Posts Tagged ‘education’

Mind-boggling beyond my comfort zone!

Friday, August 5th, 2022

“I learned so much about oysters that I hadn’t known before,” my neighbor Paul told me.  He was lending me a book by Rowan Jacobsen called The Living Shore — a smallish book that I felt I might be able to handle, at least in bits and pieces.  It was April or May and Nyel was struggling as was I, right along with him.  I needed a distraction now and then — maybe even something to talk with Nyel about. Something not quite so tied up with doctors and hospitals and blood draws and medications.

And there, on page 25, I chanced upon the words “Shoalwater Bay (today known as Willapa Bay)” and we were off and running — soon accompanying Jacobsen and a team of marine scientists on an expedition to the remote coast of British Columbia.  We were looking for the last pristine beds of Ostrea conchaphila, the Olympia oyster — the very oyster that drew my ancestors (and Dobby’s and Tucker’s and scores of others) to this remote area of “the Oregon Country” — soon to become Washington Territory.

We soon were on a quest — a vicarious one, to be sure — that became an exploration of our ancient connections to that “living shore” of bays and estuaries.  We learned about revolutionary archaeological discoveries from British Columbia to South Africa showing how deeply people have bonded with the coast and how it has influenced our development and well-being from our modern origins 164,000 years ago to our colonization of North America.

My take-aways were simple.  I now am not only glad/content/ecstatic that I live on the coast, I also understand the reason I feel a profound connection to the shore.  And I understand why I love salt and how fortunate we all are that the importance of iodized salt was discovered a century or so ago.

And I also understand why Peter J. D’Adamo’s book, Eat Right for Your Type was so NOT right for me.  And why, when our ancestors moved inland and we left our seafood diet behind, “the four-million-year-old freight train of brain expansion ground to a halt” according to Steven Cunnane, Professor, Universite de Sherbrooke.

And besides all that — the book is just plain fun to read.  It moves right along, takes you to places (both good and bad) that you never thought you’d visit and challenges you to think even more deeply about what we are doing (and not doing) to protect this planet we call “home.”  Let me know what you think!

I probably didn’t read carefully enough…

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022

Ocean Park Elementary School

…but I don’t think I saw the words “kids” or “learning” or even “students” or “education” when I read that front page article in today’s Observer, Citizen group endorses $90M+ school bond.  The entire report seemed to be about public dollars and interest rates and efficiency and what-will-happen-to-the-dear-old-Ocean-Park-School-building.  Oh, yes.  And the clincher words: “tsunami” and “safety.”  But only in terms of parental concern.

Ocean Park School, 1936

So I guess the Facility Advisory Committee bought into the idea that the tsunami would definitely arrive here during school hours.  And that having their kids in a centralized location would cause parents less angst when it arrived.  Hmmm.

I think back to the years  that I taught in Hayward, California within a few miles of the Hayward Earthquake Fault, an offshoot of the better-known San Andreas Fault.  We had earthquake drills once a month, as I recall, but in the sixteen years I taught there, I do not remember a single earthquake making an appointment and arriving during school hours.  There were earthquakes, of course — just when least expected and totally unplanned for.  Sorta what a “disaster” is all about.

And… just how short are our memories, anyway?  Ocean Park School was closed from September 1972 until September 1981 and the District’s youngest children, K-3, all went to Hilltop School in Ilwaco.  It wasn’t for the tsunami back then, but it was for cost savings.

By 1976, however, O.P. parents realized that their Kindergarten kids were going and coming on the school bus for more minutes a day than their half-day Kindergarten class was in session.  For the next several years,  Margaret Staudenraus taught two Kindergarten classes a day at Ocean Park School — the only “T&K (teacher-and-kids) Act” in the entire school building which, by then, had become a Community Center.  FINALLY!  Someone had thought about the kids.  Or at least some of them.

