Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Risk of Faith

Before I begin this blog, I'd like to say how much I appreciate my Father's wisdom and advice. I used to be so stubborn when he would talk to me, I felt like he was trying to run my life.  Now I understand that he was trying to help me in my decisions.  I know now that if I want solid advice, then I can turn to him.  This man, that I call Papi is amazing.  I love him so much and this blog is a thank you to him. Papi, eres mi heroe!  Me da orgullo decir que eres mi padre.  Gracias por todo.  Tu hija para siempre...Angie

I have always been a stubborn person. I have always liked to make my own decisions and create my own paths.  Like Robert Frost's poem, I like to take the road less travelled.  Almost a year ago, I let somebody into my life after I had made the decision to go to France.  You've all probably read a part of my blogs and know that I kind of regret the decision of going to France. Although, I think the real poor decision was bringing somebody into my life.  But that is a decision I have to live with now and I may regret the things that I did after I came back, but I am NOT sorry for my actions.  I recently read this scripture in church and realized that I was searching for mercy, I made a cry for help.

Psalm 130 

Help, God—the bottom has fallen out of my life! Master, hear my cry for help! 
   Listen hard! Open your ears! 
      Listen to my cries for mercy. 

 3-4 If you, God, kept records on wrongdoings, 
      who would stand a chance? 
   As it turns out, forgiveness is your habit, 
      and that's why you're worshiped. 

 5-6 I pray to God—my life a prayer— 
      and wait for what he'll say and do. 
   My life's on the line before God, my Lord, 
      waiting and watching till morning.

I looked for mercy in another falliable human being, and found shame and disdain.  I had been going to church to find a way out of my misery and one day my mind shifted, I had to cry out.  I still found reproach, but within me I found release, I found peace.  Because of my steadfast belief in my God, I was able to live with my irrational decision to ask a another human for mercy that couldn't be given.  Through my cry, I believe God gave me that mercy.  He gave me what no other human could have given me.  

Five months later I find myself at another crossroads.  I'm fully functional and rational this time and I was able to ask my father for advice.  I think through my cry, God was able to give me insight into the trust I could put into my Father.  I have never felt closer to my Papi, as I do now. 
My heart has been in two places and the weight of having to make a decision as to where I should place it fully has conflicted me. By not making a choice I stand the chance of not just hurting others, but in the process myself. I tell myself that I am okay with functioning like this, but much to my surprise, my Father knows me better than I thought he did.  He understands my love of people and my desire to hurt no one.  He knows I don't like conflict, and that I am the only one that can resolve it. He quite simply told me, you have to make a choice. The longer I wait, the more it tears my heart, the more it stresses my thoughts, the more it keeps me conflicted.  So, before I create drama for myself, I must make a choice.  Both paths have been well travelled, but not by me.  Everybody comes to this crossroads, do I stick with what I know to be safe, or do I take a risk?

My heart may take a beating if I take the road less travelled, but I know that my trust in my father and my trust in God will allow me to heal again.  It is a risk, but I have faith that I will come out unscathed on the other side. 

Our choices are not always black or white, the gray area is sometimes more prevalent. 

For me I think I will take the road less travelled.....

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.        15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I hope Robert Frost is right....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Opinion: Technology in the Classroom, Preparing for a Global Economy

In the past two years, four high school seniors have been under my direct supervision.  Three of those seniors could not spell or write grammatically correct sentences.  These kids were intelligent, they had goals, and all of them have been accepted into college.  Two of them were even Raytown students.

What astonishes me about these recent high school graduates is how they made it through countless teachers who you might think would have caught the inadequacies these kids have demonstrated in their writing abilities.  Admittedly, their inaptitude to spell correctly may be mere coincidence, but the more my co-workers and I assessed these kids, the one thing they have in schools that wasn’t available to us, was computers and “spell check.”  Based on this conclusion, the teachers are more than likely highly capable, but lack the opportunity to catch these mistakes.

