Saturday, November 27, 2004

Edison School

This article also published in the Interfaith Peacemaking Resource Center of Utah’s newsletter.
With these observations about Edison Elementary, we continue our series on Salt Lake City public schools that have a high proportion of “at-risk” students.

“I believe in kids, I trust kids…if you expect great things, you get great things.” –Dale Harding, Edison Elementary Principal

Edison School in Glendale first impressed me as a Place to Be – it had a sense of great calm, and it was clean and orderly, without any of the confusion one often expects in an urban setting. Kids’ art covered the walls.

With 517 students in grades K-6, a preschool of 20, and a teaching staff of about 31—all in a building built for 380 students—Edison is bursting its boundaries, both physically and in the many ways it exceeds the limitations and expectations much of the larger society tends to place upon low income, high mobility persons.

Class size ranges from 24 in the lower grades to an outrageous 38 in the upper grades; nineteen classrooms of all kinds as well as two trailers house the classes. A gym, an auditorium and a gigantic playground accommodate sports, arts, cultural, social, and other enrichment activities. 3,000 donated books as well as other resources fill the new, light and airy library.

Volunteerism from the greater Salt Lake community runs extremely high: last year it amounted to 14,000 hours! Neighbors of all kinds, senior citizens, businesses (including the Bureau of Reclamation and The Salt Lake Tribune, which has an intense, ongoing involvement with the school), and University of Utah student nurses are only some of the volunteer categories.

Edison is a mini-world where fifteen languages are spoken, with 72% of the students being other-than-white. They include Pacific Islanders, African-Americans, Hispanics of many kinds, various ethnic Asians. To be a minority is to be in the majority!

Dr. Harding spoke of the poverty of moral values and the absence of hope that pervaded the school when he first arrived there. Most of the families—only 40% of which have two parents in the home—are struggling to survive in every dimension of their lives. But a sense of hope and optimism is beginning to take hold at Edison. Harding and the rest of the staff have been working energetically to make certain these kids will believe in themselves and in each other, that they will be open to a free and meaningful future.

“We have three rules: ‘Respect yourself; Respect other people; Respect property,’” explained Dr. Harding.

Dale Harding is in his fourth year [1995] as principal at Edison. He has had a long, wide-ranging and clearly impassioned career in education. Not only has he been teacher or administrator in Salt Lake City, coming to Edison after a term as principal at Uintah Elementary—he also has worked in Chile, Bolivia, Saudi Arabia and Wyoming. For six years he directed the experimental school at Utah State University.

Surprisingly, Harding is the only Edison staff member fluent in Spanish. Four years ago there was no PTA, no community council at Edison; now both organizations are active. Very significantly, Harding has visited every home in the area. And observing the success he and the kids are having, he says, “‘I can’ is more important than IQ.”

Although there’s apparently a large amount of alcohol and other drugs used in the families many of these kids hail from, very few Edison students are drug users themselves. “Just Say No” and D.A.R.E. Clubs help them resist the pressure to experiment. During 1993-94 there were thirteen gang members – now there’s only one.

As Harding said, although many had learned to use “I’m a minority” as a copout, most of them are learning not to use it as an excuse, but to take on responsibility for themselves and responsibility for others. There’s also a group of kids at Edison who live in stable settings in which they experience a relatively normal, supportive environments without having to contend with overwhelming social pathology; many of those will be at the school from Kindergarten through 6th grade. Dr. Harding is optimistic that about 80% of Edison’s current population will graduate from high school.

The fine arts and the cultural arts are major aspects of life at Edison. I was pleased to hear the violin program of 5th and 6th graders in action! Ririe Woodbury Dance Company works with all of the students; the Salt Lake Tribune offers writers’ workshops; celebrations such as Black History Month and Cinco de Mayo help the kids find meaning and excitement in their heritage. The arts and cultural assembly was one of the very first things Harding told me about! The assembly is a recurrent events featuring the diversity of expression that has helped make Edison a miniature extension of the world beyond its borders.

For fun, there’s reading the books from the library, computer games in the 30-computer lab (when the academic stuff has been finished), a donated arcade that serves as a reward system, and of course the playground and sports, many of the sports facilitated by an after-school physical education teacher. Open until 9 pm three days of the week, until 6 pm on the other days, the building also houses and hosts various adult classes such as parenting, GED preparation and ESL.

