Archive for the 'Pennsylvania' Category

2013 Challenges: How am I doing?

In January, I laid out five physical challenges I wanted to accomplish this year. Eight months later, I have a completed three and not even started on two. Here’s how I’m doing:

  1. The Polar Plunge: Done! With pictures to prove it. I’ll probably do it in 2014 if it happens again in Perry County.
  2. Two yoga classes. I took a class in Berkeley in May, when I went to California for an education reporters conference. On Friday, I took one in Charlottesville, Virginia. Both were ashtanga yoga, but the more recent one was much slower and seemed closer to Iyengar yoga than the one I took in May. Regardless, both of them left me sore the next day!
  3. Three long bike rides: I haven’t ridden a bike once yet this year, but I’m working on getting my bici in condition to hit the roads soon.
  4. Four 5K races: My success at my 2012 challenge of running three 5K’s prompted me to diversify my 2013 challenges, but maybe for that reason (or more likely, because I have been busy most weekends since May), 5K’s have taken a backseat this year. So far, I haven’t done any, but I’m planning to run the Ned Smith Nature Center trail run next month.
  5. Five new (to me) hikes: Another challenge completed in Charlottesville! Yesterday I hiked to Humpback Rocks with my boyfriend and a bunch of his business school classmates. The other new places I hiked this year were the PA Grand Canyon (Leonard Harrison State Park side), the Appalachian Trail on a section starting in Marysville (a town that’s a 15-minute drive south of Duncannon), Joseph E. Ibberson Conservation Area (Dauphin County, PA) and Boyd Big Tree Preserve (also Dauphin County).
Humpback Rocks, Virginia. August 2013

Humpback Rocks, Virginia. August 2013

You know it’s summer when…

1. Your fridge holds bowls of wild raspberries.

2. Your legs are covered in poison ivy because you didn’t think to look for leaves of three when picking wild raspberries.

Sunset at Leonard Harrison State Park

Sunset at Leonard Harrison State Park. July 2013

Photo of the Day: Chickens on the move

Silky Chickens

Silkie chickens outside Millerstown, PA. July 2013

When’s a time you stood up for yourself?

When’s a time that you stood up for yourself?

Think about it.

Why’d you do it? How did it feel? Did anyone support you?

In a country where the richest 20% make 8 times as much as the poorest 20% of the population, there are a lot of reasons to stand up for ourselves—at work, to health insurance companies, for our education, and more.

What if we weren’t standing up alone?

I, for one, think we would have a lot more power if we were standing up together, and that’s why last summer I co-founded Put People First! Pennsylvania. A group of myself and nine others had a vision of bringing people together across our state to stand up for our human rights and the human rights of everyone in PA.

And now…we’re doing it! Since January we’ve built organizing committees in four counties and are looking to grow more. In the fall we will choose our first campaign around a specific human right, such as education, healthcare, housing or jobs. Our first campaign will only be a starting point—after we win that, there will more fights to wage. We know that all of the issues we struggle with are connected and those in power like to keep us divided by pitting those issues against each other.

To make any campaign successful, though, we need to hire another field organizer. We’ve grown this much with just one paid staff member and now it’s time to take our work to the next level. That’s why we’re trying to raise $20,500 this month.

I’m asking you to support this work today by making a contribution of $5 to $200 dollars, based on what you can afford. Every contribution matters. Here’s the link where you can donate:

The link will also take you to a video about our organization. As the media and communications coordinator for Put People First! PA, I feel really grateful to be using my skills for an organization that is building power to tackle to the struggles that so many people in our state—including myself—are facing. Here’s an infographic I made recently about education cuts and protests across PA. Materials like this are one of my many responsibilities in PPF-PA, but this isn’t something I’m paid to do. I spend many hours on this work outside my regular job because I care deeply about it. If you want to know more about what we’re doing I’d love to talk to you on the phone about it soon.


Thanks for reading. Even if you can’t donate please feel free to share with others who want to support us in building a state and country where all of our needs are met and we can lead fulfilling lives.

Put People First! PA


Is education all about the kids?

Kindergarten Readiness Night

Children at kindergarten readiness night. Columbia, PA. May 2012

At the first school district I ever covered as a reporter, the first half hour of board meetings was spent recognizing Students of the Month. For each student, a favorite teacher or administrator read a page about their character, accomplishments and passions. Photos were taken of the students, their families were applauded by the board, and then the packed room would empty out. A couple of teachers, one resident/concerned taxpayer, and I were the few who stuck around to observe the regular business of running a school district.

Here’s the thing, though. Supporting students is the business of schools, and the Students of the Month practice (which, admittedly, I found somewhat tedious as a freelancer who was paid the same amount whether the meeting lasted one hour or four) was just one indication that the school board members were there because of their commitment to educating children.

Another example: A friend of mine works with that school board’s president, who recently won a civic leadership award. According to my friend, when he was asked to submit a photo and bio for the award, the board president’s immediate response was to contact the elementary school principal so that the photo could be taken with the kids. This didn’t surprise me, because “It’s all about the kids” was a phrase he’d said to me in many an interview. A stock answer? Perhaps. But for him it wasn’t just a PR line—he meant it, and that always showed up in his and the rest of the board’s actions.

I hear a lot about “responsibility to the taxpayers” at school board meetings these days, but “It’s all about the kids” is a sentiment I haven’t heard once since I stopped covering Columbia last year.

