Mr. Middleton’s Writing Assignment
Ever wonder what your kid does in school all day? Last week, at a take your parent to school day, I had a chance to follow my sixth grader from class to class, something I had been threatening to do to my older son to make sure he writes down all his homework assignments and hand them in on time.
I spend the morning at West Hills Middle School, a 4-8 Grade upper elementary and middle school. With my son I used a nail, a magnet and a smooth piece of glass to identify minerals in science class, and made bracelets according to a very old tradition in a fictitious island nation to learn about the concepts of market economy in social studies.
My favorite, of course, was my son’s writing class. Like the other classes, the parents in the class could not just sit back and sip their morning coffee while they watched their kids work. No, we had to do work too. A student passed around clip boards, pencils and paper to the parents. Then, Mr. Middleton said we were about to see a photo and we were to write for five solid minutes, no thinking, no erasing, just write whatever came to one’s mind based on what the picture would trigger.
Okay, Mr. Middleton, I’ve had three cups of coffee. I’m a writer. I’ve got this! Let’s go.
And then he posted this.
And I felt my heart flip-flop.
A tutor house… the white stucco with the brown trim.. how I miss it…..
How I always thought it would be the home I would grow old in….
The home where my kids were babies. A home where the roof leaked if it rained just a bit too hard, just like when the last fragments of Hurricane Katrina blew through Western New York, or a roof that was porous enough to let a few bats through one winter when my current sixth grader was just an infant.
The leaded glass and the tiny windows in the walk-up attic….
How I still miss it, the attic with the full bathroom and a claw-foot bathtub… the third room that my baby moved into when he could no longer stand sharing a room with his older brother.
The water below reminds me of the Erie Canal
From Albany to Buffalo it went, and for miles, you can bike or walk along it.
There are not places like this I have yet to find in Michigan, at least not near my home. You don’t get to walk near water in the Detroit suburbs. Oh yeah, there are lots of lakes, all on private property You just get fleeting glimpses of them as you speed by on the drive from here to there …
And that is how far I got. Wow, look at me, almost two years after my move, there are still parts of me pining away for my old haunts.
But you really can’t go home.
Last week, my husband took our sons back to Rochester for a visit for a special occasion of some friends back there. My husband said it was great to be back to catch up with old familiar faces and places.
But some places, our home, looked very different.
The big old silver maple that graced the front of our house had to be cut down because age and time rotted it from the inside out.
My husband sent this photo to me in a text and I burst into tears:
If I had to write about this picture, all I would say is: Nothing lasts forever. Thank you, tree, for my kids’ thinking spots and photos on the first day of school. Thank you for your shade, your carpet of leaves in the fall and your shower of helicopter seeds in early summer.
Nothing stays the same.
Thank you, Mr. Middleton, for this great trip down memory lane and for getting our kids’ creativity flowing!
Here is a writing challenge: Find a photo in an old box, on the web, and just go, for five minutes. What did you come up with, let me know and share in the comments.
Paying that tuition for the Elite Private University: Will it really open more doors?
For those of you following my posts on college and college visits, thank you for your public and private comments. I hope this post will resonate with many of you and spark even more debate and discussion, so load up my comment box.
After our visits to Case Western Reserve, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, my house became somewhat of a house divided. The heated discussion perhaps at this point of the game was maybe pointless. We were at the beginning phases of the college search. My daughter has high grades but had yet to take those multiple college entrance exams. She hadn’t even applied.
But what if she applies to places like CMU, or my husband’s alma matter, an Ivy League institution, and gets in? My mother-in-law (don’t worry, she never reads my blog) has this crazy idea that my daughter should apply to Yale because they have a fantastic graphic and visual arts program. With tuition at these colleges averaging around $64,000 a year, for a field that is super competitive and mostly employed by freelancers who have to pay their own way for health insurance and retirement funds, I hope that my mother-in-law has a huge college fund set aside for her grandchildren that she has not yet told us about.
Granted, private universities have large endowments and are more likely to bestow deserving students with a generous financial aid package. Let’s look at CMU’s 2012-2013 financial aid profile:
Nearly 70 percent of incoming freshman applied for financial aid and of that group, 77 percent of them were found to have financial need and were awarded an average financial aid package of $35,000 per year.
That same week we visited Pittsburgh-area colleges, the New York Times published a troubling article that said that the elite colleges were becoming even more elite. This might be in part because of the new common application process, where students can fill out online a common application, tweak it just a bit according to each school’s requirements, and with a click – and an extra fee per college – can apply to numerous colleges all at once.