As the very low absentee rate absolutely bears out, during the school day the students at Edison Elementary live a good life. Prior to arriving at Edison, many of these kids had been caught in multi-generational layers of ignorance and violence; they’d become what they had seen. With love, affirmation and support, the cycle of ignorance and abuse is breaking down and their fear is beginning to leave. At Edison, not only do they see an alternative—the environment actually enables them to be that alternative, to become different from what they had been. They’re becoming the free, responsible and responsive persons they were created to be.

They also are learning to live in a world in which diversity and difference is seen as normative and as very good. For them, divergent styles mean learning to lives with dissimilarities, and that leads to acceptance of differences. As Dr. Harding mentioned, he will not tolerate violence and aggression, and the question to resolve first always is “What happened?” – not “why?” As they are learning from the staff and from each other how to live with diversity and to resolve conflict without fists or violence or any kind, hopefully the young peacemakers at Edison will grow up to become adult peacemakers.

At this point in time and space, Edison students are learning to live in a real community, with an authentic commonality. They’re in the process—just as all of us continue to be—of discovering the challenges and rewards of living together as friends, neighbors and citizens. But what of their futures? What of their lives beyond the Sixth Grade graduation day?

“So all of us, in union with Christ, form one body, and as parts of it we belong to each other.” –Romans 12:5

These words have become commonplace to many of us: we need to read in them, to feel in them, a live calling to reach out and to be interresponsive to one another. Just as in great measure we have been created by each other, by one another, that creative process will continue to happen. The students at Edison will continue to need positive influences that will form and shape them into good citizens of their neighborhoods, of their cities, of their countries of this universe and of this galaxy—and even of unknown galaxies!

The students at Edison Elementary are ours, now and in the future. And we belong to them! Let us always remember that, and live our lives in response to it!

Wasatch School

Another phase of my sometime journalistic career included articles on a pair of elementary schools; here’s one I wrote for the Interfaith Peacemaking Resource Center of Utah’s newsletter.
Good things are happening in the Salt Lake City schools! This month’s feature is Wasatch Elementary.

With their faces in the sunshine, students at Wasatch Elementary School in Salt Lake’s Avenues neighborhood are planting theme gardens. About half of the classes are involved in this year’s Outdoor Project! It’s an extension of their regular curriculum, as well as an activity in which they claim ownership and learn caretaking, sensitivity and environmental awareness. The gardens will become part of the neighborhood, and the project’s navy blue t-shirts will carry the endeavor even beyond the school and Avenues boundaries, as a reminder that Wasatch is preparing citizens to interface with the world around them and the world beyond them!

Close to downtown, close to the University of Utah, Wasatch is the school of choice for many parents seeking the very best, with students attending from all over the Salt Lake Valley. Abundant diversity included a 50/50 poverty/affluence ratio, many different races and ethnicities, single parent families, children of university professors, children of university students, kids from House Of Hope and from Ronald McDonald House...a vast range of students in every sense of the word.

“Kids Zone / – Future Leaders being built – Enter with care & love” reads the poster greeting front door arrivals. Amy Wadsworth, Wasatch’s principal, speaks of the “global development” of the child. Advancement in academic and social skills is generally assumed in any learning environment, but this school goes much further and also pays careful attention to physical and emotional development, to awareness and growth in the fine and performing arts. The school is not traditional in the conventional sense of the word—the total approach is far more interactive, giving each one an opportunity to function at his or her optimal level.

How does a grade school administrator who never has taught on that level feel about her credibility as a principal?

Amy Wadsworth believes interest and expertise in teaching and education are easily interchangeable among the various levels. In her third year [1995] at Wasatch, her earlier experience included teaching English and French at Highland High School and serving as Assistant Principal at Clayton Intermediate School. Ms. Wadsworth impressed me as being readily available to the students, but also as someone who doesn’t fill or overwhelm the space that’s rightfully theirs. This is a students’ school!

