Thursday, August 11, 2016

Sharing Kevin

If you have read my blog for any length of time or have known me for a while, you are well aware of what happened to my brother. Just in case someone is new to this blog or to me, Kevin passed away from a heroin overdose on January 4th, 2013. It was that day that our lives changed forever.

A person is not born with a needle in their arm, Kevin obviously did not start out an addict. He had a rough go at life from the beginning.  We are both adopted, from different families. It is my understanding that Kevin's birth parents were married and had other children. It is also my understanding that they may have kept some of the children and gave up others for adoption. Whatever the case, Kevin ended up right where he belonged in our family!

Kevin was born into this world with some hardships from an infant on.  He was born with a heart murmur which turned out to not be a big deal.  Also, his foot was turned in and he had to wear a corrective shoe. Not super big deals in my book, but this caused him to not be adopted as quickly as other babies. Which honestly worked out to my family's advantage.

Kevin was a loving boy who really enjoyed spending time with his family. He had big brown, gentle eyes that were warm and friendly.  He loved to go fishing with my dad and on random adventures, and he was a momma's boy through and through.  We used to play games of make-believe all the time. We played school and house and games in the backyard. We had a typical growing up experience with two loving parents. We went on vacations and spend a lot of time together as a family.

Things became more difficult for Kevin when he entered school.  Kevin, as we found out, did not play the game of school well.  He was not going to be the compliant kid that did everything he was told. He was the type of kid that would question or do what he needed to do because concentrating on the task at hand was difficult.  Kindergarten was ok from what I remember.  First grade started out with few problems, I remember his teacher being very understanding and supportive of Kevin.  But then there was an incident where the teacher accused him of trying to steal something from her purse.  From what I remember of Kevin's story, he was handing in a paper on her desk and her purse was open and he saw cigarettes and was shocked that a teacher smoked!  Knowing what I know now, and how teachers talk this may have started Kevin's reputation in elementary school.

Second grade proved to be even more challenging.  Every teacher has a different teaching style, and Kevin's second-grade teacher expected compliance and nothing else.  This was not going to be a good match.  My mom worked at the school we went to, and the teacher pulled her aside to tell her that Kevin would never amount to much.  How can a teacher tell a parent that?! He was eight years old! Eight! Practically a baby and someone's pride and joy! From what I remember, Kevin and my parents went in survival mode to just get through that year and teacher.

Summers were Kevin's time where he could be himself. We had a lake house in Southwest Michigan where we went swimming, fishing, boating, tubing, etc. Kevin had a good group of friends that loved and supported him. He did not have to be compliant. He was allowed to be Kevin.  Summer was a time where his star shone bright and he was the happiest.

Third grade went by with no major events from what I remember, but along came fourth grade for Kevin and a teacher who expected compliant students.  Fourth grade was a struggle for Kevin because of the personality conflict. I remember my parents getting constant phone calls from the teacher expecting them to fix him.  I remember them yelling and pleading and constant worry.  Which leads into fifth grade with a similar teacher.  It wasn't long after fifth grade that my parents came to the conclusion that a private school was not going to be able to meet the needs of my brother.  So they decided to transfer him to the local public school.  Which sounds great, but they put him with a teacher who expected nothing but compliant students.  Things got so bad in fifth grade that this teacher put a refrigerator box around my brother so that he would not distract other students.  This devastated Kevin.  He was so embarrassed, but would never say anything to the teacher or other students as he wanted to save face.

From our understanding, although we aren't 100% sure, Kevin started dabbling with drugs in middle school.  We don't know where he got them, although we do know that some of his friends had older siblings that may or may not have provided him with marijuana.  I know for some people marijuana is not a gateway drug, but for Kevin it most definitely was. Middle school was rough as he battled many inner demons of mental illness and again trying to function in a school system that was not built for students like Kevin.

In high school, Kevin continued his downward spiral and eventually dropped out of school. He was able to complete his GED and enrolled at Purdue Calumet where he was accepted. He majored in social work, and really wanted to help people. College was not a cure for Kevin, he had some rough times, and had to drop classes periodically due to mental illness. However, his goal was to prove many of his teachers wrong.  He wanted to prove to them and others who did not believe in him, that he could earn a college degree and he could make a difference in this world.

Kevin can no longer make that dream come true himself. He left this earth on a cold January day. It was his time. His poor body could not handle much more.  For a long time, I had a lot of anger directed at Kevin. I felt that he chose drugs over his family.  But through a lot of research, sharing Kevin's story, and listening to people with similar stories I realize that Kevin did not choose drugs over his family or over his education. Addiction made that choice for him.  Addicts are not born with needles in their arms. Addiction is a terrible disease and with it mental illness that we as a society need to learn how to treat and prevent.