I have always found spell check to be a great convenience in catching mistakes when writing a paper for school, but I have never used it as a crutch to spell correctly.  The more I’ve thought about this, the more it seems that students no longer need to spell because computers can do it for them.  I graduated from high school 13 years ago, and all but one of my papers was handwritten. The English department had a computer lab installed towards the end of my senior year, and my last paper was word-processed.  In our schools today, starting as early as elementary school, papers are often required to be word-processed. Not only will some word processors check spelling, they will also check grammar.  Many students have access to computers in their homes and almost all have access to them in schools.  My question is this; is technology advancing education, or it is hindering our students from mastering effective communication skills?  

Earlier this year, the Federal Assistance Package, or “stimulus,” was signed into law by President Obama to help lift our economy out of recession.  The Department of Education has by far received one of the largest allotments of the $700 billion.  Each state has received an amount based on its deficit needs.  In Missouri, the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City will be receiving the largest of the state’s stimulus money.  The monies for education have been designated to three major areas: building projects, special education, and updating technology in underprivileged school districts. I sat down with Raytown Superintendent Dr. Allan Markley recently to discuss how Raytown would use the stimulus money if it received any, and our conversation turned to the technology aspect of it.  

I have been a substitute teacher in many school districts in the metro area, including Raytown, and I have seen technology at work.  High tech graphing calculators, smart boards, and of course computers at every turn.  Business classes, English classes, Math classes, Art classes, libraries, all have computers.  Whole classrooms are equipped solely with computers for class instruction.  The Raytown school district is definitely not lacking in computer technology at the middle school or high school levels.  When a substitute enters one of these high tech classrooms, it is unfortunately accepted that the students will pay lip service to regular classroom expectations and “surf” the web.  When I asked Dr. Markley about this easily attainable access to the internet, he explained that “sometimes kids will take advantage, it’s to be expected.  But at the same time, this is the student’s link to information and their only link to outside cultures.”  

Markley makes a strong point.  We are living in a globalized culture.  These students will enter a highly competitive globalized workforce and economy. In this time of economic uncertainty, schools across the nation are taking the initiative to prepare students for that future.  For these reasons, technology in schools is highly beneficial.  However, I question whether Facebook and MySpace are that globally conscious even though they are available to anyone in the world with Internet access.  It’s true, school administrators lock most of these new social networks, but sometimes we underestimate the intelligence of these students to find ways around barriers.  

In one way technology is advancing education.  However, research indicates that technology investment has typically had little impact on student achievement.  Markley is right that technology keeps our students on a global level, but does it make them globally competitive?  After taking a look at how technology has been integrated in education world wide, it is apparent that technology investment in the United States has gone slightly overboard.  It could be argued that we have to keep up with the technological advancements of Asian countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, and China by investing more and more technology into our schools.  That isn’t the case though.  When compared to China, a country that our economy is delicately linked to, our approach to technology and education is comparably different.  Technology is widely used in China by the teacher for instruction.  

Research shows that in math and science, American students fair far worse than their Chinese counterparts. Advances in technology come from the comprehension and application of these two subjects.  In China, emphasis is given to these subjects and the humanities are not neglected, as many would believe.  The Chinese Ministry of Education has designed its curriculum to build “strong foundational knowledge and mastery of core concepts.”  Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra and geometry are required for secondary education completion in China, whereas in the United States, students are given the option to take alternative classes and are not expected to take higher levels of these courses.  

The Chinese school system also offers more specialized, vocational and agricultural schools in the upper levels of secondary education.  The majority of these specialized schools are technology based. The purpose of these schools is to prepare students for employment. Our educational system also affords for vocational schools such as Raytown’s Joe Herndon Center.  However, this school offers its services to the surrounding metro area rather than just the Raytown School District. The Chinese counterpart to our school districts will typically have more than one specialized school. This difference could be attributed to the importance we place on academics and college education as a culture.  The United States is the second highest educated nation in the world. China is not even included in the top 10 nations as most would presume based on their position as a leader in the exportation economy.  When compared socio-economically, students from both nations come from similar backgrounds.  In both societies, some students are suited for higher education, while others are not.  In China, however, more educational options exist at what would be the American “high school” level.  