I wonder what it will take this time?  And don’t get me started on all the research that says small, neighborhood schools are the best learning environment for students, especially for young students.  When it comes to elementary education, folks, bigger is not better and $$$$ savings do not equal excellent learning environments. Truly.



A New Twist on Bigger is Better?

Friday, December 10th, 2021

I’ve never been an advocate of the “bigger is better” point of view.  After all, my maiden name was Little and until I was well into my thirties I was lucky to carry 105 pounds on my 5’2″ frame.  And I knew, unequivocally, that the lyrics to “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” were meant for me — my eyes were, indeed, blue.  Besides which, when I had a bout of political fever and ran for office (several times) in high school, I always won with the slogan “Good Things Come In Little Packages.”  So, clearly, I wasn’t the only one who thought so.

When the latest idea for a “unified campus” for the Ocean Beach School District came up recently, I was not overly enthusiastic.  I must admit, though, that the movers and shakers have found a new spin to put on things — now a primary concern is about “two of its schools that are located in tsunami inundation zones.”   When going for a big bond it’s always wise to get a hot-button topic at the forefront, you betcha.

At first glance, it does, indeed, make sense to have all the District’s kids on the highest ground possible — not easy on this low-lying series of sand dunes we call home.  But… wait a minute.  Do we know for a fact that the tsunami will come during school hours — some time between the first week in September and the third week in June and, for sure, between 7:00 in the morning and 4:00 in the afternoon, and not on a Saturday or Sunday?  I haven’t done the math, but I don’t think that’s even one-fourth of the time in a year for those kids.   And what if The Big One did come then and the kids were safe on their campus island? Where would their folks be?  And how would they know?  And do cell phones really work under water?

The Oysterville School – Under OCC Stewardship since 1957

I think I’d much rather see us go for a big bond that would substantially reduce class sizes — maybe no more than ten kids to a classroom.  Maybe even some one-on-one situations for those who could benefit by soaring ahead with a tutor in math or philosophy — perhaps a with a modern-day Socrates for guidance.  Could we imagine investing the bond money in kids, not buildings, and work toward a world of thinking, caring individuals?  Clearly, bigger has not proved to be better thus far.  I wonder what it would take to try it another way.

Walking That Old Memory Lane… Again.

Thursday, August 26th, 2021

1976 Letter from Jose Flores

The packet was full to bursting and was labeled “Student Work/Notes.”  The first one out of the envelope was a letter to me dated 10-1-76.  It was signed “your friend José Flores” and had been mailed from Mexico City:
Dear Mrs. LaRue,
I’m José and me and my family wish for you that be fine and too a happy new year.  I’m sorry because you didn’t been the day that we went to Hayward and I wish that you have readed the message that me and my sisters did put in the board.  I like to give you the thanks for your attentions for me in the school, for last I like that you come to Mexico and to my house to meet my family… your friend José Flores, good by.

José included his address, even the apartment number, so I could visit.  Even after all these years the tears did come.  I wish I could remember him more clearly — a second grader, in my class for only a month or two as I recall.  How I hope I wrote him!

1991 Letter from First Grader Tom Holgate

Another letter — this one from 1991 — begins Circle one:  Messy or Good Job
Dear Teacher, I am happy after Christmas the first graders get to be editors.  I practice at home.  Me and Carson made a bet that I would or wouldn’t make a mistake on my first try.  We bet $1.00.  Your friend, Tom Holgate, Grade 1.

Red-headed Tom Holgate — as bright as a new penny!  I think he was in my multigrade class for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grades.  Carson (Kemmer), too.  I wonder who won the bet.  It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Tom had won.  I wonder if either one of them remembers now…

There were also a number of pictures from of  Nyel and me.  Several of them had us smiling broadly giving one another a fist-bump.  Go figure.

And, in case you’re wondering.  I haven’t made a dent in that packet.  Nor have I managed to do any “downsizing” of the contents…  I’m too busy being tangled up in a web of emotions.  How glad I am that I kept these treasures!

1992 Picture of Mr. & Mrs. S. by Katie Downer


We had to trash 1991.