Additional staff at the K-6 school total about 40. including teachers, aides, art and physical education specialists. There are “lots of good volunteers” (mainly parents), and an active corporate sponsor. Class size averages in the 20s. with three classes for each grade. There’s also a library, a playground, and a gymnasium. Although Wasatch was one of the very first schools in Salt Lake City to have computers, its computers now are among the oldest!

A sense of contentment fills the air at the residential R Street and South Temple location; the school actually feels calm and well organized. This “whole child” approach works well. With serious and usually successful attempts by the teachers and other staff to reach every area in each student’s life, they don’t often need to act out in frustration and violence in attempts to be heard and attended to. Because of this, the students get along well with each other and with the adults in their lives.

Ms. Wadsworth observes that blending students from more troubles areas into the lower-risk population helps a great deal to offset at-riskedness. Accepting of each other, the kids generally don’t isolate themselves into demographically defined groups. Once again, their needs are being met well enough there’s little need for a particular student or group to seek special attention.

Usually the kids are polite, respectful, and considerate of others. But despite the all-round success the Wasatch students and their principal are enjoying, sometimes there’s dissension. Classroom teachers try to process conflict in a problem-solving modality, and if the discord actually reaches the principal, she applies similar procedures.

Ms. Wadsworth feels that in the future these techniques will need to be taught more formally. She says the goal is for peaceable conflict resolution to become a day-to-day practice and not just something occasionally imposed from without.

As these students find peaceful solutions becoming natural to them, they’ll easily take the skills they’ve learned at school into their family setting and into the larger Salt Lake City and world communities. This will be a great and ongoing advantage to all of us!

“Keeping high expectations” in every area helps make sure outstanding results happen. Future leaders are being built at Wasatch Elementary, and they are being treated with care and respect. And as Amy Wadsworth says, they’re “such a delight!”

Faces in the sun, Wasatch School students are busy planting gardens to enhance their own lives and as a gift to their community...

Restaurant Review

Here’s a semi-spoof takeoff on what I did during my probably all-time favorite job--a volunteer job writing restaurant reviews for the local radical newsrag.
Codman Square’s Newest Temptation

Lunches to Savor and Remember
by Leah Chang
With all the yuppies, graduate students, young families and assorted others who’ve been moving into Dorchester, it’s high time for the arrival of an establishment like Urban Coastal Cuisine!

Since we’d been wondering if the restaurant’s name was overstated, too trendy or aptly descriptive, last Tuesday a pair of us ventured into Urban Coastal’s luncheon buffet. UCC occupies a storefront on Washington Street in Codman Square vacated several months ago by a retail outlet of a recently defunct small grocery chain; current tenants on the surrounding blocks include several national retail outlets. In reviving and redesigning the site, Abigail Janssen and Rich Krone, the restaurant’s owners/managers, both recent graduates of Johnson & Wales, retained the original plate glass windows and two of the original entryways, blocking the 3rd door with a subtle, freeform graphic done in dense, textured acrylic with metallic accents by local artist and teacher Maya Gutierrez. The banner signage announces “local seafood and ethnic cuisine”; a quartet of Boston Benches, commissioned from Nancy Jamison of Dorchester Fair Food’s associates and co-workers, offer inviting spots to rest, wait, or meet people. Inside the windows and peering out to greet passersby and potential diners, window boxes filled with floral plantings add a spot of bright color to an otherwise subtly sophisticated presentation mostly done in natural hues.

Once inside UCC, we discovered the atmosphere attempts to mimic what I’ve experienced in Cambridge’s Harvard and Central Squares but in a less in-your-face “this is the way to be ‘in’ these days” manner. Clearly there is “a way to be” if you’re well-educated and you’ve opted for inner-city rather than suburban living, and one of the requisite lifestyle accoutrements includes at least occasional dining at places that serve other than the more classic and traditional “Americana” fare.

