Thursday, May 25, 2017

Time Marches Much Too Quickly….

Time Marches Much Too Quickly….

We are down to the final days at Pleasantdale Middle School, and too soon we will be celebrating the graduation of the Class of 2017!

At this time of the year, I often get questions like, “I bet you are counting down the days!”, or “How many minutes are left till you have some quiet time?”, anticipating that I might be anxious for the end of the year. In truth, this is probably the hardest time of year for me, and amidst the joy in celebrating the graduating class, there are a few moments of melancholy. The end of the year brings about change, with the departure of our graduates, retiring teachers, families that are moving, etc., and while it is exciting to anticipate what the future holds for each, each will be missed from our educational community. It can be hard to say goodbye.

As I too am at a transitional point of my educational career, these moments of reflection have been more frequent of late. It seems only yesterday that a young Mr. Busch was trying to learn a “Tripod” in my gymnastics class at LT, or many of our current parents were lining up at the side of the LT pool for practice, class to begin, or the LT Prom tickets go on sale. Where does the time go?

In just these few years I have been with you at Pleasantdale, I have been able to celebrate the weddings of three of my children, several graduations, challenges with family illness, and prayers in thanksgiving as those family members heal. My own graduation from St. John of the Cross does not seem that far away,  yet this picture surely confirms that is was. With passages and transitions, there are also new beginnings, and my wife and I are anticipating our new role as grandparents this summer. Time does pass all too quickly!

I share this with you, not to add to the tears that may come from our 8th Grade Parents, but just as a simple reminder that times does pass too quickly, and to encourage you to enjoy all the gifts that time does allow. True, there will be times that frustrate, and sometimes those who we are sharing the moments with cause the frustration. The end of the year is filled with last minute projects to complete, carpools running out of control, rooms not cleaned, yards to mow, and time is, at times, not a friend.

But please do find that time to celebrate, to enjoy those milestones as well as simple moments. Each year your children will continue to grow and each new year will bring new opportunities, challenges, and causes for celebration. Enjoy the wonderful gift we have in each and every moment, and the love shared by those close to us.

To our parents of the Class of 2017, thank you so much for making these moments of time so special at Pleasantdale Middle School. When these young adults cross the stage on June 6, please know how much we have appreciated their time here at Pleasantdale Middle School, and how much they will be missed.

To all of our parents, thanks so much for allowing me the wonderful opportunity to spend some time with you. These past four years have flown by, yet have been filled with many wonderful memories to last a lifetime. This is a special community, and I thank you for so warmly welcoming me to it.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Amazing Stories of Sharing

There are so many things that our students do in unique and wonderful ways, and I would like to highlight some of the events that have already occurred, as well as share those great events yet to come!

We are talking about sharing of time, talents, and treasure. This past year our students have done a remarkable job in all three categories, and we are so proud of their services. We are so fortunate to have a dynamic Student Council, comprised of students who meet weekly with Mrs. Driscoll to plan and provide opportunities for our students to share. Over the course of the year they have provided students the opportunity to contribute through the “Pink Out” event for Cancer Awareness, through the Holiday Sharing program and Food Drive,  the “Bowl Full of Heart” Pet Food and Supplies Drive, the 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, and the recent “Change for a Cure” .

Our students contributed greatly to all of these events. The 8th Grade Class dedicated $1500 of their Class Gift funds to support the “Bowl Full of Heart” Drive, and the one week “Change for a Cure” raised $1764.74 for the Leukemia Society, with the prize of an Olive Garden gift certificate being donated by the students to provide some meals to Mr. Bell as he recovers.  7th and 8th grade classes participate in service Field Trips to “Feed My Starving Children” and classes are continually finding ways to support others. We do have amazing students!

While all these activities are amazing, the service that occurs on our final day of school is simply wonderful!

