The Broken-Hearted People of the World Agree

“There is a field out beyond right doing and wrong doing,

I’ll meet you there.”

~Rumi

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There’s been a lot of debating, especially on Facebook, but then twenty-seven or forty-eight or ninety-two heated comments later, someone trips over the fact that we essentially agree.

I’ve seen it happen again and again–minds so tattered from the brutal slaying of innocents allowing HEARTS to speak louder.

First we are insulted or offended or threatened. Then we are furious or obnoxious or despairing.  But with each reminder of the devastating loss in Connecticut, we re-evaluate… we attend our child’s holiday concert, we wrap her presents, we tuck him into bed–and with our joy comes the bitter sting of “their” devastating loss.

One Facebook friend stormed against the focus on guns in favor of prayer and the banning of video games, and then suggested this: Let’s see where we agree. I definitely think guns should be regulated and that assault weapons should be illegal and not even manufactured.

Another friend vigorously defended the need for guns as a means of protection, but eventually said: I’m confident that Vice President Biden will do what needs to be done. I would be thrilled if this administration banned all automatic assault style rifles. I also support ammunition limits. I think in the end we’ll all move forward with changes everyone can agree on.

Even a young man, claiming the need for arms against a potential dictatorship, relinquished his absolutism in the face of the  Sandy Hook massacre, with: I whole heartily agree with some of the anti-gun arguments.

His friend, a Marine, did his own bit of surrender: I have learned a lot in the last 24 hours on Facebook. It certainly was not my intention to take our conversation this far, and I honestly had no idea so many people would be involved. I do appreciate that everyone respected each other and their opinions and had a civil conversation. Although my feelings remain the same,  I am beginning to see others’ views. In the end we all want the SAME thing for ourselves, our families and our children who have their whole lives ahead of them.

I think the mystic poet Rumi had it right when he suggested that we meet out beyond the field of right doing and wrong doing. It’s the children of Newtown who have led us there.

Kelly Salasin, December 2012

See also: The Courage to Change–a child’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre

And here is some of the best writing I’ve found this week in response to Newtown:

Going Home (author returns to Newtown for Christmas)

In Gun Debate, a Misguided Focus on Mental Illness

The Newtown Shooting and Why We Must Redefine Masculinity

No More Newtowns: What Will It Take?

Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?

The solution to gun violence is clear

Tools of an ugly trade (a S.W.A.T. officers addresses assault weapons)

Six things I don’t want to hear after the Sandy Hook massacre

God can’t be kept out (a woman of faith takes on religious extremists)

a majority of cowards (a sobering, thought-provoking read)

Envisioning a Healed World (the world is an echo of wounds)

Looking for America

Why America Lets the Killings Continue

Our Dissociative Relationship With Gun Violence

One Million Moms for Gun Control

“Sometimes I would like to ask God why He allows poverty, suffering, and injustice

when He could do something about it.

But I’m afraid He would ask me the same question.”

– Anonymous

The Courage to Change–a child’s response to the Sandy Hook massacre

“There are too many men with enough courage to kill one another,

and not enough men with the courage to stop the violence.”

Lee van Laer

jkLGW

On Friday, when I learned of the shooting, I wanted to drive to the elementary school in my own town and retrieve my son.  It wasn’t that I was afraid.  We live over a hundred miles away from Newtown, CT.  I just wanted to bring him home. Because I could.

Instead, I let him finish the day and enjoy his long-awaited “Friday Free Time” with classmates. While I endured the wait, my heart broke for the parents who wouldn’t welcome home their children that day. Or any day after.

When my own son finally walked through the door, I exhaled, and drew him onto my lap to explain why I had been crying. His tears silently joined mine, and then so did his anger.

When we had exhausted both, I suggested we light a candle…
but instead of one, Aidan dashed around the house to collect a candle for each child, for each life lost, including the prinicipal. He loves his principal too.

Even as far as Pakistan, fellow school boys were lighting candles for the lives stolen.

The President reflected on this global mourning during the Prayer Service in Newtown last night:

I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart.

He went on to say that our first job is caring for our children:

If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

But we aren’t getting it right. And to be honest, I’m not sure we can, especially when I witness us reach back for the comfort of Mr. Roger’s words or when we over-reach toward heroes.

It’s time to sober up with the facts–not only about guns: 94,871 people shot in this country this year, but also about ourselves: We believe in killing. It’s part of our national fabric. We celebrate it in history, in video games, in theaters, and in warfare around the world.

And yet, I don’t believe the situation is hopeless; because I don’t think that we have the right to collapse into such self-pity after first-graders were murdered during morning circle.

Yes, it is complex. It is terribly complex. But one component is simple. Let’s start there.

Compare the U.S. to Japan, where almost no one owns a gun:

In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides while Japan had only 11–about half of how many children lost their lives in a few moments in Newtown. Incidentally, 587 Americans (including children) were killed in 2008 just by guns that had discharged accidentally. (Read more.)

We don’t even need to go anywhere near the extreme of Japan when it comes to fireaarms. We can look at Australia, where they only banned assault weapons.

In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings – but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect.  (Read more.)

I know that some in our country are too afraid to give up their rights to weaponry. They cite a history of domination by dictators in the face of unarmed civilians around the world. I feel their fear. I understand it. They want to protect us.

What they won’t face is that our greatest enemy is–within. We are actually killing each other (and ourselves) with the weapons we claim as our protection:

  • A gun in the home is more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than to be used in self-defense.
  • Of youths who committed suicide with firearms, 82% obtained the firearm from their home.
  • The risk of homicide is three times higher in homes with firearms.
  • Gun death rates are 7 times higher in the states with the highest household gun ownership.(Read more.)
  • More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. (Read more.)

So the real question is this: Will we stop pretending that this is about our right to protection?

Or are we prepared, as President Obama asked, to say this:

Such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom.

“NO!” my 12-year-old cries out to his President.

Aidan isn’t interested in “freedom” that takes his life at the school and at the mall and in the movie theater and at the mosque; nor does he want the the honor of meeting the President of the United States in response to the random death of his little sister or mother or grandmother or teacher.

This freedom for violence disgraces us as a Nation:

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

Isn’t it ironic how many uniformed men, with impressive weaponry, appeared at Sandy Hook–too late.  How devastating to be prepared–for nothing. My heart breaks for them and for the fathers who weren’t there to protect their daughters. For the mothers who couldn’t comfort their sons as they lay bleeding. For the first-responders who found almost no one there to rescue.

Though dozens of ambulances raced toward the school, only a few departed with such purpose. The hospital was readily prepared to care for massive casualties, but only two adults and two children arrived–the latter pronounced dead inside their doors. There was nothing for the highly trained doctors and nurses to do.

Contrast that with what happened in Central China on the same day: 22 school children were attacked by a man wielding a knife. Some of the injuries were serious. The act of violence despicable. The terror horrifying.

While this readily points to the truth that madmen can always challenge our resources, this doesn’t mean that we can’t limit theirs.  The bodies of those 22 children are being cared for–in a hospital–instead of deposited–in the ground.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

“You GO!” my son hollers to his President.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Can we admit to ourselves that this kind of violence has become routine?

By the end of this day, two-hundred and forty-four people will have been shot; an average so common place as not to receive national attention.

The massacre in Newtown simply brings to light what happens in the land of the “free” every day:

There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

“Yes…” my son whispers back, as he embraces me.