Tuesday, June 1st, 2021

Sad to say, 1991 is history, scrapbook-wise.  That hot water heater disaster of 2002 was hardest on this particular volume — perhaps because, atypically for my scrapbooks,  it had lots of news clippings in it.  That printers’ ink and newsprint didn’t survive the soaking – some pages (actually, many) even molded somewhere along the way.  My usual picture-filled scrapbooks seemed to do much better.

In the news that year — a threatened statewide teacher strike during which about half of the OBSD teachers joined in a march on Olympia.  Another biggee was that Gordon’s cousin, Jeanne Gammel, was fired as Manager of the Port of Peninsula by a 10-man Board of Directors and the  next week, Daughter of the Pioneer Charlotte Davis wrote, “Where were the women?” in Jeanne’s defense.  Jeanne’s “crime” seemed to be too much interest in having the Port help local communities!  (Wow!  How I wish Jeanne were still around to see how they’ve come a full 180º since then!)

There was one real treasure, however, tucked in the back of the scrapbook.  A “Happy Birthday from the 1-2-3 Class of 1990-91” to me!  Each page of the little booklet contained a birthday wish and drawing from one of my students.  “My birthday wish to you is…  a dog,” said Parker Hill; “… a million dollars,” said Adam Lindsley; “… a necklace and a bouquet of flowers,” said Lindsay Newell; “… a new pair of purple shoes,” said Marina Koontz; “… it will never rain for you,” said Travis Wentworth; “… a nice vacation,” said Daniel Duffy; “…a trailer,” said Jason Moore; “a plant,” said Carson Kemmer;   “… a new dress,” said Katie Downer;  And on it went.  I loved it then and now, 30 years later, I love it still!

These were the treasures that made teaching the best job EVER!  And, these are the treasures that make downsizing so impossible.

You can’t tell a book by its… title.

Monday, January 18th, 2021

“Two Loaves” starring Shirley MacLaine was based on this book.

Spinster.  Now, there’s a word you don’t hear much anymore.  In fact, it’s a term that’s been out of fashion for my entire lifetime.  Even so, it’s the title of a book I first read in 1960 — just a year after it was published by Simon and Schuster.  It was recommended reading for one of the post-baccalaureate education classes I took in order to get my teaching credential.  It seemed, at the time, to be the most incongruous suggestion I’d ever heard from a college professor.

That’s what I thought then and what I continue to think, even now.  It’s the story (fictional) of a teacher among the Maori of New Zealand.  It’s long out of print — Timberland Library got it for me through inter-library loan from Western Oregon University in Oregon.  My memory of the book is about how, some days, the spinster fortified herself for school with a half a tumbler of brandy.

And I’ve remembered how she captured the hub-bub and enthusiasm of the infant room where she was the only teacher of 70 four-and five-year-olds.  And, for all these years, I’ve remembered her firm belief that children come to school chock-a-block full of experiences and wonder and joy and anger.  We have only to help them unlock it all and put it into context — that’s the sum total of our job as teachers;  The rest will come.

Sylvia Ashton-Warner, 1908-1984

Well, that’s what I remember of the book.  That, plus it’s one of the most important books about teaching I’ve ever run across.  At first, I wondered why it was so strongly recommended to us fledglings… I was probably stuck on the brandy and a bit horrified by it.  Now as I re-read Spinster, I realize that it was Ms. Ashton-Warner who turned my interest toward our youngest learners and that her unconventional thoughts and methods were the underpinnings of my teaching for all those years — though not the brandy part, I hasten to add.

Seen through the broader context of today’s racism and divisiveness, it resonates even more deeply today.   It’s a must read, especially for  teachers — past, present, future.  I urge my readers to track it down and be prepared to see the world differently while you’re reading it — and maybe for the rest of your life.  Don’t confuse it with her second book, Teacher, which is also good.  But not as.

Two Thumbs Up to OBSD!