Before the picnics and games, all classes participate in some form of service. The 8th Graders continue our contribution to our animals with the “Rescue Run” , contributing to local shelters. Our 5th  - 7th Grade students participate in the Cancer Walk. This is a very powerful event, with family members joining the walk, either in memory for a loved one lost to Cancer, in support of one struggling with the disease, or as a symbol of hope, having beaten this terrible disease. Last year our little school raised over $17,000 for this worthy fight!

Although I have said it before, I want to say it again: we have amazing students here at Pleasantdale and wonderful families! Thanks so much for sharing your children with us!

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Making Summer Plans....To Read!

Well our recent weather may not be in agreement, but the calendar is telling us that summer is almost here!  With that comes new schedules, carpools to arrange, and a whole new sense of being busy in different ways.

Yet hopefully your summer also has a few quiet times available in the schedule and an occasional chance to slow down. For myself, I find those rare times are best spent lost in a book, and my summer reading list is quickly filling up! I just received the latest from F.Scott Fitzgerald (who knew he still had some stories out there!) and this book along with several others are patiently awaiting me and that first down day in the hammock!

While our area lacks a community library, we do not lack a great reading community here in Pleasantdale School District! As in past summers, our great library will be available for summer book check-out, as well as serve as a host for many fun events for our students and families to participate in!

Mrs. Steinmetz has put together a wonderful calendar for summer fun! The library at the Middle School will be open:
Wednesdays 6:00 - 8:00 pm
  June 14 - August 16
Thursdays 12:00 - 2:00 pm
  June 15 - August 17

Summer projects include Book Clubs, STEM in the library. Art and Audio, Series of Unfortunate Events, Caudill challenge, and many other great activities! More details will be coming in the upcoming weeks!

As the summer date book is quickly filling up, please schedule some time for a date with a good book!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lessons Learned in Middle School

Our Eighth Grade students just finished reading Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. As this is my all-time favorite book, I am always eager to hear from our students what they thought of the adventures of Jem, Scout, and their father, Atticus. Universally, the students seem to express enjoyment in the book, some even stating it was the best they had read (for school) so far!

What is it with this classic book that seems to connect so well with our students, and so many others, until this day? How does the message in the book connect differently with readers as we move through life, going from the age of Jem and Scout towards that of Atticus? And is the message of the book still relevant today?

Growing up in Western Springs, there were many items in the book I could relate to back then. Like Jem and Scout and their young friend Dill, summers were rather idyllic, riding bikes up to the pool, playing ball in the empty lot, and making a great deal of idle chatter. However, back then the town was rather homogeneous, both in socio-economic status and color, and the issues of poverty, race, and the related prejudices shared in the book were things we were sheltered from. I recall being horrified by the trial in the book and the level of hate and prejudice that were central to the story. This was simply not part of my world.

One quote from the book did stand out to me, and I would say to this day impacts me and shapes my thinking.  In trying to explain all the events and perceived injustices occurring in the book, the father, Atticus, says to his daughter:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Through these words, as well as several other examples in the book, I started to see things a little differently, no longer through the egocentric eyes of a youth and now through maturing perspectives of a young adult. The actions of the characters in the book were wonderful examples of empathy, respect (or lack thereof), faith, service, and justice. It provided me with a much broader perspective of my then single note/color world.

Is the book still relevant to our children today? Our children, thankfully, live in a world of greater diversity. In our school district alone we have 17 different languages spoken by our students, a number that will greatly increase once our students arrive at LT.  We have opportunities for our families to share and celebrate their heritage and culture through class activities and PTA events, and diversity is celebrated.

However, glancing at the the news headlines this morning, over half dealt with issues regarding racism, intolerance, and challenges being faced by our society. There was the racial slurs at a Boston baseball game, articles asking if “racism is making our kids unhealthy”, and references to proposed legislation and how it could impact different groups often marginalized. Our diverse world can be at times more divided than ever before. Mixed in some of the challenging articles was a thoughtful reflection provided by LeBron James in response to the racism issue in Boston.