(Kelly Salasin, December 17, 2012)

More on guns and the USA:

Batman & Bullets

Death as Entertainment (murder in schools)

Which Wolf (Co-op Murder)

My Favorite Republicans (Obama & gun laws)

Parenting without Power (or a gun)

Late Summer Collection

One of the things that I treasure about blogging is that it’s simple enough to do–even when the kids are home–as evidenced by these posting highlights harvested from each of my blogs this summer.  I hope you  find a title or two that intrigues you. As always, your voice is most welcome.  Read a post, share a comment/connection!

Pissarro, visipix.com

Summer’s Harvest

~This Vermont Life: The Dog Days of Summer and Until I Moved to Vermont, a tribute to the summer sun in the Green Mountains.

~The Motherless Muse: Days Like ThisThe Writing Cellar and Namesake.

~The Marriage Journey: posts from My Sister’s Wedding.

~The Empty(ing) Nest Diary: The Running Away Thing, Last Days of Summer Panic, and The Wisdom of Fatigue.

~ Two Owls Calling (and the Life Purpose Path):  Thought Anthropologist, Dis-Orient Me, Life’s Debris, The Stream of Love, The Path of Women, The Yoga of Teeth, The Party Gene and Weeding My Life.

Kelly Salasin, Fall 2010

In Unity with Inspiration

(this piece was written following the appearance of candidates Obama and Clinton in Unity, NH)

Democratic Candidates Obama and Clinton, Unity, NH 2008 (LLoyd Salasin-Deane)

~for the children

4:30 am
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Marlboro, Vermont

Dear Community of ALL,

Yesterday, I had the great privilege of attending a political rally in Unity, New Hampshire. I use the word “privilege” because I could afford the time, the energy and the gas it took to devote an entire day to this journey. I also had the privilege of the company of my two young sons, Aidan 7 and Lloyd 12. It was their enthusiasm that fueled this endeavor for me.

Despite being born in the sixties, I grew up with little inclination to participate politically. As a young adult I found politics disconnecting and depressing. When I moved to Vermont at age 30 that changed.

Suddenly things were on a small enough scale that I could manage the attention and faith it took to begin to get involved. Vermont’s Town Meetings were my springboard. Political humans like Bernie Sanders and Jim Jeffords were accessible and worthy.

I still wasn’t hardwired to fully engage in the political process, but I began to hope for my own sons. They attended town meetings with me, ate a chicken supper beside Bernie, and participated in walking with his senate campaign down Main Street in the 4th of July parade.

Lloyd and Aidan showed more interest in politics in their short lives than I had in my entire life. In fact, much of their sand play with peers at South Pond was politically based.

When I went to tell my boys that Obama and Hillary were going to be in New Hampshire–less than 2 hours away–they gave an enthusiastic, “Let’s go!” That was all I needed to take the next step to get the tickets and pack us up for my first national campaign event.

I don’t have the poltical savvy to know all the reasons why I shouldn’t have been inspired by Senators Clinton and Obama, and I never will. My mind just doesn’t operate that way. I am much more interested in the internal politics of our own hearts and spirits than I am driven by what happens on the outside with others.

That said, I do want to be part of the change. Like Gandhi, I want to “be the change” that I want to see in the world… rather than just complain that it doesn’t exist. And though I have never been politically minded, I have always had a passion for history, and a deep fascination and regard for the spirit of this country–for our Declaration of Independence and the freedom we created in it.

9/11 was for me and for many others the spiritual “bottom” of my political experience. It left me wanting to disown this country once and for all; and it also caused me to realize just how much I loved this big bully. I grew up, politically speaking, around 9/11. I began to realize that my participation or lack of it played a part; and that for whatever reason, I was tied up in this country–in its identity and actions.

On the drive to Charlemont, New Hampshire where we boarded shuttles to Unity, I explained to my older son–and to myself–what a “leader” was all about.

“It’s like one of those amazing teachers you hear about,” I said, “like that guy in Los Angles that took that poorly performing class and made them math wizards. Those kids were disconnected, self-absorbed, criminal, disenfranchised–and rightly so…

“And it wasn’t as much about the teacher’s greatness–but that inside each of those students was greatness and he helped them find it,” I continued. “He lead them to it. He created a place of belonging for them. He believed in them. He inspired them to their own strengths and greatness. That’s what this country needs in a President.”

I looked over to see that my son’s nose was back in his graphic novel. But once at the rally, under the bright afternoon sun, surrounded by trees and fields, Hillary and Obama echoed my voice–albeit in their political speech writing ways.

She said that it wasn’t about one person, that it was about the change we wanted to create.

He said that his hope lies in the faces of all of us, in our basic decency and caring.

Balance (Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

For me–seeing them together like that–two leaders–male and female–black and white–I felt complete.

I don’t know if these two beautiful people have the answers, but I do know that the answers lie inside of us–inside each of us. I discover that every time I work with someone in my role as a life coach.

My hope, and the reason why I bought my very first bumper sticker (that says “HOPE”), is that these two people can lead us to our own inspiration to change.

It pains me and I know it pains each of you that we live in a world where children are hungry. It brings me to tears that I don’t know what to do about it. It anguishes me that great suffering is happening on “my watch” while I eat my organic cereal and type on my laptop to you.

“NOT ON MY WATCH!” I want to scream, but I don’t know where to direct my voice and my energy and my passion.

So many of you have that clarity. I see you act on behalf of others in so many ways.

Social and political activism have never had the clarity for me. But I am a writer and a thinker and connector; and that is what I have to offer to make the change.

We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to be good at everything…”You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. ” (Thank you dear Mary Oliver for planting that seed.)

That’s why there’s so many of us, to make it easier. Our talents and interests and gifts blend like circles on a beautiful hand sewn quilt. Let’s get stitching so that we can cover this world with a blanket of warmth, and food, and protection, and safety.

I know I am idealistic. That’s how I came. And I know that many of you know much more about the process because you’ve actually been participating for a lot longer.But maybe there’s a place for me to inspire you with my innocence and heartfelt conviction.

I know our leaders are imperfect, but is that where we want to focus our attention? How would this country and its ideals ever been born if we had focused on the imperfections of our forefathers!?

And I know this country isn’t perfect either. There’s history books filled with our sins against humanity.

But there’s also a light, and that’s what I want to follow and help grow.

I see the light of hope in my children. They each wanted an Obama t-shirt that showed his face in red, white and blue with the word, CHANGE, below it. My oldest wondered why I didn’t buy the “CHANGE” bumper sticker. I explained that I couldn’t put one man’s face on my car–but I could put the word “HOPE” out about him–appreciating that my sons’ would be the change.

That morning, ahead of the rally, the three of us stood under a hot sun in a parking lot at a race track in New Hampshire–waiting for the school bus that would take us to UNITY–to the playground of an elementary school–where the groundskeeper in suspenders was crowned “honorary mayor” for the day, and introduced not one–but two candidates, that I had respected for President.

Unity’s “Honorary” Mayor (the school custodian) introducing Obama (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

Behind us in that shuttle line of hundreds, stood two elderly women, who looking around them at all the young people, said with pride, “This is our future.”

On the return bus ride to the racetrack after the rally, I looked at all the folks around me– in front of me and behind me–and I thought, This is my country:  the elderly man with Parkinson’s beside me, the college students laughing in front of me, and the family, behind me.”