Friday, November 20th, 2020

As of Monday, the Ocean Beach School District will return to remote-only learning due to the current (and worst yet) Pacific County surge in the coronavirus pandemic.  As a retired teacher and long-time community member, I say “Bravo!”

According to the Chinook Observer, the county’s case rate works out to 438 new cases per 100,000 people over a two-week rolling average which puts us in a high risk group.  There were 55 new cases in the county during last week’s reporting period making 246 cases since the pandemic began.  “A staggering number” according to day-before-yesterday’s online article.

I know I will not be popular when I say, “Why am I not surprised?”  Yesterday, Nyel and I drove to Astoria and back for an 11:00 a.m. doctor’s appointment.  Going over and coming back, we both remarked at how much traffic there was.  “You’d never know there was any kind of sheltering going on,” we each said more than once.  It seemed to be business as usual in downtown Long Beach and Astoria.

I have a great deal of trouble understanding how  “we” continue to try to balance “normal” activities with precautionary measures for the coronavirus.  Which part of LIFE CAN NO LONGER BE NORMAL  is it that people cannot understand?  How can we be so concerned about the emotional distress of our children and the economic distress of our families that we are willing to put our loved ones at risk?  Or even provide their death sentence?  I don’t get it.

We are not alone, of course.  Leaders throughout the world are struggling with the same situation and their responses are equally mixed.  We all seem to be in a pattern of tightening up for a while but relaxing before the economic situation becomes dire and, of course, before we have the virus under control.  God forbid we should close our borders to non-residents or close every single business that is non-essential.  We seem able to endure “some” restrictions for about a month at a time.  Alas, not long enough to made a continuing difference.

The OBSD plan is to reopen January 11th.  Good for them for taking this step!  I hope it’s just a first step.  And, how I wish that the rest of the County could follow — both in the private and public sectors.




What lessons should we adults be learning?

Monday, August 10th, 2020

Julia Jefferson Espy on her wedding day, 1870

My great-grandmother, Julia Jefferson Espy, graduated from the University of Salem (now Willamette University) in 1869.  Immediately, she was hired — because she was the prettiest graduate goes the family story — by Oysterville School Board members Lewis Loomis and Robert Espy to teach at Oysterville’s one-room schoolhouse.  She was 18 years old.

Her classes numbered up to 50 and often included “married ladies and hulking young oystermen” who had never had an opportunity to learn the three R’s. I’ve always wondered if she accepted 44-year-old Major Espy’s proposal of marriage at the end of that first school year out of true love or as a graceful way to retire from the classroom.  After all, married women may have been among the student population, but they were not allowed to teach!

Between 1872 and 1887, Julia and Robert had seven children.  Julia chose to teach all of them at home for their primary years — until they could read and write and do basic math.  Once she was satisfied that they were off to a good start, they were sent to the new two-story school (1875-1905) which was situated on the same grounds as the present-day school building (1907-1957), now the home of the  Oysterville Community Club.

Oysterville Schoolhouse circa 1880

I’ve often wondered why Julia chose to home-school her youngsters.  Surely, in those days with no labor-saving devices and without household help (until the girls were older), she had little time to add teaching duties to her busy days.  However, if her belief in a “good start” was the key to successful advancement, she may well have been correct.  All of her children attended college (except for the youngest, Verona, who had a disorder akin to multiple scelorosis). The two other girls became teachers before they married.  Of the four boys, one was an attorney, one a mining engineer, one a water engineer, and one a banker.

I wonder what advice Julia would have for parents today — parent facing the prospect of children being “home-schooled” under very different circumstances than she had faced.  In her world, both parents worked but, for women, that work was usually done at home.  Most adults — women and men — took on teaching their children in one way or another as a matter of course.  Whether it was teaching farm chores or store-keeping or smithing or doctoring, the younger generation often got the basics from the adults of the community — sometimes before their formal education, sometimes after.