“Racism is gonna be a part of time forever, I believe, but I think for us, the people that have the opportunities to have a voice and people that have an opportunity to have some play on the youth that’s coming up, we have to lead them the best way we can, and we have to live with the results, so hopefully I was able to answer your question. It’s a real, real longer conversation, but if we can keep the conversation going, I think it helps.”

We know the book provided some good conversations in our students, and opportunities to grow. A great dialogue was again led by Mrs. Bailey ,former parent and a lawyer, to help our students make sense out of the legal aspects of the book. Hopefully these conversations inspire future generations to take up the challenges to fight for those who cannot for themselves.  We are so appreciative of her perspective and willingness to support our students.

If your last connection to the book goes back to your middle school years, I encourage you to take a moment and read it through now adult eyes. If you need some inspiration, or simply would like some reminders of how good the story was, please take a look at some of the quotes from the book captured here. My thanks to our teachers, community members, and students for so thoughtfully keeping the conversations alive and to Harper Lee for her inspirations to do so.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Break Vacation or Staycation?

Well, Spring Break is upon us! For those of you heading out of town, safe travels. And for those of you staying in town,  I hope you have time to enjoy some of the great things offered in our area! Regardless where you will be heading, I hope you will find the  time to enjoy your family and friends!

One thing we always tried to weave into our family trips or breaks was opportunities for our children to experience new things, and to continually learn. The few times we braved the long drive to Florida with the seven of us in the van, books were expected to travel with, and time was dedicated to unplug, and get lost in a book or spend time with school work assigned over break. When we could, we would try to weave in a stop at a historical sight along the way (although I don’t think the nerd stop I choose to Metropolis, Superman’s hometown counts!) Yet we saw many museums, nature preserves, and historical markers on the road, and to this day, our children talk as much about these side trips as the main destination.

Yet due to sports and work commitments, most vacations were here in the area. Staying at home, it is easy to have time quickly drift away, with late night gaming resulting in later and later wake-up times.We would allow a few initial “lost days” yet would quickly try to establish some schedule that included reading/school work so the transition back to school after break would not be so difficult.

We also found that there was so much locally to explore! We discovered our other area Zoo, traveling into the city to enjoy the Lincoln Park Zoo, followed by a beautiful walk through the indoor gardens of the Lincoln Park Conservatory. We enjoyed the hiking trails in our area parks, including two of my favorites from my childhood, Little Red Schoolhouse, and Fullersburg Woods. Always on a budget, we also found many of the area museums have free days, and spent a night at the Art Institute, as well as a Friday afternoon in Elmhurst at the Lizzardo Museum of Lapidary Art (or as our kids called it - the Rock Museum). There are many other great places to explore, many of them free!

So enjoy the time away from school for a week! We look forward to our students return, and learning what they learned on Spring Break!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

A "Winning" Attitude

When I was younger, the Michael Phelps of the day was Mark Spitz. As a young swimmer, I remember being so excited to see swimming taking the spotlight for the first time, and spent the summer of 1972 at the Western Springs pool working on my butterfly, hoping to one day to be able to drape a few gold medals around my neck, just like my hero.

Well that dream never materialized, yet from that inspiration, swimming became a central part of my life. At that time I was already swimming year round, but I did so with a greater commitment and goal. Olympic dreams faded, transitioning to being able to make Junior Olympics, then simply making the top relay. I never came home from awards night with the MVP trophy, receiving several special awards for being the “hardest worker”. I know as time goes by, we all become better athletes in our minds, yet looking back, I can say I was an average swimmer, at best. However, I stayed with the sport all through my school years, even limiting my college search to schools I could compete at. My dreams of being an Olympic Athlete transitioned to new hopes of being a teacher and coach, possibly a coach of a one day Olympian.