Obama/Clinton Rally Attendees on the bus ride back to their cars. (photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I’m not writing to tell you to believe in Obama or even that I do; but I believe in us, and I know that we need a leader to bring the change that we need in this world—not cheaper groceries or gas prices for us–but provision for all and stewardship for the blessing of this earth.

At the end of this long day, the boys and I raced home to the pond. I wished Hillary and Barack could join us. I’m sure they needed the swim more than we did, and I would have liked to see them out of their suits enjoying the gift of Vermont.

But alas, they have a different dharma…

No doubt, they’re off on a plane to do more of what they did in Unity–more speeches, more politics. God bless them.

Obama and Clinton leaving the podium; Unity, NH 2008 (photo: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I find myself praying for Obama and his family, that they would be safe from the dangers of this world so that our country might be led by a man who I saw to be “good.”

Obama stood, not more than 6 heads in front of me, and I took him in–not his words or his plan–but his spirit. That’s what I went to see.

Barack Obama~Unity, NH 2008 ~photo credit: Lloyd Salasin-Deane)

I had to wake my boys before 7 in order for us to be there on that field when Clinton and Obama stepped out of the newspapers and into the world. Now that it’s summer, Aidan is the hardest to wake. But when I said to his shut eyes, “Aidan, today is the day we go see Hillary and Obama,” he jumped out of bed like it was Christmas.

By noon, under that hot sun, in a crowd of thousands, he broke down in tears, begging to find any way to get back home. Lloyd and I created a little world under a beach towel for him and he found his strength to go on.

Though they were only 15 feet ahead of us, Aidan could only see Hillary and Obama when I lifted him up on my shoulders. He spent most of the time on the ground, half the size of those around him–but he said that he was glad he came.

And when we got to the pond, he told his cousin all about the rally with pride.  And to my surprise, my older son’s classmates were enthralled that we had gone to the rally and ran to find him to see these photos he took and to hear about it.

My popularity index as a parent immediately rose, having plummeted the week before when I was not among those many Marlborians who made sure their kids found a television to watch the night-long Celtics win. “You put us all to shame” said a father about the journey I made with my boys.

“They were our community representatives,” a mother clarified.

I have great hope that this beautiful man of color and character might be our country’s representative.

My husband tells me that both Michelle and Barack Obama made the maximum individual contribution to Hillary’s indebted campaign the other night, and that Barack has asked his supporters to donate what they can to offset her great debt.

Today, I’ll make my first ever direct financial contribution to a political campaign at a national level to both Hillary and Obama. I like the feeling of supporting his campaign and supporting Hillary with hers that has ended. I like the spirit of it.

That’s what drew me to Unity, New Hampshire yesterday morning–the spirit of it.

And did you know that the school groundskeeper that introduced Hillary and Barack, was a Republican?

United we stand, divided we fall. My greatest hope is that we can co-create a world and a country that we are proud to call our home–and that when our time comes to leave this place, we can say that on “our watch” unity and beauty prevailed.

Do I believe a political leader can provide the change we want to see in the world?

No.

But I hold great hope that we can co-create it with his leadership.

Help us to be the always hopeful
Gardeners of the spirit
Who know that without darkness
Nothing comes to birth
As without light
Nothing flowers.

-May Sarton

Touching the Heart of Childhood~ a visit with poetry teacher extraordinaire~ Ann Gengarelly

“If we forget poetry, we will forget ourselves.”

Octavia Paz

Most know Ann Gengarelly through the children– and the poetry they write– under her care.  These poems have traveled from the hearts of families and friends in her home state of Vermont–to the floor of the United States Senate, where “Distance,”  a student’s poem about a grandmother suffering from Alzheimers was read by Senator Jim Jeffords at the 103d Congress.  (Written by Hannah Pick of Putney, VT.)

Ann has been sharing the gift of poetry with children for over thirty years.   Her work as “a-poet-in-the-schools” has taken her all over southern Vermont– and as far away  as The Little Singer Community School on the Navajo Reservation in the state of Arizona.  Ann also teaches at area colleges, and offers classes for adults and children at her studio in Marlboro, Vermont.

I had the pleasure of joining Ann while she led a workshop at the local elementary school.  My visit came at the end of a four-part session with the primary students there– a multi-age class of six, seven and eight-year olds.

The relationship between Ann and these young ones is palpable the moment they see each other. “I’ve missed you!” she croons as the children arrive in the school library.   “Nice hair cut, Lloyd,” she says. “Hey Tim, how are you?” Ann makes a point to greet each child individually, and she laughs as a succession of children drape themselves over her in an embrace before taking their place on the floor.

Each class begins like this– with a warm reunion and a circle gathering.  The children are bubbling by the time Ann is ready to begin, but they quickly respond to the sound of her voice.  (She can’t help but whisper a few last hellos.)

Can everyone look at me so I can tell you something?” Ann says softly with a touch of intrigue.  “I woke up this morning feeling…  Oh… I’m not sure how to describe the feeling in my heart,” Ann says as places her palms over her chest before continuing. “I felt both so excited to see you, but also a little sad.  Does anybody know why?”

Hands shoot into the air with the obvious answer:  Today is the last day of poetry. The children hang their heads in shared disappointment.

Until we come to your house!” offers eight-year old Anna, reminding them of the visit they make to The Poetry Studio each spring. The children remember Ann’s stone pathways, her bright gardens, and especially –the small frog pond– surrounded by birches and evergreens.

Ann shares that she looks forward to their visit after the snow and then introduces the theme for today’s class, encouraging the children to close their eyes.  “I want you to take a minute to go inside yourself, talk to yourself, and think about this:

How do you know when something or someone is your friend?

Ann repeats the question with great emphasis, adding,  “I really want you to help me with this.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  How can you tell?”

The children respond as thoughtfully as Ann asks the question.  “You tell by time,” says one boy, “by getting to know them better.”

Did you hear that?” says Ann.  “Say that again,” she asks,  focusing the  children’s attention on each response as the conversation unfolds.  Ann intentionally keeps the themes broad to allow for personal expression while carefully guiding the children’s awareness to greater depths, “I’m going to ask you a different question now so you might want to close you eyes again:

Does anybody here in the circle have a very special friend that’s much, much younger than you; or much, much older? ”

One child raises her hand to ask Ann’s age.   “Oh me?” she says, “I’m poetry age!”

The children giggle with delight. Another child raises her hand and offers that her grandmother is her friend, even though she has died.   This causes quite a commotion, but Ann stills the room to say,  “Wait a minute…  let’s just stay quiet, so that you can breathe that in.”

This is how it is with Ann–heartfelt, focused, attentive. “Children are hungry to be listened to,” she says.   “We all have the need to tell our stories.  Poetry is often the telling of the soul.  It can be the key to unlocking thoughts and feelings and visions.”

If poetry is the “key”, then Ann Gengarelly is one of its most trusted keepers: “Poetry is a dance between our inner landscapes and the external world,” she says.  “We could all go out and look at the full moon, but our individual response is what creates our unique vision, our particular voice.  Poetry, in many ways, is the invitation to pay attention–to notice–to be ‘present’; whether it’s to a birth of a pet, the death of a grandparent, the song of a whippoorwill, war.”

Ann models this attention, this ‘being present’, with each child.  “I have watched, shy, silent kids pour out passionate words to her eager face,” says Rebecca Bateman, an intern from Antioch Graduate School.  “I have seen angry, stubborn kids melt when she handles their truculence with a gentle embrace.”

