blogger) that has mattered most to me, but how to program the thing.  And it dates all the way back to the TRS-80's in the room just to the side of the cafeteria at Beverly Hills, where a couple friends and I programmed a stock simulator game for the 1920's unit in eighth grade.

So, I was and still am known mostly for academics.  But without technology, gym, art, and foreign language, my life experience would have been a lot different. I'd say, not nearly as rich.  The blog even brings together the technology, the library/writing, the athletics (as it is about physical and spiritual well being), and the art of layout.

I would hate to see kids anywhere not have those opportunities.  I would especially hate to see kids miss out on arts, physical education, and more  in a school district with an incredible legacy of its art programs with many on its Wall of Fame who either specialized in their art or for whom art and athletics was an integral part of their full lives.

Do I have any easy solutions for the money to fund these?  No.  But it doesn't stop me from making a plea to the power that be to try to find a way to come up with the funds to avoid losing these programs.  The outcomes are too precious for too many to just toss them aside.  

1 comment:

  1. Scott Joseph SmithMay 29, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    I've always been wary of petitions too, especially the online variety. Very rarely do I sign them, once in a blue moon to be more precise. But, this one's different. I'm glad you feel the same way!! I too remember all of those names and wonderful teachers. An amazing flood of good memories? Absolutely! An even better cause!