Who Is This Child?

Well, Week 1 is in the books at Little Flower School and for most schools in our area.  Because of our boost in enrollment, our staff anticipated there may be some adjustments and they were prepared.  As a result we had a wonderful week.  Most importantly, our students were in great spirits and seemed to make the transition from summer to “back to the grind” very smoothly.

One situation that arises for some students and parents occurs after school: post-school emotional letdown.  I saw it a lot at Sacred Heart-Griffin and it is even more common at the elementary and junior high level.  Children  expend so much emotional energy and behavioral restraint at school between 8 – 3 that they sometimes have to “let loose” when they get into the car or arrive back home.  Some researchers call this phenomenon “after school restraint collapse”.

Symptoms of after school letdown include argumentative behavior, whining, moodiness, fatigue, quietness, defiance, and sometimes crying spells and clinginess.  When parents inform teachers of what is going on after school, teachers are surprised because the student seems perfectly okay in the classroom.

Parents can do some things to help their child with this common after school adjustment problem.  Here are some tips that can lessen the length of time and the intensity of the after school restraint collapse:

  • Allow the child a little down time before asking them details about how their day went.
  • Offer the child some opportunities for physical activity such as a bike ride or playing in the backyard.
  • A healthy snack can be a great pick me up for a tired student.
  • Try not to take the negative behavior after school personally.  Some children need a place to vent and the safest place to do that is with a parent (usually the mom) at home.  Children know that, even when they are moody or throw a tantrum,  in the end their parents will still love them.

In most cases children who exhibit this behavior will become more docile after a few weeks of normal school routine.  If this condition lasts more than three or four weeks, consult with your pediatrician or a mental health professional.

So now the Week 2 adventure begins.  I can’t wait to see what unfolds at Little Flower!

 

Italy: Part B

Venice is a wondrous city.  St. Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge, the shops in tiny roadways, hundreds of canals, the gondolas all contribute to the uniqueness that is Venice.  What I will remember most about this day in Venice is not any of these things.

We decided to have lunch off the beaten path at a less popular Vaporetto (water bus) stop.  We had just gotten our Italian version of carry out and were relaxing in a small piazza honoring St. Catherine of Sienna.  My two grandsons were busy chasing pigeons until their dad made them come to our bench to eat.  Johnny (age 4) had just started to munch on a pretty good size pizza roll when a rather large seagull swooped in on him from behind and shagged that pizza roll out of his hands and flew off.  Needless to say, we were all sort of shocked at this aberrant bird behavior.  It took several minutes to console Johnny, and we now refer to that seagull as a “rat with wings”.

Other notable Italian happenings:

  • Bicycle helmets are not worn by most Italians.   You can identify American children because they wear helmets.
  • Recycling is a big deal in Italy.  It is state law that all paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum, glass, and grass clippings be separated and recycled.  No one comes to your house and picks it up.  You must drive it to the nearest town and find a bin to put it in.
  • I have often prayed to St. Anthony over my lifetime because I tend to lose things…my baseball glove, a wallet, keys, wife, etc.  We visited the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua.  It is a remarkable church build in the 13th century filled with beautiful elements of Renaissance art and Romanesque Architecture.  It is the final resting place of St. Anthony, and the Chapel of Relics contains his tongue, jawbone, and three thorns from Christ’s crown.  We loved spending time in this venerable church.
  • We said a few prayers to St. Anthony on our flight home.   Our non-stop flight from Venice to Chicago was diverted to Paris where we made an emergency landing.  Our new Boeing 787 sustained hail damage to both engines and the captain had to shut one down.  Everything eventually turned out okay, and I am able to say I took my wife to Paris.

I have often said that when you visit a place on vacation or spend a semester or several years in a city, that experience becomes a part of who you are.  Hopefully, I can bring part of my European travels back to Little Flower in some small and positive ways.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

Buon Giorno

I am writing my blog today from Monticello Conte Otto, Italy.  This little village is about 60 kilometers from Venice near the foothills of the Dolomite Mountain Range in Northern Italy.  We are here visiting my daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren.  Yes, they are too far away but what a great place to visit.