Ann continues to explore the theme of friendship with the children with work from the great Masters: Emily Dickinson, Monet… and from the Masters To Be: Art and poetry from students who have written with Ann on other occasions, her ‘poetry children’ she calls them–some who have graduated from this very school, leaving the legacy of “voice” behind.

Ann offers a variety of verse to the children,  “Poems that are ‘paintings in words’, poems that are songs,  poems that are messages from heart and spirit, poems born from imagination, poems rooted in literal experience,” she explains.

There is a building sense of excitement and momentum as the children prepare  ‘to give birth to their own poems’.  By the time they pick up their pencils, they are overflowing with inspiration. “Nick you have five poems in you!” Ann says after he shares that rocks are his friends, and later that his dreams are too.

One by one they leave the circle–some to find a quiet spot on the floor, others to nestle in a corner, and yet others to sit at tables with one or two poet friends.  The atmosphere in the room shifts dramatically as Ann encourages a ‘quality of silence,’ enabling these young poets to hear their ‘inner voice.’

At this young age, the composing process is initiated through art.  The children begin by folding a large piece of paper in half, using one side on which to draw and the other on which to write. “When you start with your drawing,” says Ann, “I don’t want you to think so much about what this friend looks like…  think more about what this friend feels like to you.”

Ann moves about the room offering  her support as needed.   “Let’s draw a picture about that,” she suggests to a little boy whose pet frog has died.   “Close your eyes, travel back, and tell me–How was he your friend?  You’ve got to help me see it in my imagination.”

He lived in a little castle in a fish tank,” shares the boy.  “But it wasn’t really a castle.”

It seemed like a castle to you, right?” says Ann.   “Let’s write that; we can do that in poetry land!”

Ann refers to this part of the writing process as ‘witnessing.’ “There is the poet as witness–witnessing his own experiences, feelings, dreams, hope.  And then there’s the teacher as witness.  When a teacher shares a dialogue with a student about a poem, she offers dignity to the human experience… of being human together.”

The witnessing process continues as the children read their completed work to each other.  Ann brings the class together again, saying, “Our last poetry party, come on over, let’s share!”  She calls this final gathering, ‘a circle of humanity.’

“Who will offer the first gift?” Ann asks expectantly.  Most are eager to share, and after each poem is read, another ‘gift’ is requested–that of the listener. Ann directs the children’s attention,  deepening their understanding and appreciation of each others work and of the craft of writing poetry.

What part makes you go ooh?” she asks.  “What part was a poetry way of saying what was felt?  What part makes you feel convinced that someone was a friend?”

As the last gifts are offered, Ann laments that the session is about to end.   “I wish we didn’t have clocks in poetry land,” she says.   “These poems were just extraordinary.”  She takes a deep breath and looks around the circle at each face, exclaiming, “What friends we have here!”

There is a sweet sadness as goodbyes are spoken, but the children’s time with their poems hasn’t ended.  In the upcoming weeks, the students will edit and type their work, compiling their poems into handmade books to be presented to parents at a poetry celebration.  Ann will rejoin them on this occasion, and will also stop in to see them in the months to follow when she returns to work with other classes.

By the end of the school year, the entire student body will contribute a piece of poetry to a bound collection–one that is sent home with each child–a tradition that has continued for more than twenty-five years.  At a special ceremony before graduation, Ann will read the 8th grader’s earliest poetry from a decade ago.  The newest kindergarten class will also be present, seated beside their eighth-grade ‘elders’, who will support them in reading their very first poems.

Ann is passionate in her belief that everyone has poetry inside them, affirming that the journey of self-discovery is as critical for children as it is for adults.  “The power of metaphor, of the image world, is evident with people of all ages,” she claims. “Poetry, in the deepest sense is an invitation to remember who we are.”

At her poetry studio, Ann delights in bringing together multi-age groups, and often does so in  after-school and summer programs.  One of the most memorable gatherings was a spontaneous one following the events of September 11th:  “Twenty-five people, mainly families, joined together to give voice to their feelings and reactions, beginning a ‘journey of healing’ as a community.”

Ann feels strongly that we are living in a time where there’s a vital need for compassion in the world, and she believes that poetry plays crucial role.  “In a profound sense, there is a compelling connection between compassion and imagination.  If we were truly able to imagine what it feels like to live in a war torn country or to be homeless, wouldn’t we be more likely to develop a deeper sense of compassion and commit fewer acts of violence!  If  we could feel the souls in trees, flowers, and stones as do Native Americans, maybe we would experience a deeper reverence for nature.”

Ann shares the power of poetry, relaying her experience with a young poet,  “I remember a 5th grade boy who many years ago came up to me and said, ‘I often make fun of old people.’   I was in awe of this child owning this behavior and proceeded to ask him how he thought that made elders feel.  His response was: ‘I’m going to find out today in poetry’– and then picked up a wooden figure I have of an old man.  What unfolded was a persona poem in which the boy assumed the voice of the old man whose heart felt like ‘a broken window’ in response to the mockery of a young boy.”

As the recess bell sounds to announce the closing of the morning session, Ann offers these parting words to the young faces before her, “I just want to thank you for the gift of listening to you.  It’s been most powerful to hear what is inside you.  I hope that even though I’m not doing classes with you, that poetry will remain your friend and that you’ll feel poetry saying- Listen to me, I’ve got something to say.”

Poetry

Poetry, the one thing you’ll

always remember.

It’s always with you

like your heart-

Poetry soars above you

like a raven,

taking away your fears-

Poetry takes care of you,

listens to you.

Ann listens to me

as a sister

Poetry will always

be with you

and me.

(Zoe Chaine, age 7)


Kelly Salasin, 2003

Notes:

7 year old Poetry author Zoe Chaine is now teenager now– still writing–and publishing– her poetry.

To read more about Ann’s legacy at Marlboro School–even with older children– click here.

Photo taken at Poetry/Art day on Hogback Mountain, 2009;  Pam Burke, Marlboro Elementary School.



 

 

 

 

Young at Heart (Never Grow Up!)

Kelly Ann Beach
The author, at the eternal age of 8!

I remember the exact moment that I became a grownup.  It was on a playground in a suburb outside Philadelphia, and I was only twenty-one years old.   A six-year old, named Danny Goldstein, was to blame.

I’d spent the better part of my youth avoiding “growing up” because I knew that I didn’t want any place in that serious world of adults. In fact, at 13, when I could feel childhood slipping away, I made a tearful pact with myself to keep the magic alive.

In some ways holding onto my youth was easier for me than other teens because I came from a large family. Spending time with little ones kept me young–and busy–which shielded me from having to grow up too soon.  The first time I was “asked out,” I let my youngest sister answer for me.  At two-years old, her answer was always, “NO!”

Just before I entered high school, my father took me on a date to the movies where the closing song became my personal crusade: “Don’t you know that it’s worth every treasure on earth to be Young at Heart.”

The years passed though and soon enough, my interests began to change.  I started dating and driving and other teenage things.  My best friend and I were always on the lookout for markers of our impending adulthood:  the first time we drank coffee, the first road trip, the applications to college.  “Now we’re real women,” we’d say, never believing it was true.

By the time I were in college, my high school sweetheart starting talking marriage. M. was two years older than me and was more than ready to join the real world—as an accountant and husband. BUT I hadn’t even chosen a major yet and couldn’t see myself in any role that required panty hose, heels and the title, “Mrs.”  The day that he took me to look at rings, my hands began to sweat and I refused to get out of the car.