The article stated “….Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.”
This article, plus the media coverage that has been pointing to a troubling trend for years that college debt is crushing a generation who can’t find work outside of becoming a barista at Starbucks upon graduation, made me pose the question to my husband – is that private university price tag truly worth it. Isn’t it fiscally responsible to get a great education at a quality state school over an expensive private school?
One take on that outlook is this: When looking at job applicants fresh out of school, those with the Ivy League or private colleges get looked at first, and those graduating from a state school have a greater chance of being overlooked.
For those of you who are graduates of a public state university, like me, that answer can really sting.
I posed this question and put it up for debate on my Facebook status. Got a slew of comments.
Some, who were Ivy League graduates in their 40’s, wondered if they would be accepted by their alma mater if they applied today. A fine arts graduate from CMU said she was accepted based on her portfolio and that parents need to “chill out.” There are “best schools” out there as far as status, but there is a school out there for every student which will serve them the best, and that may not necessarily be an Ivy League school.
Graduates of public state schools stood proudly by their alma mater and said from a regional standpoint, companies know the reputation of state schools in their area. Many managers are, in fact, products of those state schools. However, the grooming and the connections one gets at an Ivy League are clear advantages, some said.
So, there is no clear and dry answer.
My husband and I were still mulling this debate over when we went for breakfast at Pamela’s, in the lovely Shadyside neighborhood in Pittsburgh. As if by some cosmic fate in the academic universe, an older couple was watching us from a nearby table. They were admiring our three children as they wolfed down their pancakes and waffles and listened to our conversation about getting into college.
As it turned out, the gentleman was a mathematics professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
“Listen to me. Don’t waste your money if you have a great in-state public university at your doorstep.”
Which we do.
“I’ve seen so many kids burn out at places like CMU in the undergrad years. The University of Pittsburgh is a fine, fine university. Don’t go into debt,” he said, then turned to my oldest. “If you want the elite private school status, wait for graduate school, where if you get in, they will most likely pay your way through grants and scholarships.”
And with that, he paid his bill and the couple bid us a good day and good luck.
The issue: still up for debate. And I welcome your comments.
Campus Visits and test-taking angst: University of Pittsburgh
“Oh, crap mom, they are everywhere!”
My daughter and I were stopped at a red light, on her way to her A.C.T. tutorial class, and there they were. In perfect order on the license plate of the car in front of us.
It does seem that letters and acronyms are all that is on my high school junior’s mind.
Around my town, you can see her peers in places like Starbucks and Panera accompanied by a private tutor and hunched over one of those mammoth ACT prep books.
Taking the tests costs money.
Hiring a private tutor or taking a private class costs LOTS of money – try like $90 an hour.
Times like this, I often think of that movie Race to Nowhere. It’s becoming a race to empty our bank account in the name of college admissions. Taking admissions tests and studying for them is all that really occupies my daughter’s existence. She asks how long going out do dinner will take if it means she will be separated from her study guide. And she really doesn’t part from it because it comes along wherever she goes. She went to prom with a boy the other night. It surprised me that she did not take it along in the limo.
And when you finally get to college….
My daughter, visiting a friend who was showing her around his new surroundings at the University of Pittsburgh, told her “no one here cares what you got on any of those tests.”
This blog post is a long overdue follow-up to my post on our visit to Carnegie Mellon University. At CMU, my daughter sensed just how intense a campus atmosphere could be as the students there were in the midst of cramming for finals.
Just across the river, at the neighboring University of Pittsburgh, the atmosphere seemed livelier. And happier. Yet still very competitive. According to about.com, The University of Pittsburgh often ranks among the top 20 public universities in the U.S., and its strong research programs have earned it membership in the exclusive Association of American Universities. Pitt also can boast of a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In athletics, the Pitt Panthers compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference.
Unlike the dimmed dreary lecture hall at Carnegie Mellon, prospective students to the University of Pittsburgh started their tour at an information session in the in a massive historic building of Alumni Hall. The interior was decked out with balloons and music and the smells of fresh-baked cookies and popcorn wafted from the main salon, where Pitt seniors were collecting their caps and gowns and other graduation mementos at a pre-graduation reception.