In our schools, we focus on how technology will help us compete globally.  We continue to invest billions of dollars into our schools but is this the most important aspect of maintaining our position on the world stage?  Technology when integrated into the classroom can be highly beneficial when taken out of the student’s immediate grasp and into the teacher’s. When used for teaching virtual classes, technology then becomes effective.  When a teacher can create a lesson plan with a teacher from another school, school district, state, or country, and share it through the Internet, then it becomes a link to a global society. At the present time, the use of computers in the academic classroom is hindering education advancements in the area of communication, which ironically is what computers allow us to do on a global level

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Board approves new contract for abstinence-only education

Schools are a place for learning, but according to School Board member Allison Bruflat the board’s recent approval of continuing its abstinence-only curriculum is teaching students lessons that are not necessarily based on facts.

“We’re teaching our students life skills,” Bruflat said, “but when we tell students that a certain decision will fail and make them sick we are no longer teaching them to make decisions based on facts.”

The school board’s recent approval of a five year contract with the Lifeguard organization to provide abstinence-only education is just one part of a controversial issue that has been prevalent in American schools for some time. 

In 1996 Congress passed the Title V Welfare Reform Act, enabling the passage of the Federal Abstinence Education Law.  This law allocated $170 million to Abstinence-only education across the nation.  The Act was initiated in 1998 and has been adopted by ten States, including Missouri.  In 2004, the Women’s Clinic of Kansas City adopted the Lifeguard: Youth Development Program, Choosing the Best, a comprehensive abstinence-only curriculum that focuses on the development of youth in grades 5 though 12.  Lifeguard has chosen to use this specific curriculum in public and private schools that have requested it in this region of Missouri.  Raytown became one of the first districts in the metropolitan area to introduce the Lifeguard program in addition to the Human Sexuality curriculum already being used by the District in 2004.  

In 2007, the Missouri Congress attempted to pass an abstinence-only Law with House Bill 63 that would comply with the federal law.  School districts would be able to set their own curriculum, but would have to follow the eight Federal guidelines or present medically accurate information.  The Bill failed initially, but the following year passed when repealed.  The new law now requires that all Missouri Schools conform to abstinence-only curriculum that complies with the federal guidelines.  On January 12th, the Raytown School Board was presented with the option to renew their five-year contract with Lifeguard, but due to a lack of sufficient information or reports regarding the success rate of the program and opposition from some parents the board voted in a 3-3 tie, which brought the issue up for vote again at the next board meeting.

When Mrs. Kendra Porter, Physical Education Instructor at Raytown Middle School, learned of the Board’s decision not to renew, she was encouraged by fellow teachers to re-present the issue at the next meeting.  Porter is a Lifeguard certified instructor and says she has seen first hand the enthusiasm of the students who have participated in the Program.  

After hearing Porter give a speech  in support of Lifeguard the board’s second vote passed the renewal of the contract, this time with only one dissenting vote from board member Allison Bruflat.  

When asked about her decision to vote against it, Bruflat said that the, “Board did not have enough information the first time and they were not sure how it fit in with the current curriculum used by the district.”  Bruflat also admitted that, “the Board is not always readily in favor of renewing contracts that would obligate future boards.”  

From her personal standpoint, Bruflat also felt that it was not the school’s obligation to teach students issues regarding values and morality in this way, but that it is a parent’s obligation to instill these types of values in their children. 

One of the core messages relayed to students in the Lifeguard program is the value of sex within the sanctity of marriage.  The program is presented within a two-week period with eight lessons that require the students to complete workbook exercises with their parents. Bruflat relates that many of the school district’s students come from homes where parents may be divorced and live with their girlfriend or boyfriend and that telling a student that their parent’s behavior is wrong should not fall on the shoulders of a school district.   