My fear of growing up took on such mythological proportions that even my youngest sister captured it in song.  At 3 years old, she spontaneously adapted a Peter Pan tune for me, singing, “You don’t want to grow up.  You don’t want to marry M.”

As my relationship with M. deteriorated, I decided upon elementary education as a major.  Now I never had to grown up!

…Enter my semester as a student teacher.  As seniors, my roommates had only a handful of classes a week while I spent all day—every day– with first graders!  As my friends tossed aside books and headed out to parties, I made lesson plans and called it a night.

After two weeks in the first grade, I found myself stealing naps on the milk-stained rug at recess time.  With ten weeks left to go, I began to doubt that this was the career for me.

It was in my last fateful days at Penn Wynne Elementary that my own youth was abruptly stolen. I arrived early to school that morning and just as I crossed the playground and stepped onto the blacktop, little Danny Goldstein, who wanted to be a paleontologist when he grew up, rushed at me with those irretrievable words:

Ms. Salasin!  Thank goodness a GROWNUP is here!

My world stopped.  My ears began to ring. I looked around the playground for the grownup to which Danny was referring, and found only–me.  I stumbled through the school doors and down the hall, wondering how it had happened.  How had  I become a grown up when I tried so hard not to be?

For a couple more years, I pretended it wasn’t so.  I turned my back on teaching, frolicked at the beach in the summer, back packed through Europe in the fall, spent a winter as a ski bum in Colorado, and at 22–made a pact with a lusty bartender to avoid credit, mortgages and marriages till at least the old age of 30 when we’d marry each other if we hadn’t found anyone else.

My frivolity caught up with me long before thirty however. After seven years of waiting, M. proposed to someone else!   I didn’t think it would matter, but it did.  I put up a good fight—humbly lost—and in the process, grew up.  My life of fun suddenly became stale.  Marriage and mortgages were held at bay, but I moved in with a man who swept me off my stubborn feet, and I even started substitute teaching.

The day that I was offered a full-time job, I cried as if someone had died.  But to my surprise, once I began teaching, I was happier than ever.  Within a few years, I wanted my own kids–and a house!

Though the realization that I was a grown up came in a single declarative sentence spoken by a six-year old on a playground, it truly didn’t happen in a one moment.   The “grown-up” thing creeps up on you over time and never stops clobbering you over the head:  like when you sign on the dotted line for 30 years; or when your closest friends tell you that their marriage is ending; or when your teenage son plays your old music, and you find yourself yelling, “Turn it down.”

When I take a good look back, I can see that “growing up” is something that started long before I’d even come of age.  The seed of that transformation was planted and watered through a series of childhood losses:

the day my cat “Licorice” didn’t come home;

the day I realized that people die–even parents and kids– not just pet turtles;

the day my father put me in charge of making sure my mom didn’t drink anymore;

the day my Nana Lila and her three best friends were killed in a car accident;

the day my parents split up and all my sisters turned toward me;

and the list goes on…

The truth is that I held onto childhood for too long because too much of it had been ripped away from me too soon.  And although I still have that 13 year old inside–promising to hold onto the magic– I have a grown up inside now too.  She can’t believe she’s 45, but I wouldn’t give her up.   I need them both, just as I need my three-year old and my eighty-year old, and everyone in between.

Over time, I’ve realized that the secret of staying “young at heart” isn’t about holding on to your youth, it’s about continuing to grow—up and out and all around.

Kelly Salasin, 2009

Kelly keeps it “young” from the Green Mountains of Vermont.  She welcomes your comments and conversation below.  She also highly recommends the dvd, Young @ Heart (You’re Never Too Old to Rock) featuring Northampton’s remarkable “senior” rockers!  Coldplay, The Clash & Hendrix will never sound the same!

Extra~ How Not to Act Old in 2010

Resurrecting WCHS (Part II of An Un-Tribute to My Alma Mater)

WCHS
Hail Alma Mater, Wildwood Catholic High

Hard to believe that my Alma Mater is giving me homework–29 years after graduation.  At least now I enjoy the writing process.  But 2 “assigned” posts is too much in one week of a (rebellious) blogger-mother’s life.

Yet, once I get the “nudge,” it’s almost impossible to resist.   Even if I don’t put my fingers to the keys, the story starts writing itself–at the most inconvenient times.  Like when I’m trying to sleep or make love or drive in the snow.

So here I am, taking my assignment like a good Catholic schoolgirl. Only this time, I’ve been asked to resurrect my dying Alma Mater–rather than bash it.

If nothing else, the closing of Wildwood Catholic marks the end of an era even while its legacy lives on in its graduates who are the greatest testimony to its enduring value.

Take a quick glance at my class of ’81:

Ralph at the Pentagon, John on the State Superior Court Bench, Carole traveling the world, Gwyn living it UP in the deep South, Deb working oncology, Kathy mothering a sick child who recently passed away, Joe teaching history, Patrice coaching swimming, Lou Ann raising two fine boys, Kelley a college professor, Jesse a Public Defender–and that’s just the people that come to mind in this instance–the list goes on.

Which brings pause to my diatribe against the school and makes me wonder,

What did I learn at Wildwood Catholic High?  What were the teaching moments that made a difference?

I see myself back in the basement, standing in the cafeteria–not in line for a wet pretzel or a Friday cheesesteak (Were those moms dedicated or what!) or even for the “Last Dance”–but for a testimonial–on behalf of  Sister Henrietta–Catholic’s Principal, back in the day.

I can see her flocked with nuns as they play her favorite song and she wells up. “You Light Up My Life…”  This struck me.  It was a mushy love song.  And then it hit me.  This is her song for God.  And I was moved.

Next stop is the Principal’s Office.  Sister Marie, this time.  I’ve been called down because of the political cartoon I turned in for Turco and Stubbs’ Senior Social Issues class.  The cartoon was my commentary on Marie’s new policy of “no driving” off campus at lunch time.

Granted, in the past, seniors were heading to Woody’s for lunch and throwing down “a few” with their beef. (The drinking age was 18.) But that didn’t take away our indignation over the newly imposed restriction. (Teens excel at indignation.)

My cartoon featured Sister Marie with a ruler, standing at the corner, overseeing a group of chained seniors heading to A & LP where we would now be charged exorbitant prices for a slice of pizza.

Sister Marie would like to see you in her office,” Turco told me when I arrived for class the Monday after turning in my assignment.  Gulp.

She had the cartoon on her desk when I arrived.  “Kelly, take a seat, and tell me about this,” she said, in her typically stern manner.  Gulp.

But you know what she did?  She simply dismissed me, saying “Thank you, Kelly, I’m going to have it framed for my office.” Surprise.  Even Principals could be cool.

I have to acknowledge that my studies at Wildwood Catholic were celebrated in more ways than this. Upon  a recommendation by the Art Teacher (whose name I wish I could recall), I was asked to design a banner on behalf of WCHS to welcome “THE POPE”  on his visit through South America.  Apparently, it didn’t matter that I was a Protestant, as long as I could draw Mary and some lillies. I felt honored and expanded–and included.

Art also helped me find my way onto the gym floor (since sports would never do that for me 🙂  I was asked to help design and paint the new emblem at Center Court.   With two athletic boys of my own now, I marvel at the dedication and performance that I took for granted in highschool.  And I wonder, what will happen to the WCHS banners and trophies?  And what about that legacy?