I have learned a lot about the Italian culture in the past several days.  I thought I would share a few things I’ve discovered that I hope you find interesting:

  • There are mostly small, compact cars in Italy with the most prominent brands being Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Pugeot, and Opals. There are many turnabouts, and like the one near the Y in Springfield, you must yield to the left.
  • There are a lot of people riding bicycles over here…even old people. They are riding not for a workout but rather for transportation and to carry things from the store to home.  Bicycles and cars share the roadways here with bikers hugging the right side.  It took some getting used to with cars going by me at 40 miles an hour.  I’m not the guy riding my bicycle on Old Jacksonville Road.
  • Stores and shops here close between the hours of 2 pm and 5 pm for “Reposo”. Reposo is rest time or nap time.  Shop keepers put a sign on their door and are gone for a few hours.  Also it is their custom to close totally from August 3 – August 24 for Ferie or “Holiday”.  Most Italians go on a vacation which coincides with the Feast of the Assumption on August 15.  This approach to business baffles me.  This approach to family life and restoration of body, mind, and soul might be the secret to their longevity.
  • On the other hand it seems that more people smoke here than I am used to in the States.
  • It seems like everyone here has a garden with huge, red, ripe tomatoes.
  • Because of the scarcity of land in Italy, most Italians live in apartment buildings that are three or four stories high. They have balconies with many plants and flowers that they carefully attend to.
  • Italians treat Americans with kindness and respect for the most part. My daughter and son-in-law are learning the language and try to engage the locals in the Panificio (Sandwich Shop) and Trattoria (Restaurant).  Locals appreciate their efforts to speak Italian and help them learn.
  • Almost all residences over here are locked, gated, and have storm screens that are lowered at night. I do not think it is because of a high crime rate.  Rather, I think Italians like their privacy.
  • The Catholic churches here are beyond description. The Renaissance art influence and actual artists add an element that is truly inspiration.  There are so many bell towers over here and they ring a lot to remind people to say a little prayer of thanksgiving or a petition or just a prayer of praise.  The Catholic Faith is alive and well in Italy.

So tomorrow will be the first day of “tourist” in Italy as we make our way to Venice.  I will let you know how that goes.  BTW I am trying to recruit a few Italian children to LFS!

Triumph in Thailand

Thank God!  The 12 boys and their coach were all successfully rescued from the Tham Luang cave complex near Chiang Rai in the northernmost sector of Thailand.  The ordeal which began on June 23rd ended today on Day 17.  Millions of people around the world were captivated by this human drama for a variety of reasons.  Most were praying for all involved…the boys, their coach, the families, the Navy Seals who risked their lives to save the boys.  Sadly, 38 year old Navy Seal, Sgt. Major Saman Gunan, ran out of oxygen and died while performing a pre-rescue operation to enhance the chance for success.

What an emotional roller coaster…especially for the boys, the coach, their parents and families.  I can only imagine the agony of uncertainty regarding their fate, how hope peaked at times and faded at others.  Fear, courage, sadness, loneliness, terror, relief.  Eight days until they saw another human being…until they had anything to eat.  Fatigue, pain, confusion, thirst, weakness, disorientation, doubt all day long, all night long.  Twelve children and one adult bonded forever.

I also can only imagine the jubilation experienced by the parents, grandparents, and siblings of the boys.  Although, as of this moment, they have not been allowed to see the boys for medical reasons, just knowing they are safe is a miracle for them.  Thank God they are safe.  Prayers answered.

The saga is not over.  I am interested in the physical recovery of the boys and their coach.  I am interested in the stories that will emerge.  I will also be interested to hear how the boys adjust to this traumatic event.  Fortunately, children are resilient for the most part although each one of the twelve is different.  Hopefully, all will get their lives back to some semblance of normalcy soon.  Their parents would be wise to monitor their emotions and behavior carefully over the next year to make sure that symptoms of PTSD do not develop.  Also, parents should be very judicious regarding the media blitz that will likely descend upon their child and family.  These children need normalcy in their lives right now…not movie deals.