R.H. Espy Family, 1895

Education was definitely a community event.  Will we be embracing some of those methods again?  Can we?  Or are we too specialized now?  Too automated, computerized, technologic for parents to oversee the education of their own youngsters?  Especially all of a sudden, without preparation…

And yet… there are many families in our communities who have managed to home school successfully. What “secrets” do they have to share with the rest of the parent/school community?  What advice would our grands and our greats and our great-greats have for us?  Perhaps it’s time we try to find out.

Betwixt and Between

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020

So, now that the library is open, we are back to the waiting game.  Only worse.  The books that were on hold for us in March are again making their way through the list of waiting patrons, but the books we were reading to tide us over are long since finished and returned.  So, I’m still reading from our bookshelves here in Oysterville.

Right now, it’s Life In A Medieval Castle by Joseph & Frances Gies (1974) complete with many photographs and diagrams showing towers and guardhouses, baileys and barbicans and all that good stuff.  Probably my dad’s.  I’m interested in the construction methods and designs only because I’ve visited many of the castles and/or ruins that are described.

William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke
By Kjetilbjørnsrud, CC

What interests me more are the stories of those who lived in those castles.  Take John Marshal who, in the chronicles of 12th century England won mention as “a limb of hell and the root of all evil.”  Among his other ‘accomplishments:’ during a battle he hid out in the bell tower of a burning church and, despite the lead of the tower roof melting and a drop splashing on his face and putting out an eye, he refused to surrender.

Later, having made good his escape, he was prevailed upon to hand over his young son William to the king as a hostage against a possible act of treachery during a truce.  John went ahead, committed the treachery and when King Stephen threatened to hang young William unless John surrendered his castle, John cooly replied that he did not care if his son were hanged, since he had “the anvils and hammer with which to forge still better sons.”  Yikes!

Magna Carta, 1215

Luckily (probably for us all), young William’s “cheerful innocence” as he was led to the hanging grounds won the King’s heart and the child was spared.  He grew up with his father’s “soldierly prowess but without his rascally character” to become one of the most distinguished of all the lords of Chepstow Castle and the most renowned knight of his time.  According to the authors, “He served King Richard and then King John for many years and played a leading — perhaps the leading — role in negotiating the Magna Carta.”  And I’m only on page 36!

It’s always nice to know how really difficult periods of time turned out.  We can only hope that we are still around to see how our own siege is resolved.  Who will be the William Marshal of our time?


“It’s required.” Except when it’s not?

Friday, May 1st, 2020

I was five years old when the United States entered World War Two.  I spent my early school years collecting tin foil, buying savings bonds, standing in lines with my mom with our ration books.  I remember us all being full of patriotic fervor and singing songs like “The White Cliffs of Dover”  and “Over There.”  It was our government right or wrong, no question.

By 1970, I was married, had a teenaged son, and had been teaching for a decade.  We watched the news and “special coverage” programs on television and felt “up close and personal” with regard to the war in Vietnam.  We participated in the Peace Marches in San Francisco and sang “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” and “If I had a Hammer.”  We wore peace buttons, urged “Save the Whales” and “Make Love Not War.”  We questioned everything, especially the government.

So here we are in 2020.  In the midst of this unprecedented pandemic, we look for leadership and wisdom.  Directions from the government are conflicted; from the scientists and health officials, more cautious and, seemingly, more sensible.  If we have to trust one or the other, I’m putting my faith in the science and health departments.

But then last week, the government and the health officials met, face to mask you might say.  Our second-in-command (government-wise) refused to wear a mask when he visited one of our nation’s most esteemed medical facilities.  Of course there is a huge flap.  After all, the Mayo Clinic REQUIRES that no one enter without a mask.  So, why, one might ask, was Mr. Pence allowed inside?  Does “require” have a new meaning now (health-wise)?  Or are our health officials not to be trusted either?  It is disconcerting to say the least.

Stimulus money for dictionaries all around, I say.  REQUIRED READING. Paid tutors to be provided as needed.