I’m glad to hear the school will stay a school, and a Catholic one at that.  After years of teaching in the public system, I did a short stint in religious education, directing the program at a Unitarian/Universalist Church.   While administration wasn’t for me, I’ve always loved the study of religion and the pursuit of “understanding.”  My favorite Theology teacher at Catholic was a nun who was just there for a short time, but in whose class I delighted in our studies–going on to take three more Theology classes at my Catholic college.

And while I didn’t continue in theater at the college level, my participation in the FTT musicals at WCHS were a huge fulcrum for my sense of self–and belonging.  I’ll never forget the feeling during yet another grueling late night rehearsal (and a Saturday night at that!) when Feraco would stop us to say,

You did it!  I got chills.

Despite this extraction of sweetness from my years at WCHS, the news of its closing unearthed a range of emotions and memories that found their way into my first “assignment,” An Un-Tribute to my Alma Mater. And by the slew of comments that I received (better than any “A,”) my perspective struck a chord with many–often harmonious– and occasionally sour.  Of the latter, this one stirs the most:

You were popular and well liked. I’m surprised you don’t feel more disappointed at the loss of the school. You too must have had many good memories, there were many fun times. There are still pictures and banners of friend’s records there that add to a sense of belonging to something bigger than us. It marks the success of completing a challenge, a place we became adults.

I was surprised about my own “negative” feelings too–which is exactly why I wrote that piece– as part confessional/part exploration.  But John Osborne continued to put me in my place when he added this about the direct affect the closing had on his family,

My son just got the news of the end of the school. I wish you could sit in our house and see how the wind gets sucked out of a family.

And while fellow alumni Dan Rosenello ’86 shared that he heartily appreciated my “Un-tribute” , he closed with this “on the mark” sensitivity,

…For good or bad , it was and is the school where I began my own trip into adulthood, and as such , I will miss it. Godspeed WCHS.

And thus, I’ll  close Part II of my Un-Tribute with the apropos sentiment of a fellow graduate, Tracy O’Brien ’80.

The most precious thing I took from Wildwood Catholic were my friends, I am still close with them today, and I love them all. I hope people read your letter in the spirit it was written, the truth isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t all ugly either.

With a special nod to Trish DiAntonio, also from the class of  ’80, who tipped the scale on this second homework assignment, with these words:

I hope you write a follow up! I can’t wait to read more.

Thank you Wildwood Catholic, new friends and old.

Kelly Salasin, WCHS ’81

Click on the links below for related work:
Part I of the Un-Tribute to WCHS

Never Grow Up!

Connect with the dynamic group working to Save Wildwood Catholic You can also find more WCHS groups on Facebook.

An “Un-Tribute” to My Alma Mater

WCHS
Wildwood Catholic High

It occurs to me that this subtle sense of vindication isn’t an entirely “appropriate” response to the news that my Alma Mater is closing.  Which makes this piece, part confessional/part research, as I ask, How can I hold animosity toward an institution I left 29 years ago?

Which then begs the question,  How can I be that old? No matter though, because all those years fade away when I think back on my days at Wildwood Catholic High.  And there I am, 17, in a pink Handi-Wipe uniform. I wasn’t even Catholic.

When it came to choosing my highschool, my parents disagreed. Neither wanted me to attend their respective Alma Maters. My father could not imagine sending his first daughter into the wilds of his own public high school experience (at Wildwood High), and my mother couldn’t imagine inflicting her experience at Catholic on anyone else.  (She had abandoned her childhood faith when the Church refused to marry her, pregnant, to a Protestant/Jew.)

But when it came to choosing my high school, my father–and the subject of French–prevailed.  Wildwood High didn’t offer French III and Catholic did.  (Of course, what they failed to mention upon my registration at Catholic was that although they offered it, I wouldn’t be able to take it as a sophomore which was the intention.)

Though it’s come up briefly in other places, I’ve never written directly about my highschool before–and I’m a little nervous about it.  Of course, it’s easier to bash something or someone upon death.  And personally, I think it’s healthy to do so.  A little Razor’s Edge makes the separation simpler.

And to be fair, lots of “good” took place within those walls for me: I met my first love and had my first kiss.  I summoned up the courage to try out for the school play.  (Thank you Peachy, FTT & the cast of Pippin.) I excelled in the small art classes.  I toyed with honors.  I recited the Canterbury Tales in Middle English (I still remember them!) And most importantly, I met some of my dearest friends–with whom I am STILL  friends. (Take that, Mrs. Coughlin!)

So what is it that leaves me strangely satisfied about the school’s closing?  Is it simply a case of Alice Cooper’s, “School’s Out for Summer” with a twisted emphasis on the line,  “Schools Out Forever!” And who can resist the lyrics, “School’s been blown to pieces! No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks.”

Or does this sense of smugness smack of something hidden, some “slight” left unresolved?

Was it Sister Henrietta standing at the top of the stairwell after lunch, confiscating each of our illegal cardigan sweaters and stowing the whole pile of them in her office?

Was it Breslin throwing chalk at my head for falling asleep in English? Or  Sister Paul Mary for slapping me after I asked a “stupid question”? (She was my mom’s Biology teacher too.)

Was it that Sister Eileen singled me out instead of the boys when they nudged my desk ever so slowly out into the front of the room until I banged into hers? (Thanks Keith & Porto!)

Was it the detention I got for scratching my name into the wooden auditorium seats during the weekly Mass?  Or the “C ” I got in typing because I wasn’t a jock or a cheerleader? (I’ve only recently learned to type without looking.)

Was it that Father Hodges cleverly mocked my Protestant indignation over kneeling for the Rosary– by crowning me May Queen? Was it his hair shirt or the Irish Pub songs he made us sing? (“Oh it’s, no nay, never, no nay never, no more, Oh I’ll Sing the Wild Rover…”)  Or Sister Saint Jervase’s unusually strong affection for the bust of Shakespeare?

Maybe it is even deeper yet…  Something beneath the surface of institutionalized authority.  Something that extends beyond my singular experience…

I wasn’t one of the students being made fun of by the teachers after play practice.  But upon hearing them, I learned that not all adults had the integrity I expected of myself in coming of age.

It was also funny to be asked to release my boyfriend’s hand across the cafeteria table, “My dear couple, there will be no public display of affection,” while another girl was giving her boyfriend a hand job in the Library–or better yet, when the new teacher was screwing one of the students.

Admittedly, having my dress looked up with a shoe mirror by my classmates wasn’t nearly as bad as the humiliation endured by one of the smaller boys who was frequently stuffed in the trash can at lunch time or stowed behind the soda machine.  (Watch out boys. He’s a Marine now.)

Or what about our very own guidance counselor, who told some of our “lower tracked” friends that they weren’t “college” material and that they shouldn’t bother applying– even to a community school?  (Does anyone else feel creepy about the tracking system?)

What about how cruelly we treated one of our kinder, but odder teachers? I didn’t care to pay attention enough to understand Animal Farm, but I’ll never forget the way the teasing made me feel inside. (The term “passive colluder” comes to mind.)

When I look closely at my years at Wildwood Catholic, there’s nothing really terrible there.  It was more of a Purgatory, a suspension of living—a forced “playing” of someone else’s game, before I could live my own.  It’s probably true of most highschool experiences.