Although Kevin cannot make his dream a reality, I can. My goal is to work with Purdue Calumet to award him a posthumous degree. I tried once, and they said no because he was not 75% done with all coursework and 85% done with major coursework. I'm hoping that they can possibly make an exception. At the very least, I want Kevin's story to be shared so that his legacy lives on.  I want Kevin to be remembered for his kindness and compassion, his sweet smile, and love for his family and friends. 

Also, in January as a way to share Kevin's story and honor his life, I am creating postcards that share a mini version of Kevin's story and provide a link to this blog post. I am asking anyone who is willing to do a random act of kindness and leave the card for someone. If you are interested, please comment on this blog post and I will mail them. I would like to see this begin in January! 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why I Write

I have been reading quite a few blogs on writing and writing instruction.  I read Margaret Simon's blog about discovering the writer's life, Pernille Ripp's blog about helping students find their writing identity, and multiple blogs from Two Writing Teachers.  This really got me thinking about why we want our students to write, how I do not write nearly enough, and why I need to write more.

In Pernille's blog, she writes about how she was asked to be recorded speaking about her writing process for Wisconsin Writes.  There's a great video where she talks about this process.  I watched the video and started reflecting that I don't really have a process.  I suppose I do in the fact that I get everything out of my head when I write a blog post and hit the publish button.  I've never been much of a drafter or one who does multiple revisions.  After reading these blogs it really made me reflect that I really need a more defined writing process to help me grow as a writer.  My trigger finger tends to be really quick when it comes to clicking the publish button.  So this was reflection number one.

Pernille blog really inspired me to keep writing (hence this post!). She talks about how every writer is a writer! And every writer needs time and choice.  All great points to remember when working with young writers.

Another reason why I write and blog is to work my feelings out, sometimes my writing may not always be clear. For example, I watched a very powerful 20/20 episode about the Heroin epidemic in America and more specifically in New Hampshire. I wrote a blog post about it. What stood out to me was the person reporting mentioned that imprisoning addicts does not solve the problem. They shared two heartbreaking stories of families. I shared my thoughts and it helped me heal a little more.  I never think I'll be fully healed, I believe the grief will always be there and I just continually learn to accept a new normal.  I will never get over the premature loss of my brother.

I write for myself, and if I can help someone along the way with Kevin's story or a book review, or a new teaching tip then I am achieving what I set out to achieve.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

#SOL16 Heroin in America: A Personal Story

"Mary, you're brother is dead. He overdosed."

Those were words I had been waiting to hear but was hoping I would never hear. Kevin, my younger brother, passed away Friday, January 4th, 2013. It's a day I will always remember.

I'm watching Friday's 20/20 episode about Heroin in America and it is heartbreaking. I find it interesting that according to 20/20 129 people die every day from drug overdoses and more specifically prescription pills and heroin.

It is hard to watch but these stories need to be told.  I listened to a father relay the story of when he received the news that his son had overdosed again, but did not make it.  It was reliving that awful day.

My first reaction when my dad called to tell me was to not believe him. I wanted to know what hospital Kevin was at so I could go visit him.  Even when I saw him on the gurney at the funeral home, in the back of my mind I kept thinking he would just sit up.  It never seemed real.

I have shared bits and pieces of Kevin's story before, and I keep coming back to it because I truly feel that it can help save someone or multiple someones.  Kevin had a promising future despite many obstacles he faced and was able to overcome, yet he gave in and succumbed to a drug addiction. He was a semester away from graduating with a degree in sociology and had the capacity to help so many people.

My main reason for sharing this is because addiction in this country needs to be seen and treated as a mental illness.  And mental illness needs to be treated just as much as a heart condition or any other disease.  We should not feel embarrassed because someone in our family is an addict or has a mental illness.  I will not be embarrassed and will keep telling Kevin's story in hopes that it can save someone's life. I couldn't save my brother's life, but I'm hoping this story can make a difference and save someone else's life.

I love you Kevin and miss you every day!

Friday, March 11, 2016

#SOL16 Currently

Here is what I've been up to:

I am absolutely loving The Lumineers' new song, "Ophelia"! I really liked (bit of an understatement!) their first album and their story. From what I understand the drummer was best friend's with the lead singer's brother. The lead singer's brother passed away from a heroin overdose and they helped their grief by writing and performing music. I truly believe music is healing.  When my brother passed away from similar circumstances I listened to the Grace Potter song, "Stars", over and over and over again. It really helped get me through.  An amazing, supportive network of family and friends helped too! 