At Little Flower School our students are taught about current events such as this event in Thailand.  Our students can learn so much about life by becoming aware of world events.  In this case we can learn about the geography of Thailand, the forces of nature, the potential dangers of cave exploration, the extremes of human emotion, and the importance of Faith, hope, and prayer.  These boys were the ages of many of our students.  When school starts again in a few weeks, I will be anxious to hear what our students thought about their counterparts in Thailand.  I will let you know what they say.

 

Blu and Vinny

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Ever since I was a little boy I have had an affinity for rabbits.  Not sure why.  I like that they are fast, furry, and seem to be always on the lookout for something.  I have had a few rabbits as pets over the years and last October I acquired two minilops from a rabbitry near Rockford.  Minilops are a small breed with floppy years.  When I ordered these bunnies on-line, I chose a solid black rabbit that was “show quality” and a broken blue buck which was not show quality but was mostly white with black spots.  The white rabbit cost less than the black rabbit.  We named the black rabbit Vinny and the white spotted rabbit Blu.

When we picked the rabbits up we discovered why Blu was not a show rabbit.  Blu had one ear that flopped down which was “normal” and his other ear stuck straight out.  Blu was not symmetrical and was considered inferior in the world of showing rabbits.  In our minds, however, Blu and Vinny are pets and we never intended to enter either one in a rabbit show.

Blu and Vinny have very different personalities and attributes.  Blu is cuddly and affectionate…Vinny is athletic and adventuresome.  In our eyes we love them both for different reasons.

The students at Little Flower have met Blu and Vinny.  Some will ask about Blu’s ear.  That got me to thinking about children who have something different about them.  Maybe a child has something unusual about his/her appearance, there may be an oddity about how a child walks or talks, maybe a child has a difference in the way they perceive other children or how they interact with others.

Too often in our society, children and adults who have something different about them are devalued or overlooked.  Blu cost less than Vinny.  Blu is a beautiful rabbit with asymmetrical ears because God made him that way

At Little Flower we have students of all shapes, all sizes and all colors.  We have students of different abilities and of varied family circumstances.  Hopefully, no student gets overlooked or is undervalued.  After all, God made each one of us in his own image and loves us even though our ears may be different.

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LFS: Refuge in Turbulent Times

Just finished the last week of school 2018…my first at Little Flower and my thirty-fifth as a professional in Catholic Education.  During this last week I was asked over and over “aren’t you glad that the school year is almost over?”  My response was nooooo!!  I am going to miss the kids, the smiles, the hugs, the excitement, the cupcakes, and yes, even the occasional tears!  A school is built to have students in it…not to be empty.  Well, at least we have LFS Summer Camp starting next week!

So my biggest takeaway the first year at Little Flower is that private, Catholic education is more important than ever.  As a society in America, and even in Central Illinois, we have veered way off course when it has come to what our children are exposed to and what they learn from this exposure.  Just think about this past year locally and how many schools in our area have had lock downs, evacuations, and bomb scares…even at the  elementary level!  Our children are constantly exposed to a culture consisting of Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, Bill Cosby, and Dimitrios Pagourtzis.

Think of your twelve year old child as a smart little fish swimming in a big ocean full of waves coming in from all sides.  These waves include Fortnite, Snapchat, horrific realtime scenes from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, and the news that three local educators have been arrested for preying on underage students.  In this ocean these waves of influence are often subtle, definitely inescapable, and invariably make the challenge of parents and teachers more difficult.

Catholic education is our best hope of providing children a refuge in these turbulent waters…parents and educators working together in a Christ-centered culture of life.  At Little Flower we start and end every day with meaningful prayers, we say The Pledge of Allegiance because we believe in patriotism, we talk a lot about respect for one another, service to those in need, courage in the face of challenges, work ethic, self-discipline, sacrifice, and putting others before yourself.  I have been amazed at how our teachers and parents model these virtues each and every day.