Supporters of the Choosing the Best curriculum say it has good intentions for teaching students to make healthy decisions in regards to building relationships.  It focuses on building self-esteem and creating goals that are realistically achievable. The program stresses that sex before marriage can be harmful not only to the body’s physical health, but mental as well.  Lifeguard administrators admit that the use of condoms does help prevent unwanted pregnancy and many Sexually Transmitted Diseases, but the program cannot demonstrate proper usage of these contraceptives in order to continue receiving federal funding. Instead, the program focuses only on the failure rates of contraceptives.  They admit that their main concern is teaching children and adolescents that waiting for marriage is the healthiest option and that abstinence is the 100% guaranteed method in preventing unwanted teen pregnancies and the spread of STDs. 

As Bruflat suggests, schools not only teach facts, they teach life skills.  When not providing students with all the facts, even regarding the usage of contraceptives, opponents to abstinence-only curriculum believe we fail in the role of educators.  

“At some point 98% of adults in healthy relationships, in marriages even, will one day have to decide to use birth control,” Bruflat said.  “Our schools are misinforming our students in this regard because we are teaching them the failure rates of contraceptives and not stating the medical facts about their proper usage.”

Abstinence-only education was a hot topic during last year’s presidential election, especially when Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin became a grandmother to a child conceived outside of marriage.  Her teenage daughter Bristol, has recently come forward to say that she does not agree with her mother’s dedication to abstinence-only programs, but while support for abstinence-only education was high during the Bush Administration the transition in political power in Washington could bring some revisions. 

President Barak Obama’s budget will be revealed at the end of this month and if funding is pulled, states that have adopted Abstinence-only Sexuality Education Laws will have to either review their laws or find ways to fund these programs with State monies or through private funding.  Bruflat says that if the school district were forced to pay for the Lifeguard program out of their budget, the Board would not support it. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First Baptist Church of Raytown

After I secure an interview, I will post this blog in its entirety!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Raytown Historical Museum

Mr. Gillham was my third grade teacher at Blue Ridge Elementary.  I remember the day our class went on a walking field trip to Raytown City Hall and the Raytown Historical Society Museum.  It was the first time History became a tangible reality to me.  I'm not entirely sure if this was the moment that made me realize the importance of history, but the trip to the museum burns brightly in my mind.  Last year I began writing my thesis for my Senior Capstone course for my History degree at UMKC.  I wanted to know about life in Raytown during the Civil Rights Movement.  I decided that the museum would be my first stop to start digging.

I encountered two volunteers who gave me a book about the history of Raytown and the man mentioned that the first time he ever had a Black student was either the late 70s or early 80s. Coincidently, the gentleman was Mr. Gillham himself.  It all made sense to me, he was the first historian to influence me.  He has to be the reason for my interest in the study of the past. Mr. Gillham's information was first, astonishing to me.  The Civil Rights Act had been adopted in 1964 by the Federal Government, why weren't their Black families within the boundaries of the Raytown School District.  Secondly, there are no records at the Museum that identify the role Raytown citizens or city officials may have played in the Civil Rights Era.  Thirdly, apparently, history in Raytown ended in 1972.  The volunteers at the Museum were certainly busy the day I visited, creating a special exhibit of vintage Valentine's Day cards.  I will be the first to admit that art is important in the study of the past. It reflects the attitudes and behaviors of humanity during a different era, but I didn't understand its importance to the history of Raytown's society. 

The majority of the museum, from what I remember, had remained the same since my first visit in the mid 1980s.  I was saddened at first by this lack of updating at the museum.  The museum reflected what many Kansas City metropolitan citizens think of this town, as a town stuck in the past. By visiting the museum, one would assume that Raytown only has a Pioneer history with a brief stint of progressivism during the 1950s & 1960s.  Fortunately, my sadness transitioned into hope.  I thought about what the words Historical Society mean.  It is very simply, a study of the history of societies. Compared to Lee's Summit, Olathe, Blue Springs, and the others; Raytown is comprised of an unique ethnically diverse population.  It would be interesting to study how these ethnic groups migrated into Raytown rather than other surrounding suburbs.  It would be interesting to see where the former slaves moved to after emancipation.  I know. But shouldn't everybody else?  A Historical Society Museum should be representative of the society which it represents.  I have high hopes for the Raytown Museum.  I've decided that as a Historian in Raytown, I will undertake the task of finding grants and monies to help visitors glimpse what has happened in the town since 1972.  This is a suburb that can become exemplary.  It has a hidden history to reveal, one that many suburbs experienced during the Civil Rights Era and the aftermath. 