I am loving this spring weather in the Chicago land area.  So exciting!  

My brain is on information overload. I started reading Elena Aguilar's book The Art of Coaching Teams with so many good ideas and things to think about!

I am wanting more time to read. With a 19 month old this has become a total luxury!  I also need a lot of sleep!  

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

#SOL16 Fear and Self Doubt

So on one hand I'm super proud of myself for committing to writing every day, but on the other hand, I'm kind of wondering what the heck I got myself into. March is turning out to be quite the month in our house with colds and just feeling out of sorts.  So that's been a battle.  A huge battle actually.  

Then I read other people's blogs, and they are so well written!  They are such great narratives, and I'm trying really, really hard to be kind to myself, and I'm just not there yet.  But I want to be there!  Right now, I just don't have time to revise and edit like I want to.  But with trying to focus on the positive, I'm writing practically every day. And that is huge for me!  This is the most I've written in quite a while.  So I do have that to be proud of.  I'm hoping we are on the mend so I can write more in-depth blogs.  I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface lately!  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

#SOL16 Kind of Excited

I am new to my position as a middle school instructional coach and have enjoyed the school, students, and culture of my new school.  It has been such a rewarding experience.  

I was talking to my assistant principal about an idea I had that wasn't of interest in my previous district. I wanted to start One Book, One District.  She was all on board!  

We hashed out our mission and vision and some action steps, she shared it with district level personnel, and it looks like we are going to get moving on this!  

We are a K-8 District so I'm thinking we may have to do two books, one for the middle school and one for the elementary kids.  I'm guessing we will want the same theme.  Some book titles that stand out to me, but I'm afraid a majority of kids have read are Out of My Mind and Wonder.  

So, I guess I'm looking for ideas on book titles and activities.  What have you guys done that has worked? Thank you for reading! 

Monday, March 7, 2016

#SOL16 Day 6: Life Happened

I'm a tad disappointed in myself. This weekend was intense with a tot who was feeling under the weather. Since the later part of last week, Grace wasn't sleeping through the night. She would wake up around 3 crying and we would bring her in our bed.  It's a habit I really don't want to start, but we were desperate!

I think this all goes back to the Great Toddler Hunger Strike we are experiencing. She's not eating enough at dinner and this is making her wake up in the middle of the night.  Luckily, we had success last night. I put her down at around 8, but she woke up an hour later. I gave her some whole milk and she went back to bed and slept till 6:30 this morning! (Luckily I am off today for Pulaski Day!)

I'm hoping we are seeing a trend of sleeping through the night.  I have been debating about looking into essential oils and possibly try some of those. She has a runny nose again and I'm not sure if it's a cold or allergies.  I'm just hoping we can get some normal sleep this week!  So that's why I was off the grid :o) I was dealing with a fussy toddler!

Friday, March 4, 2016

#SOL16 The Great Hunger Strike

Each day in March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge. I got this amazing idea from Two Writing Teachers. 

My day began at 2:50 this morning with the cries of a hungry, angry toddler! 

We are currently experiencing a toddler hunger strike.  She used to love avocados. Now if I even show her one, I get a glare and a look as if I was trying to poison her. Same with yogurt. Same with meatballs. Same with many other foods. 

Her neonatologist warned us that this may happen, and we kind of brushed it off.  Gracie has a healthy appetite, she's so good at trying new foods, and she eats just about anything we give her were thoughts we frequently shared.  Well, now we are experiencing the great hunger strike.  

So for now, we are providing a variety of foods and try not to stress when she doesn't eat much at dinner.  But it's so nerve racking for this first-time momma!  I'm trying to remind myself that every stage has struggles but also has so many wonderful moments such as running Gracie hugs!  The smile when I pick her up from the sitter and many more.  I just worry if I'm doing right by my baby girl, and of course, in my brain I know I am!  But if anyone has any suggestions or magic toddler food please let me know! 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Thankful Thursday #SOL16 Day 3