Looking ahead to next school year, it is impossible to know how the 2018-2019 year will develop…what our children will encounter.  I will assure you that Little Flower and the Catholic Schools across The United States will do their part to provide the right culture, the right messages, the traditional pathways to success, and opportunities for our students to walk in the path of Jesus.

Backyard Blast

It rained about three inches in a short period of time on Springfield’s west side on Wednesday.  When it rains that much that fast, the little creek in my backyard floods and the water moves very swiftly down the length of three or four backyards in my neighborhood.  Sometimes the water moves so fast it carries a few of my fake animals downstream to a neighbors’ yard.

Well, this particular day, the neighborhood kids were ready for the river in our backyards.  They brought inflatable rafts!  These kids range in age from about 4 or 5 at the low end to about 12 at the high end.  These kids had a blast “white water rafting” in our neighborhood…that is until the rain subsided and the water receded.

The point of the above story is that the kids were out playing after school.  Most days when I drive into the neighborhood there are kids on bikes, or playing wiffle ball, or shooting baskets, or on skateboards, or are playing soccer in the yard.  Wait!  This is not 1973, this is now and kids are outside playing.  I love the parents in our neighborhood who encourage their children to be outside after school until the sun goes down.

In this age of electronics and social media it is refreshing to see kids with sidewalk chalk and flying kites.  Now, I am not an anti-gaming, anti-social media, anti Youtube dude.  I believe these forms of entertainment and communication have a legitimate spot at the appropriate developmental stages.  However, I am also a huge proponent of physical exercise and kids socializing with one another.  It’s called playing outside.  Can you imagine the memories those kids will have of white water rafting in the backyard?

Bombs: Not a Joking Matter

This past Wednesday all students were evacuated from Sherman Elementary School when administrators were notified that someone had written “BOMB here” on a bathroom stall.  I would not have been surprised if the message had been written “Bomb hear” or “Bom here”.  Sherman Elementary only goes up to fourth grade and apparently has good spellers…assuming a student wrote the aforementioned note.

Earlier in the week Williamsville High School was evacuated for a similar inscription.  This was the second time the high school had been evacuated over the last couple of weeks.  Of course there has also been numerous evacuations of high schools in the Springfield area as well including multiple evacuations of Springfield High School and Southeast High School.

Threats of violence in an elementary school, junior high, high school or college is a serious matter.  I have personally talked with teens who have made such threats and the answers as to why have been varied.  Several have said they were only joking.  Another indicated it was for attention.  I suppose another motive would be to get out of school or to miss a test.

Regardless of why kids make these threats, the fact is that the toll it takes on schools, staff and students is significant.  At the very least much instructional time is lost.  Other damage includes the emotional toll it takes on our students (kids get scared when you rush them out of a building), the time and resources that law enforcement devotes to the problem, and the potential of the “boy who cried wolf” syndrome where our response to these threats might become lackadaisical at the wrong time.

Communication at all levels is essential in stemming the proliferation of these threats.  At the macro level, law enforcement must make it clear that these threats are crimes, that they will be investigated, and that the perpetrators will be prosecuted.  Administrators must make sure that their handbooks are up to date that appropriate consequences are in place for those students who make threats.  Also, it is important for administrators to speak with their students about this topic.  Students apparently need to be told in clear terms that calling in a bomb threat, leaving a bomb threat note, writing about a bomb on a wall, drawing a picture of a school exploding…those types of actions can lead to serious consequences.  Parents would be wise to have that conversation with their children.

At Little Flower School we have had those conversations in our classrooms.  We advise our students to let a teacher know if they hear of a threat of harm to others or self-harm.  Our students become part of our safety.  We all look out for one another.  Again, clear communication among law enforcement, administrators, faculty, parents, and students will likely lead to a decrease in these events in the future.