Our admissions official was a young African American man in a cardigan sweater. He was a recent Pitt graduate who was in the process of applying to law school. He told the prospectives that during his time at Pitt, he changed his mind on what he wanted to study several times, from business, to engineering, and, he said, and I quote,
“to worry my parents, I once even thought of becoming a writer!”
His advice: Unless you have your heart on becoming an engineer or you absolutely know you are going to medical school, keep a decision on a choosing a major fluid and take a course load from Pitt’s multiple major offerings. At Pitt’s Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, one can wait until the end of their sophomore year to declare a major.
And as far as acceptance rates at Pitt?
As it stands, Pitt in 2012 had an acceptance rate of 56.1 percent. Admissions officers are looking for the following ACT breakdown from applicants:
- ACT Composite: 25 / 30
- ACT English: 25 / 32
- ACT Math: 25 / 31
- ACT Writing: 8 / 9
However, our admissions rep stressed that test scores and grades of B’s and A’s were just one part of what they were looking for in a prospective freshman. They wanted to see a well-rounded student taking vigorous courses. They wanted to see a students’ involvement in their community and leadership positions they took at school. And then he said the words I was longing to hear: better to get a high B or low A in an advanced course than all A’s in less challenging classes.
After the informational tour, we met our Pittsburgh Pathfinder. He led us on an hour tour across campus, highlighted by a visit to the Cathedral of Learning, the undergraduate library, open nearly 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the quad of freshman dorms, and the dining halls. He even told us in confidence, even though his official job was to tell us to buy books at the campus bookstore, the best place to rent textbooks for the semester. For that, I gave him a stellar grade on his evaluation.
And, we even got a few Pitt T-shirts for free from the guy selling T-shirts on the corner from our fearless Pathfinder. Apparently, he has some kind of deal going with the guy:
No T-shirts were handed out at CMU.
Best of all, my daughter got an unofficial, insider perspective on campus life from a friend who was finishing up his freshman year:
He has loved his first year of Pitt, both academically and socially. He loves the urban atmosphere of being on a campus in a big city.
After our visit, my daughter can see herself applying to school in Pittsburgh. She could see herself taking classes either at CMU or Pitt. And, for a break, she can see herself going for a run (with a friend of course, not alone!) in beautiful Schenley Park.
I could see her going here because it would give me a chance to visit my Pittsburgh cousins more often.
What is not to love about Pittsburgh?
Then again, there is the whole in-state out-of-state tuition factor which weighs heavily on most admissions decisions. Out-of-state tuition is nearly double. At this point, she had yet to visit one of the best state schools in the nation, in her own state, just 40 minutes down a potholed highway to Ann Arbor.
But that visit, I will leave for another post.
- Pittsburgh’s economy has gained from high-skilled immigrants (post-gazette.com)
- The value of campus visits: Questions are answered and connections are made (simplygreater.org)
- What to Expect From Your 17-year-old: The CMU campus visit (stacylynngittleman.com)
What to Expect From Your 17-year-old: The CMU campus visit
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It’s been a long time since I picked up one of those “What to Expect” books that were regarded by my generation as the bibles of those early years of motherhood. The “What to Expect” series either offered us soothing advice; or made us feel woefully inadequate in our parenting skills from pregnancy all the way through […]
Rite of Passage: The college tour blog posts
Yes, it’s been ages since I have written a post. But this blog post will be merely a placeholder to say, come back, I promise, I will have something to say of what my life has been like over the past few weeks.
Most of what has been occupying my family’s time is the college search for our oldest child.
This spring “break,” the family took a most unusual road trip. It did not involve going back to our hometowns. It did not involve sleeping in our childhood bedrooms and seeing extended families.
It was all about visiting colleges.
In the next few blog posts, I will be sharing our experiences of our visits to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and in Pittsburgh, the contrasts between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. And, because we live in southeast Michigan, this series would not be complete without our visit to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
In the next few blog posts, I will be discussing my impressions of the presentations given by each schools’ admission departments, what you can learn on an official college tour, and what you can further learn from taking a real-live student to lunch. I will also write about the “vibe” of each campus and the surrounding cultural aspects of each town.
I will also be writing about the issue of early admission, and how the Ivies and other prestigious universities continue to become even more selective in their admission process.
At that post, I would like hear from you, dear readers on the worth of a college education received at an Ivy League or other prestigious schools. Is it worth the high cost of tuition if it will open up doors for the student at the onset of graduation? Is it better to get an undergraduate education at a good public state college and then gain the prestige of attending an Ivy League for graduate school? These questions are in hot contention right now and I would love for you to chime off on that post.