I was reading a Slice of Life blog and the author (I wish I would have saved it!) was reflecting on being thankful. I know from personal experience how easy it is to slip in a negative/complaining mindset. I do not like staying there. The post that I had read was about thankfulness and I loved it. I had bought a gratitude journal a while back, but have fallen out of the habit of using it. So I am thinking I will use my Thursday blogs to post about what I am grateful for. The biggest thing I am grateful for is my family. My husband is amazing and so supportive. I've been trying to get back on a clean eating kick and he is supporting me 100% and even suggested I try a new studio for spin. Which I am absolutely loving! It's spin with weights. I am also grateful for my daughter Gracie. She is just amazing with everything she has overcome being born 10 weeks early. She makes me laugh and smile so much. I'm amazed at what she learns everyday. I am also grateful for my mom and dad. We have been through so much as a family (see this blog post if you want to find out more!) They are amazing grandparents to Gracie, and she is so lucky to have them. They have helped my little family out in so many ways, and I am beyond grateful and lucky to have them!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Engaging With Breakout EDU#SOL16 Day 2

Each day in March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge. I got this amazing idea from Two Writing Teachers! My district is new this year to Breakout EDU. If you're not sure what it is, let me explain. It's the same general idea of a breakout room where adults are locked into a room. There are clues posted around the room, and the objective is to break out. Breakout EDU has brought a version of that into classrooms and it is amazing! "When are we doing this again?" "This was awesome!" "This used all of our special gifts and we worked as a team!" These were just a sampling of comments that I heard from students. So the premise of Breakout EDU is that there is a box, and that box has a certain number of locks. Apparently it is frowned upon to lock middle schoolers in a room! There are clues strategically placed around the room. The company has some premade games and we usually start out with one as we want the teachers to see what the format is. The kids have to use the clues to open the locks. We had used a directional lock, 2 number locks, and a letter lock. The students had to work together to figure out the clues. It was so exciting to hear their enthusiasm and awe and wonder as they worked their way through the clues to solve the puzzle! Such a rewarding day!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Being More Present #SOL16 Day 1

Each day in March I will be participating in the Slice of Life Writing Challenge.

I had to take a sick day from school today to take my 18-month-old daughter Grace to several doctor appointments yesterday.  I look at this picture and wonder where time has gone.  How has my little girl grown up so fast? 

Gracie is getting fitted for glasses. She was born ten and a half weeks early so the doctors have been keeping a close look (pun intended!) at her vision and if it is improving. And it's not improving so glasses here we come! (Side note, I'm not sure if she will keep them on and I'm a little worried  

My one little word that I have chosen for myself this year is present. I need to be more present in the moment. Spend less time on my phone or in a book, and more time observing what's around me. While we were at the eye doctor, I looked over at Gracie sitting on my husband's lap and saw this! She looks like a big girl. Not a baby anymore, but a toddler. This was a reminder to me to put my phone down...after I snapped this adorable picture, and take in every little detail. This stage will be over before I know it, so I just want to soak it in. 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Preparing for #SOL16

I am jumping into the deep end this year! I am going to participate in the Slice of Life Challenge for 2016. What is this challenge you speak of? I believe it started with the Two Writing Teachers on their blog. In the challenge, bloggers (adults and children) write about a little slice of their life. This happens every Tuesday throughout the year, and it happens the entire month of March.  

So what this means for me and my readers is that I am going to write every single day for the entire month of March.  I'm not going to lie, no joke as my friend says, I'm scared!  I'm scared of being vulnerable and that my writer's voice is going to be weak, or too strong, or just not good enough.  

I was writing out my potential list of ideas, and it's a little sparse as of right now. But it's a start.  

I really do believe that this challenge is going to teach me a lot. I feel that it will teach me that I am indeed a writer.  And the best lesson of all that I am anticipating is to be kind to myself!  I am looking forward, a little reluctantly, to sharing my slices with everyone!  And also to learn about other people's lives and make new friends! 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Why I Teach and Kevin's Story

It's the beginning of a new year and a time of reflection for many.  I'm working on making and keeping New Year's resolutions, thinking about my resolutions from the previous year and how well they were kept (or not!). This year, I was reflecting on the current school year, my effectiveness in my coaching role, and really just the reason why I became a teacher.

If someone were to ask me five years ago why I became a teacher, I more than likely would have responded with the typical "I've wanted to be a teacher since playing school with my brother and neighborhood friends." Which was totally something I did, but not for the original reason I thought. I think I just liked to be bossy and by being the teacher I was able to accomplish this! (For the record, I do not consider myself bossy anymore! I think I grew out of that phase!)

Reflecting on an activity that the staff at my school completed on the first day of school for all staff, I really think I have figured out why I went into this wonderful and challenging field.  I teach for my brother Kevin, and the thousands of kids just like Kevin.