 

 

A Close Call

Yesterday, in my backyard we were treated to a mama duck parading with her 9 newly hatched ducklings down our narrow creek.  The precious ducklings were so happy frolicking in the tall grass and swimming in the slowly moving water.  What the mama duck and babies did not realize is that our backyard “creek” empties into a storm drain in my neighbor’s backyard.  Sure enough, two of the ducklings got a little too curious and careless and fell through the grates into the storm drain.  The mama duck screeched and herded her remaining babies to a spot of safety and called for her lost ones.  It was a moment of crisis for sure.

Luckily for the ducks, I have a very resourceful wife who has a soft-spot in her heart for animals and birds of all kinds.  She also has had previous experience rescuing some of God’s creatures in peril.  She called to me to help while she frantically reached far down into the drain (my arm likely would not have fit).  After a bit of a struggle, she was able to capture one duck and handed him off to me.  I made sure that duck found its mama while Sue was trying to capture the other duck.  After a few more minutes the other lost duck became tired as was rescued.  He waddled off and quickly found his fleet.  The mama duck quacked a sigh of relief.  Tragedy averted.  I love happy endings.

I immediately saw this episode as a metaphor for all parents, Sue and I included.  We try as parents to protect our children and teach them everything we can about life to keep them safe.  Sometimes, like mama duck, we fail to see the storm drain ahead.  Sometimes despite our best efforts, our children become too curious or too careless and fall into the darkness.  We can only hope and pray that when that happens, God will provide a rescuer so that our children will be able to come out of the darkness a little stronger and a little wiser.  I love happy endings.

I have one lingering question though.  When the two lost ducks joined their brothers, sisters and mama, the mama marched them all triumphantly into the woods.  How did that mama duck know she had all nine of her ducklings?  I didn’t know ducks could count!

 

I Will Never Grow Old

“Some say that as we grow up we become different people at different ages…but I don’t believe it.  I think we remain the same throughout.” Peter Pan 1960

This weekend Little Flower School presented its annual spring musical.  This year’s production was Peter Pan Jr. directed by Mrs. Bri Dondanville.  Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, Tiger Lily, and a band of scallywags, mermaids, and fairies danced on our stage and in our hearts for two performances.  The fifty four students in the cast all looked like they were having a great time and, in fact, they were.  The importance of this musical and the many musicals and plays that take place across this county transcends kids having fun.  So many positive outcomes take place when so many children work together for a common cause, when these same children see adults volunteer behind the scenes for the same common cause, and when the children see their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, classmates, and teachers come out and watch their performance.

One of the great aspects of Catholic education is that our students get the benefit of wholesome, good clean fun in many of our extracurricular offerings.  We strive to ensure that our students are well supervised and receive positive life experiences and memories from taking part in our extracurricular opportunities,  Here are some tangible positive takeaways from our Peter Pan Jr. rehearsals and performances:

  • “I got to express myself on stage in ways that I cannot in a classroom”
  • “Soooo much work went into this but it paid off in the end”
  • “I got to know and interact with kids at other grade levels”
  • “It’s the most incredible thing I have ever done in my entire life” (this quote was from a 7 year old)
  • It was a celebration of family as there were many family members there to support their children in this extracurricular endeavor.
  • Most students will fondly remember being in this play for their entire life.  I still remember being in The King and I at Sacred Heart Academy when I was in the 6th grade.
  • It is a bonding experience for the cast.  For many students it is a sad experience when it’s over.  This is also a positive take away as it is desirable to experience a full range of human emotion.
  • It is important for our children to be exposed to positive role models whether it be our musical director, our set designer, our costume and make-up coordinators or our stage volunteers.

For all of the reasons listed above, Peter Pan Jr. enhances the mission of Catholic education.  God had his hand in this event and this was evident in the gatherings after the performances.  As one second grader said to me after the play, “I can’t explain why but it was the most amazing ever”.  With youngsters like her around, I will never grow old.

Peter Pan