So, stay tuned right here, and I promise I’ll be cranking these posts out in the days to come. And, if you are also in this stage of life with your children, feel free to comment on each post on your college searches.
The Payoff of Pencil Shavings: The 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
Parents of athletes get to whoop and cheer from the sidelines of courts, fields and hockey arenas.
Score a basket, and parents go “YEAHHHHH!”
A kid slams a hockey puck past the goalie and parents get to yell “whooo hooo, GOAL!!”
I guess parents of artists need a place to cheer for their kids too. They found it last night at the Detroit Film Theater at the Detroit Institute of Arts, as hundreds of students in grades 7-12 received accolades at the 2014 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Southeast Michigan Inductees ceremony.
The College for Creative Studies sponsors the Southeastern Michigan Art Region, which received over 4,000 works of art and almost 300 portfolios last year from 7-12 grade students in Wayne and Oakland Counties. Over 1,100 individual category works and 90 Portfolios were selected to receive Gold Keys, Silver Keys and Honorable Mention Awards. Winners of this award are in the company of other great artists like Andy Warhol and Richard Avedon. They won these awards in high school too.
Artists, friends and family members and teachers filled the theater to nearly standing room capacity. That is a lot of art supporters. Before the ceremony began, a huge projection screen looped images of the award-winning art, from photography to painting, to drawing, ceramics and jewelry design.
And if parents, or other fans in the room were lucky to look up and spot their child’s work, a huge “YEAH” could be heard. Just like at a sporting event.
Looking at the art, I cannot understand how some school districts see it as a frivolous subject that can be cut from a budget. Each work allowed the audience a glimpse of the world from inside another’s perspective. Think how many eyes have set sight on the world and still, there are so many unique ways of looking at the world around us, and to have the gift to express what they see and reflect it back to the rest of us, and to have schools that have maintained their budget for the arts, indeed a gift.
Again, I thought how fortunate we are to be able to live in a part of Michigan that values and has kept a strong visual art program. Again, my mind wandered to think about the districts which have shed the classes where students get to express themselves in their own unique way. Think of what they could express artistically if given the opportunity.
My daughter, in the throes of her Junior Year, at first could not be bothered with going to an award ceremony. After all, it was a Tuesday night at the beginning of the semester. She had hours of homework waiting for her. But we told her, no, getting recognized like this is what people LIVE for, and some things trump even doing homework.
When she was in Kindergarten, I took a book out the library about how to create art with pencils. It had different shading and cross-hatching techniques which I thought maybe a bit above her wee head, but I showed it to her anyway. We must have renewed that book three times. She sat with it and carefully copied the pictures for weeks.
Years and many boxes of pencils have passed. And with that, lots of pencil shavings. Some make it to the garbage, some don’t as evidenced by a mound of pencil shavings I recently found in the basement:
Competitions like the Scholastic Art & Writing program confirmed for my family what we’ve known for years: My daughter has been given a great talent to create art.
Attending the award ceremony confirmed there are lots of lots of kids with equal and greater talent also creating amazing art.
As each kid crossed the stage to accept their awards: some in conservative suits, others in the standard garb of an artist: black and more black with matching black combat boots, my heart soared with pride for them all. At the same time, it sank, and I wondered if my daughter, seated in a sea of this talent, felt the same weight of the competition. It is these same kids who she will be competing for scholarships, grants, and jobs in an economy which values and employs those pursuing the arts less and less each year.
I hope the world of art and design widens enough to absorb all of them and lucratively so.
Before the Ball Drops on 2014, 10 tips for maximizing Financial Aid for College
Got plans for New Year’s Eve? Whether you are zipping up that sequined gown or are just snuggling on your jammies for a night of movies, have that conversation with your college-bound teen about how to finance that higher education. Read all about it in my next installation at road2college
Join me on the Road 2 College
For some us, it feels like we ourselves just graduated college.
How is it, that now we have children who are old enough to begin the college application process.
If you are a veteran college parent, or just getting started with having conversations with your teen about getting started down the path to college, I invite you read my series on the new online newsletter called road2college.
My kids’ schools have no nurse, does yours?
Who wants to pay less taxes?
Who wants the government and regulation off our backs?
Government and school payrolls are much too big, let’s stop using our taxes to pay big government salaries!
Careful what you ask for.