Sometimes I wonder why I spent so many long hours in an activity that I received little success or recognition for all my efforts. What was it that drove me and kept me going? For this I have to give my parents a great deal of credit for helping me develop the internal grit and proper focus for the sport, and for life as well. Whether I came home with the dreaded 6th place pink ribbon, or the occasional blue, the focus was never on win or loss, nor was winning or losing a matter of life or death. Regardless of the place, Mom would ask questions, like, “Did you improve your time”, or, “Did you feel like you practiced enough for the race”, or “How did the team do”. Regardless of the outcome, the team would still head up to Highland Queen for a celebration. Ribbons were collected in a shoebox (where they still remain!), and we returned back to the pool each and every day for practice. While swimming was a great part of my life, with the proper focus provided by my parents, it never defined my life.

Recently many stories and articles have centered on the “millennials” and the “soccer trophy” generation. While there are many overly broad generalizations that are included in these stories. The concept that “everyone is a winner” is not one easily sustained, nor realistic. For myself personally, I look back at how much I would have missed in my life had I quit once I realized I would not be the next Speedo model, let alone top Lyons Swim Club Swimmer. By being provided with the proper perspective and support from my parents, I was able to enjoy what successes I personally realized as I improved from hard work, “winning” by achieving goal times I set. While I never reached those Olympic dreams as an athlete or coach, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the opportunity I have had through coaching and education to work with countless students and athletes, many of whom I now have the privilege to still know today as parents, several in our schools. It is thanks to my parents that I have this opportunity and the proper perspective to realize what winning really is!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Welcome to Our World!

Welcome to Our World!

The other day a large group of our 8th Grade girls came down to the office, requesting to see me. Now when a big crowd is gathering outside the principal's’ office, it can bring up that “oh,oh, what’s up” feeling in the gut! However, these young ladies were coming to see me to share their ideas for a class gift, excited about ways they could leave a positive impression on the school, and wishing to be actively involved in giving back in thanks for the gifts they received.

Welcome to my world at Pleasantdale! When I share with new acquaintances that I am a Middle
School Principal, I often get that funny look, and questions about how I keep my sanity in such a profession. My response is always the same, and so easy to share. I tell them I am privileged to work with some of the nicest students I know, collaborating with caring and professional educators, and benefiting from the support of wonderful families! Now we are not perfect here, and like any community, we have our challenges and opportunities to grow. But as I frequently state, our worst day at Pleasantdale is for many schools their best. We are truly fortunate, and I know I am greatly blessed for the opportunity to be a part of this community.

Let me share a few of my other experiences, all from the past few weeks, to illustrate this better:
Let’s start with our musical last weekend, “The Lion King”. If you saw the production, I am sure you were impressed with the talents of our students, the wonderful costumes made by our directors and parents, and the overall quality of this production, especially given the size of our school. I loved all that, yet there were so many other items not on the stage that stayed with me. There was that wonderful group of recent graduates who came to not only one, but both productions to cheer on their former classmates. They were joined by many current students who came to the evening productions to support their friends. As they all gathered with the performers after the production, the level of strong support and great friendships was clearly evident!

I also was fortunate to spend some time with our Golden Apple nominee Dimitra Georganas and her
family as we attended the recognition event last weekend. The energy in the room was incredible, as families and friends gathered to celebrate excellence in education. It was a wonderful morning, made even more special by spending some time with Dimitra and her beautiful family.

Other fond memories include the final night of our Fortnightly Dance Program. This is the demonstration night, and a chance to have the students also dance with their parents! Take a look at the video posted on our webpage to get a glimpse of how special that was. There was no running and hiding from dancing with mom or dad, or anyone in fact. The night simply was fun, relaxed, and simply so rewarding to see!

I can go on and on…..we have 5th grade students trying to raise funds for their adopted turtle, “Spikey”, we celebrated this morning our P.A.W.S. Student of the Month winners, we have a stage full of pet supplies awaiting donation to a local shelter,  we have our Student Council organizing what promises to be a great Friday Night Live. Simply put, we have a great educational community, filled with wonderful students, teachers, and families! My thanks to all of you for all that I get to experience!