I appreciated the sense of “belonging” at WCHS.  Like when the entire first track resorted to hiring the same math tutor (her condo was revolving door of seniors.)  Or when we all chipped into the “Chem Pot” so that the poor soul who scored the lowest grade on the tests (which we had all repeatedly failed) would take home some cash.  Or the ditties we prepared on our free period to make some abysmal teaching tolerable. I still sing, “B to the negative N, B to the negative N,” (to the tune from the Wizard of Oz.)  That bright spot of a dull morning in the basement of the school was worth the pink slip that read, “Kelly is a constant source of disruption in class.”

One of the greatest covert acts of my lifetime was arriving late to school to discover an empty office with a pile of detention slips on the counter.  Holding my breath, I shuffled through the pink pile, finding mine and stuffing it into the pocket of my dress.

Many more things happened at Wildwood Catholic that I never knew about.  Like I didn’t know that I shared the cafeteria with a track 4 underclassman who would a decade later become my lover and then my husband and then the father to our sons, one of whom is in public high school now (and hopefully not reading this.)

Unlike my husband, I never experienced the infamous Senor Platt as a teacher, though he lost his life outside the restaurant I managed during the summers–which is now also gone.

I never understood why Mademoiselle Hodge distributed cookies during the SATs by serving one side of the aisle and not the other so that she was forced to make two round trips–just with the napkins.  But I loved it about her– even more than her thoughtfulness.

And then there was the all time favorite, Mr. Stubbs, who was cool enough to manage the class and treat us like equals.  Much to my initial discomfort, his wife insisted I call him “Sam” when we became teaching colleagues at Margaret Mace Elementary years later.  We spent Friday afternoons together in the P.O.E.T.S. club (Piss On Education Tomorrow’s Saturday) and during our precious years together, he lost Sharon to cancer, and married a friend, and moved away, like me.

Maybe it’s the building that bothers me.  The cross shape. I’ll never forget the look on my mother’s face the day my parents brought me there to register.  “This place still gives me the heebie jeebies,” she said, with a shudder, as we waited in the cold marble lobby for Sister to see us.

It was the first time that my mother had let down the mask of “adult,” and I saw her just like me…  as a person. She learned to smoke there at Wildwood Catholic High, across the street, hiding from the Nuns.  Maybe in some twisted way I blame them for that.

I guess despite my extensive probing, I haven’t figured out this animosity toward my dying Alma Mater.  And so I’ll end with love.

Love for all those who have had their highschool belonging years cut short by this closing.   Love for those who never did belong, though they may have ached to.   Love for teachers, past and present, who gave of their time and patience to be there, and for those who now face an ending that rocks their world.  May you find higher ground.

While I don’t share their walk, I have long admired the living Catholic faith among my old highschool and college classmates, and I can only imagine what a loss this type of ending is for them–and for their children.  For that, I offer my deep condolence.

“Hail Alma Mater, Wildwood Catholic High!”

PS.  Sister Patricia was wrong.  That track 4 guy (that I married) DID eventually go to college, graduate with honors and become a highschool history teacher himself:  Vermont’s own version of Mr. Stubbs 🙂

Kelly Salasin, WCHS ’81 is a lifelong educator and “recovering classroom teacher” who now shines the light of learning through writing, yogadance & life coaching.

Scroll down below to the comment section to join the “conversation.”  Add the name of your highschool and year of graduation to your name if  you’d like.

of related interest:

Part II of An Un-Tribute to WCHS

Never Grow Up!

Catholic Schools–How to Fix the Parochial School Decline;

WCHS Alumni, Ann Delaney blog post on “Closing Schools”

Facebook, The Mean Girls and Me (At 34 years old, I finally feel like a popular seventh-grader. How sad is that?)

The Meetinghouse School

The Meetinghouse Preschool

~a tribute from 1998

on the occasion of its 25th anniversary~

This year the Meetinghouse Preschool in Marlboro, Vermont celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary. This milestone is testimony to the hundreds of parents who have come together since 1973 to support this school and entrust their children to its teachers.

More than 300 preschool students have graduated from Meetinghouse since it first began. Some of those alumni were on hand for the anniversary dinner held this April at the Colonel Williams Inn in Marlboro.

Hannah Van Loon was a student in the first class to pass through the school, and remembers it as a safe, and comfortable place,  “I still remember building with those red and white cardboard blocks,” says twenty-eight year old Hannah, who now works as a paraeducator in Brattleboro.

Simon Holzapfel, twenty-five, and his brother Forrest, twenty-three, also attended the school in its early years. “I remember the windows being really high, “ says Simon about the classroom which is housed in the town church. “I’m still friends with some of the kids that were in my class back then,” he adds.

As an eighth grader, Simon returned to the preschool to work as a helper. “I read to the kids, pushed them on the swings, and helped them play more civilly,” recalls Simon, who is now a teacher himself at the Putney School.

Liza Murrow Ketchum founded The Meetinghouse School in the early seventies and served as its first director/teacher. As an educator and writer, she studied schools in England for the book she authored, Children Come First. Liza was impressed with the innovative primary programs there which helped shape her vision for the preschool she would start in Marlboro.

The directorship of the school has changed hands over the years, and Liza, who is now a children’s author, resides outside of Boston. She was excited to receive the announcement of the school’s twenty-fifth anniversary, saying, “I was tickled to see Joe Hamilton’s signature on the letter.”

At seventy-seven, Mr. Hamilton has served as chairman of the board since the school began.“All of my efforts over the years to retire have been fruitless,” says Joe with a hint of a smile, “Three or four years ago they passed a resolution… they won’t let me resign.”

When first searching for a site for the preschool, Liza found the town church to be the perfect spot. Built in 1932 and located in the center of Marlboro, the building has a large center room, kitchen and bathroom facilities, and huge windows that let in plenty of light.

Like other rural churches in the area, membership had been declining, and services were only held in the summer months and at Christmas time. As church moderator, Joe Hamilton, a dairy farmer in West Brattleboro, supported the idea of turning over the use of the first floor of the church to the preschool. “It just seemed to me that it was better to have the building used,” said Joe.

The Hamilton family has been members of the church since the early 1800s (before the original building on that site burnt down). “Joe was a great link between the school community and the church community,” says school founder Liza Murrow Ketchum, “The first year or two, most of the people were nervous about the preschool, but once they saw that the families and I cared about the building, things changed.”

Liza describes the involvement of the parents in the school during those early years as “heartwarming,”and adds, “There just wasn’t any other way to run the place.”

This tradition of parent involvement in the school has been passed down through the generations of families, and has kept this cooperative preschool alive. Twenty-five years later, the parents continue to work closely with the director to ensure the school’s success:

Parents come in to cook and create with the children, they volunteer to work as substitutes or chaperones if needed, they provide snack for the class, they take on the jobs of maintaining and cleaning the building, and they organize and carry out the fundraisers that financially support the school.

For some this may seem overwhelming, but for the parents whose children attend this school, it is essential. “A lot of parents in this society are looking for a place to put their kids while they go off and do their things, I don’t think that’s the general consensus here,” says parent Kathy Pell, “We’re looking for a place for our kids to go that we’re a part of as well.”

“This is a different place than others,” continues Kathy, who also serves on the board. “There are preschools that we have been to where they won’t let parents come in, where they won’t let you stay, where they certainly wouldn’t let you sit there and help your kids out during the day– and be a part of the whole thing. Family is really important here, and that makes it unique.”

Board member and parent Carol Brooke-deBock agrees, “Any teacher that comes aboard has to feel committed that the kids just aren’t being sent to the school. She has to want to work with the whole family, and to encourage the parents to ask questions.”