High-stakes tests are making kids sick.

Kreider's class

Park Elementary School. Columbia, PA. June 2012

Five children with nose bleeds, others with nausea, frequent bathroom trips, one student pounding on the desk and shouting “I’m going to fail!”, another sleeping refusing to take the test…This is the scene a local elementary school principal painted of a standardized test week in his report to the school board last month.

I was surprised that the principal shared these details at a public meeting. Despite the power of the high-stakes testing model in the U.S., I believe most people think we’re testing kids too much. No one sees the effects more than those who work in schools, but many teachers are scared to say that publicly. And administrators…they not only can’t say it publicly, they actually  have to espouse the values of the system (in order to motivate teachers and students to participate in it and thereby perpetuate it). So even in this vivid scene described by the principal, the message was not a clear condemnation of the testing culture and how it hinders a learning culture, but a foreshadowing of possible low scores and a pre-emptive explanation.

I don’t know what that principal’s opinions on high-stakes tests are. Very few who are critical would be willing to say so to their local reporter. And I have to assume there are plenty of administrators who have either drunk the kool-aid about corporate education reform or just aren’t prone to questioning orders. You can tell which ones they are from the slideshows they bring the board, full of charts and jargon comparing every three month interval of student scores in math and reading.

But even those administrators are compelled to admit that the mandate of No Child Left Behind — that 100% percent of students reaching math and reading proficiency by 2014 isn’t going to happen. (I’m not making assumptions here, I’ve heard them say it.) But no one talks about the obvious next question…so then what? So far, the most extreme consequences faced by schools that consistently missed required test targets have been closure, total administrative overhaul or take-over by charter school companies. What will happen in a year, when all of America’s schools are unable to make the required goals?

In his most recent TED talk on education, Sir Ken Robinson (see video below) says that tests aren’t inherently bad, which is true. Assessment in its most basic definition is a way of measuring outcomes. We could envision many ways of assessing learning, with the multiple choice and essay tests that dominate schools now being just one of them. But there’s something wrong when test results become the goal, instead of the learning goal being what’s measured by test results. There’s something wrong when tests become so important that other subjects and skills are excluded from school. And there’s something wrong when the way teachers teach is driven by whatever can earn massive corporations more money. Robinson nailed it about the flaws of the testing culture in his talk, but he neglected this root cause that is driving education policy.

I navigate a swampland when it comes to public education. As a local reporter, I must wade through the muck and tell a story about what’s happening in schools today. Too often, I see articles that just report the test scores and accompanying labels given to schools. The labels are jargon like “Corrective Action I” but mostly get read by the public and “failing” or “not failing.” These articles are like reporting that schools are sinking without pointing out that they’re built on a swamp in the first place. I see the swamp. And I see pockets of resistance— teachers boycotting tests, students walking out—but none of these actions are happening here. So in my own stories, I try to describe the swamp and the conditions that create it, but without local sources to call a swamp a swamp, eventually I hit that journalistic wall of “editorializing.” And I have no idea whether people reading my articles even absorb the context I’m trying to provide.

Related Posts:

A 40-year teacher resigns

Diane Ravitch on low-performing schools

Testing the tests


I need two things right now, in this order:

1. Sleep

2. The thrill of creative group engagement

In other words, I’m tired and I spend way too much of my life at/in unimaginative meetings.

Flowers for Garlands

Flowers for garlands. Vijayawada, India. September 2010


Photo of the Day: Perry County beef

No, I’m not talking about the firestorm over Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson calling Perry County residents “scumbags.” I’m talking about agriculture.


Since I’m vegetarian, am I not a real person? Perhaps around here. Elliottsburg, PA. March 20, 2013

This is not universal health care.

At a local school board meeting last night, the superintendent announced that part of health care reform requires employers to offer health insurance to all employees working 30 hours or more. To avoid the cost of keeping employees healthy, the district has decided to cut its part-time employee hours to 29.5 hours per week. In the prevailing climate of austerity politics, districts are already being forced to cut corners and still defend every penny spent on the human right to education, so it’s no surprise that their plan is to skate just below the regulatory limbo stick. Nonetheless, listening to the explanations and seeing yet again how we live in  a system that is profoundly disrespectful of our human needs hurt my heart.

I’ve heard the mistaken claim that Obama’s health care reform created a universal health care system. Universal means everyone in and no one out. It means a system where we don’t just have “access” to health care that we can’t afford and through which other people profit off our basic needs. It means a system where we can get preventative care and medical treatment without going into debt. Call it the Affordable Care Act or call it Obamacare, but what we’re getting is not universal.

Health care is a human right. Human rights come from human needs. Instead of defending those needs as our ability to meet them is whittled — or ripped — away, we need to go on the offensive for something better.

The Vermont Breakthrough! How a Human Rights Movement Is Winning a Healthcare System that Puts People First from NESRI on Vimeo.

Photo of the Day: Saturday night in Duncannon

Shermanata Grange Square Dance

Shermanata Grange holds a square dance on the second and fourth Staurday of non-summer months.

Shermanata Grange Square Dance

Duncannon, PA. January 2013

Shermanata Grange Square Dance

Duncannon, PA. January 2013

I took these photos to accompany an article I wrote about the Grange in Perry County.

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D.C. Cherry Blossoms

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