Archive for March, 2011

Growing up a southern girl in Jackson, Ms in the 60’s and 70’s was not anything special or unusual.  At least that’s what I thought.  I thought it was more exciting to be an LSU tiger and to live on the bayou among cypress trees and alligators.  I have willingly embraced the culture of south Louisiana. 

But this weekend I have taken a tourist’s trip back to my hometown.  I joined my Berry Queens on their annual trip to the Sweet Potato Queen’s Weekend.  Wow! What fun!  Like Mardi Gras on State Street.  I actually witnessed a New Orleans style second line and port-a-potties dressed up like queens.  The area known as Fondren has become an artist community of boutiques and restaurants preserving the old 60s style store fronts from my childhood.  There’s a row that is now known as The Help Row because it will be seen in the movie “The Help” due out this fall.  (If you haven’t read the book yet, read it.)

I was on a quest for a coffee, still nursing a slight hangover from the first night’s partying.  I walked into a coffee house named the Steaming Beans located in an old house with a front porch and wood floors.  When I walked in, I attracted stares from a man at the counter.  OK, I was wearing my Berry Queen t-shirt, a short jean skirt with a strawberry belt, and snake skin “Goodwill” cowboy boots, but compared to the night before when I wore a lipstick red wig, I thought I looked fairly normal.  This guy looked at me like “Where did you come from?” 

I thought, “Who are you to stare at me?” This man had on black leather, cropped, pointy-toe boots with big brass buckles, a large black leather “man purse” with chains, and his hair was pulled up in a bun with highlights of pink and purple.  But he was obviously a regular customer and I was a stranger.

Later Saturday evening, the Berry Queens attended the first annual Zippity Do Dah parade in Fondren.  My high school alma mater led the parade.  I shouted, “Go Murrah Mustangs!” and later hugged one of the dance team girls congratulating their performance.  Not only did I enjoy a weekend of dress-up with Berry girlfriends, I also enjoyed seeing my town through new eyes.  I became a stranger in my own hometown.

The Help

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For many people, the National Writing Project is a onetime institute for professional development.  But for some, it is a journey of discovery, nurturer of friendships, and a way of life.   Fifteen years ago, I went through the Summer Institute for the National Writing Project of Acadiana.  This experienced changed my life.  I found a philosophy of teaching I could call my own.  I found a group of people who believed in education. And I found a writer in me. 

Through my involvement in NWP, I have found many lifelong friends, mentors, and writing coaches.  I have worked with the same writing group for more than 10 years.  We have learned from each other, grown with each other, and supported each other. 

Through my involvement with this model of teachers teaching teachers, I have found empowerment to become the best teacher I could be.  I pursued a Masters in gifted education.  I was able to tackle the process of becoming a National Board Certified Teacher.  I have given presentations in cities such as Albuquerque, New Mexico, Philadelphia, PA, and Little Rock, AK.  I have published articles and poems in national journals.  The door to teacher leadership is open to me by NWP.

In the last eight years, I have led writing contests and youth writing camps for students.  Through these activities, I have passed on the “I am a writer” feeling.  I have given students encouragement to believe in themselves and to become the best they can be. 

President Obama has signed a bill that would eliminate funding for the National Writing Project.    In a statement on March 6, 2011, Sharon Washington, the executive director of NWP said, “This decision puts in grave jeopardy a nationwide network of 70,000 teachers who, through 200 university-based Writing Project sites, provide local leadership for innovation and deliver localized, high-quality professional development to other educators across the country in all states, across subjects and grades. In the last year alone, these leaders provided services to over 3,000 school districts to raise student achievement in writing.” 

I am one teacher in a world of thousands who have found a home with the National Writing Project.  We have found a group that pushes each other to be professionals in a field that is failing.  Together we write for a cause.  Writing matters!

Last night I watched a program on LPB featuring a Boston high school.  Their test scores were falling, failure rate was high, and there was little going for this school.  What turned it around?  Literacy: A program of writing across the curriculum.  Today, a Mexican American girl from this school will be the first in her family to attend college, and all because she was taught how to write.  Writing saves!

If the federal funding for NWP fails, it will not destroy the National Writing Project.  For 20 years, NWP has been an authorized national professional development program.  NWP will survive, I have little doubt.  Writing survives!

Writing marathon for Yeah, You Write! youth writing camp

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Redbud at Center St. Elementary School


“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:34 New American Standard Bible

I had my first panic attack last week.  It happened at school, of all places.  I woke up with a headache, so I decided not to go to exercise…first mistake.   Then right before I left for the day, I found pee at the back door.  (Sammy, the cat, is getting old and doesn’t use the litter box much anymore.)  I had to frantically clean the mess, putting me in a rush, an angry rush at that.  When I got to school, I went straight to the cafeteria where I have breakfast duty.  There my headache turned into a woozy, dizzy feeling.  I started to think about what would happen if I fainted right there in front of all the kids, the fatal mistake.  I left the cafeteria and went to the teacher’s lounge.  If I was going to faint, I did not want to be alone in my classroom.  When I walked in, I saw two kind teacher-friends.  That did it.  I told them I felt faint, went to the sofa, and started crying and shaking uncontrollably.  After a few minutes I could verbalize that I thought I was having a panic attack.  The teachers stayed with me, calming me, telling me it would all be OK.  Eventually I pulled myself together.  Another teacher-friend offered an ice pack while another offered me a Xanax she had in her purse.  I didn’t take the latter offer.

After a call to my doctor, I calmed down.  He told me to go about my regular day so I wouldn’t focus on “what’s wrong with me.”  I took his advice.  I felt tired and still had the headache most of the day, but I remained calm.  What caused this, I don’t really know.  The nurse at school suggested that the rushing and anger over the cat pee must’ve made my adrenaline kick in high gear leading to the attack.  Who knows?  I do know that I don’t want to ever have that happen again, but I also know that, if it does, I am not alone.  I live and work in a supportive environment.

A Google search told me that one out of every 75 people worldwide will experience a panic attack some time in their lifetime.  On Sunday, Deacon Diane Moore preached on worry, the Gospel reading.  She said that 118 million people in the US take some sort of anxiety medication.  I hope I don’t become one of them; although, if I continue to experience these attacks, I will definitely sign up for drugs.  But for now, I plan to focus on the beauty of spring.  I also plan to rely on the main point of Diane’s sermon…trust: Trust that God will be there.  I know bad things happen to good people, but with God on my side, as well as supportive and kind colleagues and friends, I’ll be fine.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you?  Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions.  Don’t worry about missing out.  You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.”

 The Message// Remix: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene H. Peterson

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