“Parents are willing to make the commitment,” adds parent Jodi Paloni, who also serves on the board, “That commitment is needed to keep things going, and it’s fun! It’s not just what get’s done… it’s the spirit of it all. That provides the momentum for the school.”

Celeste MacArthur takes advantage of the scholarship offered for cleaning the classroom. Her daughter Iyla is the third of her children to attend Meetinghouse. “Even when I’m cleaning, I think about the kids… It isn’t just a job. I have so much gratitude for Iyla’s experience here,” Celeste says.

Working scholarships are available to families who need tuition support. Generally tuition covers about sixty percent of the school’s annual budget (depending on enrollment), while the remaining portion comes from the school’s fundraising initiatives.

“Fundraising can be a drag at times… It’s a lot of work, ” emphasizes school treasurer Carol Brooke-deBock, “But it also brings people together. People feel more invested in the school because of it.”

The school’s largest and longest-running fundraising effort is their Annual Cider Sale which has taken place each autumn for the past twenty years! The school even has its own pressing equipment.

Whether or not you know the school, you most surely know this event that takes place on Route 9 in Marlboro each Columbus Day Weekend. The landmark is the huge mound of apples and the big tents under which the cider is pressed and the home baked pies are sold.

The cider sale kicks off the school year for the parents and really brings their families together:  the week before the sale everyone gathers at Scott Orchard in Dummerston to do the picking. The preschoolers work along side their– brothers and sisters, moms and dads, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and friends– to gather the apples for the cider and for pies that will be baked the following week.

The relationships formed in coming together to support the school “carry over into the community,” explains board member Laura Hunter. “There is this great friendship outside of the school… it’s really amazing. We are all so different from each other, but the core of why we are at Meetinghouse is the same, and that makes our bonds so strong.”

That bond is vital to parent Kathy Pell who was new to the community when her son Dakota was a preschooler. “When we moved here, I definitely didn’t feel like I was part of anything,” explains Kathy, “but being at Meetinghouse, first as parent, then as a board member, gave me this little tiny community to be a part of… a place where we share a philosophy of what we want for our kids… to have a really safe, really enjoyable, learning environment.”

The common values held by these families are “apparent in the children themselves,” says parent Dolly Glennon, who drives from Wilmington each day so that her sons Brad and Drew can attend the school.

Meetinghouse has always attracted families from communities outside its home in Marlboro. Prior to relocating there, Laura Hunter traveled from Brookline to enable her daughter to attend the school. “Erica has special needs,” explains Laura, “We had looked at every place in the area, and nothing felt right. But the minute that I took her over to Meetinghouse, it was like, ‘this is it!’”

“Paul works well with kids with special needs,” says alumni parent Janie Ahern about the school’s director, Paul Redmond, “That makes it a very unique school… It’s not only unique to the kids who are already there, but also for kids that really need something extra. Not all preschools can do that.”

“Paul interacted with my daughter like nobody else did,” explains Laura, “I really needed that for her. I never felt like I could drop her off and leave her with anybody else before. This was a safe place.”

Many parents seem to know that The Meetinghouse School is the right place for their child the moment they walk through the door. “It’s definitely the perfect environment… the children have the space to expand, “ says Dolly Glennon about the classroom, “It’s also really neat to have a male role model for the kids.”

Janie Ahern served on the board in 1989 when Paul Redmond was hired as the director. She later worked as his assistant after her children graduated from the school. “One of the most important things about Paul is that he thinks of each child as being truly unique, and he treats them that way. Not all teachers do that,” Janie explains. “Paul really zeros in on the kids, and that’s his focus, “ she adds, “He is very concerned about the child’s well being and about what they are learning in the world… and that’s not just out of a book, and it’s not just from a project.”

On first encounter, it may surprise you to meet the director who runs the Meetinghouse School– he’s not  what you might expect of someone whose days are spent with small children. For starters, there aren’t too many men working in preschools; and Paul’s not fresh out of college either, he has a masters in education and has been teaching for almost thirty years.

Paul Redmond is a big, burly kind of guy with a long droopy mustache. (He once came to school clean shaven and dressed in a tie and suit for Halloween… none of the kids recognized him.) There’s a definite solidness about Paul, in the way he talks to the children, and yet he is also very gentle. With his southern accent, you’ll hear him reminding the girls and boys to be “ladies” and “gentlemen.”

They love him!

“Paul comes when we need him,” says four-year old Lindsay Ware, “When I am up in a tree, he helps me get down.”

“We like when Paul plays tricks on us, like when he pretends that Brad’s lunch is his,” say five-year olds, Aaron Brooke-deBock and Margaret Bernhard, with a giggle.

“Paul protects things,”says Liza Haughty,

“and when somebody gets hurt, he comes,” adds Alex Hunter.

“We like when he does scary stories!” three-year olds, Madeline Hawes and MacKenzie Fisher, say with a big grin.

At times the parents pull up to the school at the end of a rainy day to find the building vibrating with Latin music as Paul leads the class in a scarf dance. On the drive home, the children will laugh about how Goldilocks met The Three Pigs in a play they acted out that morning. Day and night, the house will be filled with song… “Mud, mud, I love mud! I’m absolutely, positively, wild about mud!”

“I want the kids to be excited about being at school,” says Paul, “ I want them to sing and dance… I want the world to open up to them. If children feel safe, emotionally and physically, then they’ll explore, they’ll take chances. I provide that safety by being consistent, by assuring them that no harm will come to them, and by letting them know that there are certain things that I will allow and certain things I won’t allow. They come to trust me.”

“Paul is obviously ideal,” says board member Kathy Pell about the kind of teacher the parents want for their children. “We want someone who encourages the children to solve their own problems, but who also gives them the skills to do that… someone who encourages them to explore, who doesn’t push educational philosophies versus the children’s learning and growth… someone who will be enthusiastic and gentle, all at the same time,” she explains.

“In the same way that children need to feel safe, parents need to feel that their children are safe,” says Paul, “They have to be involved in order to feel that. The better the parents know me, the more comfortable they are with me, and the more willing they are to talk to me about their children’s real issues. I like it when parents come and visit. I like for them to feel that this is their school, and I like for them to know what’s going on.”

Mornings at Meetinghouse are a nice blend of what this school is all about. At group time, the children come together on the green rug to sing songs and hear about the day’s activities. The parents circle around with babes in arms (or coffee), keeping their eyes on wandering toddlers.

There’s lots of laughter, especially among the adults, as Paul (who has been described as the David Letterman of preschool) targets comments their way. Parents linger just a moment more to see what he’ll say next as he manages ‘show and tell’,… always able to find a new angle on the same fire equipment that one little guy has brought in each week since the beginning of the year.

After group, the parents leave one by one, and the children begin their day.

The scene is timeless…

Alex and Brad at the easel, Margaret and Liza in the dress-up corner, MacKenzie and Orion dressed in capes and armor in the climbing frame, Lloyd and Griffin at the sandbox, Lindsay and Cody at the art tables, Eli and Iyla building towers, Jason and Aaron with Trent eating peanuts…

Change the names and the faces, and you are transported back to an earlier time when children who are now out of college did these same things.

Meetinghouse is not about a certain group of kids or even a certain group of parents, it’s not about one particular director or one particular way of teaching, it’s not even about the building that’s housed it for the last twenty-five years.

The Meetinghouse School is a tradition created by all of those pieces coming together, working together, to make a safe and happy place for our children.

Happy 25th Anniversary Meetinghouse!!!


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