Kevin was my younger brother and a pretty amazing person. When he was little he had a ton of energy, was always getting into shenanigans, was my dad's little buddy, and just a cute, cuddly kid!  He loved basketball, the Miami Dolphins, animals, and spending time with his family.  He was smart, funny, and most importantly kind.  Kevin was always able to find the good in people, even my parents when I was royally annoyed with them.

When Kevin entered school he began to struggle and realize he learned differently than other children. I remember my mom getting many calls from teachers concerned that Kevin was not reaching his full potential. I also remember one specific incident where a teacher had a conversation with my mom informing her that it was her belief that Kevin would not amount to much if he continued with his behavior.  That was in second grade.  I also remember his fifth-grade teacher putting a refrigerator box around Kevin to keep him focused. At that time, I do not believe he had a diagnosis of ADHD, but I would venture to guess that anyone who observed him for any length of time could figure it out.  I would like to point out that this was in the early 90's where, at least where we were from, was a time where students like Kevin were not totally understood.  I am by no means trying to blame any of his teachers. My goal is to point out that there weren't a lot of positives coming from Kevin's school environment. He never really had that teacher who said, "I believe in you, Kevin!" or "I'm glad you came to school today Kevin!"

As Kevin went through school, it became tougher and tougher, eventually leading him to drop out. Kevin started smoking cigarettes and we believe doing marijuana in middle school.  School became a place where he could not fit in.  He continued on a path of destruction and eventually running into issues with the police.

Sadly, Kevin passed away on Friday, January 4, 2013.  I had been bracing myself for the phone call for many years. I think my whole family had. Unfortunately, it was a long time coming. I often refer to Kevin as a cat who was on his 10th life.

Why do I teach?
Kevin is the reason I went into teaching. I went on to become a reading interventionist and instructional coach because of Kevin so that I can have an impact on as many students and Kevins as possible. Every teacher has a student or students just like Kevin.  I truly believe that if he would have had one teacher, just one teacher who believed in him and made him feel that he mattered, that he was a part of a bigger community, that the classroom community needed him, he may have had a different outcome. I'll never know that for sure, and it's easy to get caught up in the game of could have, would have, should have.  We can't change Kevin's story, but we can change the story for the millions of Kevins that are in our classrooms today.

So why am I telling Kevin's story?

  • As teachers, we need to remember that we have the power to make a student's day or bring a student down.  We need to use this power for good. You are the factor when determining if a student is going to have a good day or a bad day. 
  • You never know what is going on in a student's life. Be kind, be understanding, be there for the student.  When calling home, call home out of a place of concern for the student and the family. We are all on the same team. 
  • I am choosing not be embarrassed by Kevin's story. I feel that by telling his story this can help teachers and students remember how short life can be and we need to be there for each other. 
  • I am choosing to share Kevin's story to raise awareness on a subject that many people don't want to talk about or admit it's a problem in their community. 

We cannot choose what students the bus drops off every morning.  We owe it to every single one of our students to make them feel that they matter.  Even the most unlikeable, unmotivated student.  We have to keep trying, we have to keep believing in them, we cannot give up.  Those students matter and those students are some parents' universe.  They are someone's brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc. Our words matter. How we make students feel matters. Every student matters.  Kevin, you matter!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

First Time a Conference!

I presented for the first time ever at a conference!  I was beyond nervous as this is completely out of my comfort zone. This is the same girl who in her freshmen year English class did a speech in under a minute and did not care what the consequences were. I despise public speaking.  Even to this day, it is not something I leap for joy when I have to do it. However, I'm slowly getting over my fear because now when I present it's a topic that I am very passionate about. Hence, presenting at the Northern Illinois Computing Educator's Mini Conference (NICE).

When I was working on my presentation for this conference I honestly thought I might have two people. I knew I was going to have at least one person as my Assistant Principal swore she would come! So part of me thought, "well the two of us can talk about reading! And if she doesn't come I brought a book to read!"  I am always thinking ahead like that!

Well, I checked the schedule and 22 people were signed up!  I was a little nervous to say the least but also excited.  I'm proud to say I had a decent number of people (I don't think I had 22 though). The presentation went really well.  I got a bunch of thank you's as people were walking out, and several people said that they got a lot out of it. I had to stop myself from chasing them down the hallway to ask for specifics.  

I guess that's a question I have for anyone who has presented before.  Do you have your participants fill out a survey to ask for feedback? I know there are some adjustments I need to make, and slides I need to pull and/or tweak.  But I really want to know what they thought.  What have you done before? What's the best way to elicit feedback when presenting? Please comment and let me know! Here's a link to my presentation as well: Using Technology to Engage Readers and Writers.