Perusing the bill of fare, we noticed the prices were high for lunch in Codman Square. But sometimes the image is costly, right? So going for the expected splurge, one of us ordered grilled (unspecified) seafood fajitas with Caribbean chutney-style salsa and “Thai style” fruit compote. Yes. The other decided on non-coastal, choosing slightly blackened (that’s still current?) chicken breast au poivre, wild rice medley, (local!) and a garden-fresh tomato and mixed green salad with the obligatory house vinaigrette. Since the wine selection was too pricey for us, we decided to drink bottled water. Then on to dessert: this time a different ethnicity with Tiramisu and an American favorite: strawberry-rhubarb tart crowned with homemade vanilla ice cream. With dessert one of us had an herbal and black tea blend created by one of our J&W graduate hosts and served with honey from New Hampshire; the other chose a double latté from a plethora of specialty coffees. On a side note, while we were lunching folks at two nearby tables had come in for coffee and pastry, so that less-expensive option may help restaurant revenue.

The food? Yes, the food! Presentation of everything that came to our table was clean, fresh and appealing, served on natural-colored stoneware. All the flavors of everything were nicely married, with no particular accent overwhelming another one. However, none of the food we ordered had a particularly distinct or novel taste, either: it was more in keeping with the expected standard of this kind of cuisine, but that works well!

Ambience definitely is a big part of this restaurant’s draw (at least for Leah, who’s writing this review). With the interior walls painted a light sandy beige, pale wood tables and chairs, and newly-refinished wide-plank floors coupled with the natural stoneware dishes, silk flowers on the table and hanging on the walls a diversity of silk-screened city scenes, beach scenes and city beach scenes, including one of my local favorites, Dorchester’s Malibu, the calming effect of it all took me back to a more tranquil era and will draw me back to Urban Coastal Cuisine. Recorded music definitely would enhance the entire mise-en-scéne or – ideally – live music, such as guitar or mandolin. But I can dream! Rich Krone, who together with Abigail Janssen is UCC’s owner/manager, told me a live music series s part of his vision, and acquiring an arts grant to provide the live music is another hope for the future.

Friday, November 26, 2004


Urban Oasis

Special Edition: Some Extras

Limited Edition: Lots of Extras

you can live in ours!!!!!

Sailing through the city: easy living


...when the Winter's gone...

Urban Daydreams


the kitchen at dawn--takes you back

Cities are Beautiful: a world of real living

Sun Country House | HomeWorks 1, 2, 3

Look this way | It's Summer. | It's about time!


Summer Breakaway | easy living

Sun-Country Living

City Lights!!!!!

Saturday, November 13, 2004

New England Temperature Conversion Chart

60º F: Southern Californians shiver uncontrollably. People in New England sunbathe.

50º F: New Yorkers try to turn on the heat. People in New England plant gardens.

40º F: Italian & English cars won't start. People in New England drive with the windows down.

32º F: Distilled water freezes. Maine's Moose head Lake's water gets thicker.

20º F: Floridians don coats, thermal underwear, gloves, and wool hats. People in New England throw on a flannel shirt.

15º F: New York landlords finally turn up the heat. People in New England have the last cookout before it gets cold.

0º F: All the people in Miami die. New Englanders close the windows.

10º below zero: Californians fly away to Mexico. The Girl Scouts in New England are selling cookies door to door.

25º below zero: Hollywood disintegrates. People in New England get out their winter coats.

40º below zero: Washington DC runs out of hot air. People in New England let the dogs sleep indoors.

100º below zero: Santa Claus abandons the North Pole. New Englanders get frustrated because they can't start their "kahs."

460º below zero: All atomic motion stops (absolute zero on the Kelvin scale). People in New England start saying, "cold 'nuff for ya?!"

500º below zero: Hell freezes over. The Red Sox win the World Series...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

too long a time

This is how I've been feeling for too, too long...I found this in the "First Person" series on page 67 of the February 2000 print version of Life magazine; John Trotter is the author. Yes, that long-past Friday afternoon did become a watershed, but rather than celebrate it as I wanted to do then I now have too much to grieve.
I struggle each day to find that once familiar person, me, closest companion. I've lost so much precious time. It's been rolling over me like a river in a nightmare, having neither length nor brevity. The waters...tangled me in a dark eddy of lonely struggle, apart from the world, where time hardly seemed to exist at all, even as it flowed past me. But as my awareness has gradually risen...I see that my loved ones, my friends, the rest of the world, have gone a long way down that river without me.

a free future

"...a free future must begin with the right to talk freely about the past."

--George F. Will, quoted in [print, of course!] Newsweek, June 19, 1989, page 72.