Do you remember the good old days when there were school nurses? In the sixth grade, my throat burned and my head ached. I was sent to the school nurse where she took my temperature, gave me some water and a throat lozenge that tasted like cherry. The cold nurses cot lined with that crinkly white medical paper was somehow a comforting place to rest as I waited for my mom to come pick me up.
In the ninth grade I passed out in hygiene class and had to be wheeled through the hallway – of course during the change of classes – to the nurse’s office. There the nurse checked my vitals, my blood pressure and my temperature, etc. and sent me on my way back to classes after she determined my cause of fainting was due to me being grossed out by the day’s lesson.
As a mother, my children made several trips to the nurse’s office in the years they were students in New York State:
- There were routine eye and hearing exams
- Lice checks when there was the monthly…. emmm, occasional outbreak in one of their classes
- When my daughter’s 2nd grade head collided with another 2nd grade head, it was the nurse’s office who called me saying I would need to take my daughter to an ENT specialist to rule out a broken nose
- My oldest son broke several body parts at school. It was a nurse who was trained to triage him and fix him up enough to make him comfortable until i could get him to the doctor’s office.
- My youngest son had an asthma plan in his old school in New York where he went to the nurse’s office each day before recess or gym to take his inhaler.
- The nurse in my youngest son’s school also extracted a tick from my son’s neck, contained it in a plastic jar for me to take to my doctor to test it for Lyme’s disease. She was my hero!
The beginning of the school year I called up to speak to the school nurse at my son’s middle school about my son’s inhaler.
This is a school where we got a note home the first day of school saying that NO child could bring in any products containing nuts because several children in the school contained a life-threatening THAT’S LIFE THREATENING peanut allergy.
Philadelphia Child Dies, No School Nurse Available
“We don’t have a nurse,” the secretary said in matter-of-fact tone.
“Excuse me?” I stammered in disbelief.
She calmly said that the school has a clinic where moms volunteer their time. Or, she, the secretary, plays the role of the nurse, distributing medication and other nursing functions. I’m sure she has time to care for our children, especially during cold and flu season, plus get all her other work done.
Really. So very comforting that is, never knew a school administrator knew how to take a kids vitals or how to treat a wound, a bone break or properly give out meds in addition to paperwork and calendar scheduling.
I shared my dismay with another school administrator, this time at my daughter’s high school.
“Oh yeah, our district hasn’t had nurses in a very long time. It’s an enormous liability.”
Yeah, do you think?
In New York, our property taxes were pretty high. In Michigan, our taxes are quite low. Our suburban streets are quite pock-marked with potholes and our schools have no nurses. And that’s the way people like it here, I guess.
Helping Out: Part II: Staten Island Bernikow JCC
A few weeks back, I wrote the first part of helping out back in Staten Island
I called it Part I which means, of course, there will be at least a sequel.
Well, it’s been a rough few weeks healthwise in our household so my apologies for the hold up on Part II.
It turns out that my synagogue’s education director in Rochester is childhood friends with David Sorkin, the executive director of the JCC in Staten Island. Our synagogue was collecting donations for Sandy victims in Staten Island. Their only problem: how were they going to deliver the goods?
So, in addition to helping out the fine volunteers at Guyon Rescue, with the help of my husband’s colleagues at General Motors, we borrowed the biggest Suburban you’d ever lay your eyes on and filled it with the gently used and new toys, books, art supplies and toiletries to be distributed through the Bernikow Jewish Community Center of Staten Island.
When I returned home to Rochester, Temple Beth El received the following letter from the JCC in thanks for our donation:
Dear Families of Temple Beth El,
Thank you very much for the toys, books, games and gifts that you collected for the children of our community who have suffered great losses from Hurricane Sandy. Also, special thanks to Stacy Gittleman and family for delivering supplies to the JCC.
As fate would have it, we received a call on Monday morning from a day care center that experienced damage from the storm and they were seeking replacement supplies. In addition, we sent some of the supplies to one of the shelters that are housing families. They were setting up a play room for the children, and your donations helped to create a warm and welcoming space in an otherwise bare and sterile environment. Some of these same children received the cards that were made by the children at your school.
Most of all, we must tell you that your acts of kindness will be remembered by all involved long after these families return to their homes and their lives get back to normal. …..
Thank you again to all my Rochester friends, neighbors and congregants who filled bins and my garage with donations that we brought down to Staten Island. I just wanted to share this letter with you to know how much it was appreciated.