There are individuals in this town who are interested in seeing the city modernize.  I have always believed that in order to propel into the future, a community must understand its past first.  Once we have a firm grasp on who we are and where we come from, we can truly look ahead with an attitude of hope for prosperity.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Where are my blogs?

I've written about First Baptist Church of Raytown, Fox's Drugstore, and Phillip's 66. Where did they go?

Did I not post them right? I know I've posted since Dec. 21. be continued!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Raytown Meets Chic!

I drink coffee nearly everyday. I guess you could say I'm a coffee addict, but I only feel that way whenever I drink more than one cup. I really think it's about the taste because I'll drink a delicious cup of decaf joe anyday just to enjoy the rich taste of coffee. One of my favorite places to visit is Benetti's and luckily it's in Raytown. Instead of making the trek to the Broadway Cafe in Westport like I used to, I can now ride my bike to get probably the best cup of coffee in the metropolitan area.
Often when people think of Raytown, they think of a backwards, redneck, hick town. I've heard it called Rat-town on several occassions...and not just by my mother. I love living inRaytown and I was so excited when I came back from Egypt this summer to see a chic coffee shop in town. It is located in heart of the old downtown district in Raytown. I think the owners have done a fantastic service to the community by locating on Blue Ridge Blvd right near the High School. Not only does Benetti's offer good coffee, they support the arts. The exhibits at Benetti's have been very interactive and community focused. It almost seems that they have a different exhibit each week. Local artist support is essential to boost the quality and self-esteem of this community.
I frequent Benetti's about once a week and the very first time I stepped in the door I was greated by Aysia, who I once had a class with at Longview and for whom I've developed pictures for. This girl is by far the anti-thesis of the characteristic Raytowner. She is bright, talented, loves to travel and has good taste in...well probably everything. Her photographs, which I have seen many of, prove that she has great artistic talent. And besides, she works at Benetti's, by far the coolest place in Raytown. Most importantly, Aysia has been a resident of Raytown for about 19 years. After being homeschooled through the elementary years and attending private schools during middle school, she enrolled at Raytown High School her freshman year. For many, High School offers four years of absolute torture, others come into themselves, and for others it is a only the jumping off point to their futures. Regardless of how one experiences those years, they are most definitely turbulent. Students becomes so wrapped up in their social lives that they don't always see the important roles that High Schools play in a community. High School students frequent Benetti's in large numbers after school. The coffee shop is supported by these teenagers and in turn Benetti's offers an unique atmosphere for after school socializing. They may not consciously see the effort the owners have taken to provide a more upscale establishment, but they are absorbing this quality subconsciously. Hurray for Benetti's for offering sophistication!
If I didn't have a job, I would definitely want to work at Benetti's. Aysia agrees that their high quality service was what attracted her to seek employment with Benetti's...along with the fact that they roast their coffee beans on site. As a customer she was excited to support a local business of high caliber and after talking to the manager, she realized that the place was the right fit for her and that she wanted to join the Benetti's family. I don't blame her! Anytime I have been to Benetti's, I have felt that sense of family and I appreciate it that Ben always acknowledges me and I feel that he truly appreciates my business. Benetti's offers a venue that feels like home and is doing a superb job or offering a contemporary venue for Raytowners to visit. According to Aysia, the shop has attracted people from all over Raytown and from the surrounding areas. The customers to her feel like neighbors and they reflect the diversity found in Raytown.
In a town where businesses were once hesitant to open its doors to a diversified clientele, Benetti's is reversing that attitude. It is an attitude that many in this conservative town are starting to embrace. Maybe Raytown can one day be the type of town that will provide a true integrated community. This town is on the verge of something spectacular and Benetti's must be credited with its impending revival...

Special thanks to Aysia Scheerer for her contribution to this post. Also be sure to visit Benetti's on the web: