Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congratulations Graduates!

My family celebrated my niece Heather's high school graduation this weekend.

Heather graduated from the same high school I graduated from 28 years ago.

28 years ago!!

I adored high school. It was a fantastic time for me and set the stage for a rich academic/social experience which I am still enjoying today as the perennial student.  

It was strange and wonderful to go back. As I perused the names of the faculty I was surprised to find that none of the teachers I had were listed.  That is when it hit me that it was indeed quite a long time since I ran that track, performed on that stage or bopped down those halls with my twin brother ( I bopped, he sauntered - he was always 'cooler' than I was).

The graduation was a grand excuse to gather everyone together. My Mom and Dad drove up from Florida (see mom at right posing at the graduation as per my request) and childhood friends stopped by the house. 

We played volleyball, had sword fights and cooked. 

I made sure that the heavy metal music was interrupted by some Different Drum era Linda Ronstadt.  And I bopped along to that.

Heather's little sister, my magical niece Samantha, also brought to my attention that she graduated from kindergarten just a few days before. So, I made sure to make the appropriate fuss about that and give her the fair share of attention. We relaxed on the grass while she told me more about angels and healing.

The parties have ended and things are getting back to normal. Except for the fact that for Heather, her boyfriend Vinny and many other graduates their lives will never quite be the same again. Good luck on your journey!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Signs of Summer

Summer will officially begin for me late tomorrow afternoon when the last day of the school year is complete.  

Teaching is an amazing way to spend your days but part of being a teacher is taking time during the summer months to refresh.

I plan to do just that.  

This will be my first summer in 13 years of teaching that I will not be teaching either summer school (elementary) or teaching college students.

To kick off the summer season Lauren and I created another short American Sign Language video to highlight some of the words that you will probably be using as the temperature rises.  

In this video we focus on the words - sun, hot, beach, vacation, summer & fun.

We also provide three sentences in ASL using these simple words.

So, put on your sunglasses, blow up the beach ball and enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Cops Are On Their Way!

During a visit to Central Park this week with my class I became suddenly jolted out of my playtime reverie by the loud shouting of a teacher from another school marching towards two elementary school children angrily informing them that "the cops are on their way!"

"Good Lord", thought I, "I wonder what happened?".  

Turns out it was a scare tactic, used for dramatic effect I am certain, to stress the utter disregard of these two boys in staying within the specified boundaries of the playground. They had wandered off onto the rocks which were clearly off limits!

I didn't follow up to see how long these boys waited before they realized this was an empty threat or if they even believed it in the first place.  But, this encounter did make me wonder about all the hyped up stories adults tell to little ones.

"If you cross your eyes they will get stuck that way."

"If you eat the watermelon seeds one will grow in your stomach."

"If you get out of bed the boogie man will snatch you away."

I'm sure we all have heard some variation of these.  At what point do we realize it is all formulated BS to keep us in line? How do these 'frights' stay with us as adults? What keeps us in line nowadays?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Top Ten 2008-2009

At the end of each school year our children's librarian, Sara, asks each elementary class to create a list of their favorite books. In the past our top ten choices have been fairly predictable - and by fairly predictable I mean that they reflect my influence.

This year the final cut is reminiscent of the Tony Award nominees - notable as much for the omissions as for what was included. To my horror Curious George was nudged out, as was my man Todd Parr. No Gingerbread Man, Lorax or English Roses!

Lauren's all time favorite children's book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein wasn't even in the top 20! Nor was anything in the Lisa & Gaspard series by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben. However, Rotten Ralph did make the short list so one of her favorites was represented.

The number one pick this year was The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. This book was a new discovery for Lauren and I as well. It tells the tale of a young boy who literally eats books - he simply can't get enough of those delicious words. When he eats he 'digests' the words on the page to acquire the knowledge contained therein.

However, this habit gets out of hand when all of the ideas and words overwhelm him. He gets mixed up and confused. Finally he realizes that it is better to gain knowledge the old fashioned way through reading (not eating) books.

There is a bite taken out of the back cover which proved amusing to our students. It is a good book but I was a bit surprised by the #1 status.

Mercer Mayer was well represented in our top ten with three books coming in at numbers 2, 4 and 5. Number 2 is There's a Nightmare in my Closet, # 4 is There's An Alligator Under My Bed and # 5 is There's Something In My Attic.

All three revolve around similar themes of combating your fears and finding out they are not as scary as you first believed them to be. The only difference I find between them is that the main character in two of the stories is a boy and in the Attic book it is a girl.

Our students loved to be scared this year. A book entitled Tell Me a Scary Story...But Not Too Scary by Carl Reiner was just edged out of the final ten. I would have included it, but who am I? These are the kids picks (and I must add that they have fantastic taste).

Once Upon a Potty (boy) by Alona Frankel was a hit at # 3. Just as they loved to be scared they loved to be grossed out. This book is about one boy learning how to use the potty. Sample lines include descriptions about body parts like a 'wee-wee for making pee-pee' (or is it the the other way around) and a hole for making poop (or something like that). His poorly aimed attempts to make it to the potty are illustrated with a mound of poop sitting right next to the potty.

This was one of two books this year (the other was In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak) that depicted drawings of a little boy naked. I'm not sure if I should be appalled at the giggles and pointing to the private parts or if I should just ignore it.

It did provide us with an opportunity to connect to our trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we were surrounded by naked statues. We treated it as rather matter-of-fact and kept it simple. We figured if we didn't make a big deal out of "oh, look they are naked" then the children wouldn't either. I think they know what's what.

Our first true book series came in at #6 with George and Martha by the super-duper James Marshall. This is my 13th year of teaching elementary school (PreK - 1) but my first introducing this book series to my students. How was this gem hidden from me for so long?

Each book contains 5 short stories about the friendship between these two hippototami who find that honesty is the best policy. The books contain rich vocabulary that can be used to promote discussion as well as important lessons regarding trust and sensitivity. Plus who doesn't enjoy seeing a hippo all dolled up in a dress or sporting a gold tooth?

One of Lauren's favorites came in at #7 and is the second book series in the top ten. Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel made a lasting impression on our 5-and-6-year-olds.

Ralph is indeed a rotten cat who does spiteful, mean and hateful things all in the name of fun (and sometimes just to be rotten). Thank goodness his owner, a little girl named Sarah, is quick to forgive his antics. It took me a while to warm up to this naughty kitty - I am more of a dog person - but I think I finally have accepted him for who he is. There is something lovable underneath all that menace.

Number 8 brings us to the Fly Guy series of books by Tedd Arnold. This is a case of he's so ugly he's cute. This series was another new discovery this year that happened quite by chance. Our school librarian sent up a bunch of these books for us to keep in our classroom library and the children were instantly smitten.

These are chapter books with large print, known vocabulary and basic sight words. They are perfect for the emergent reader who wants to read 'chapter books' but lacks the stamina needed to sustain reading of books with many, many words.

Fly Guy is funny, endearing and helpful. I like him.

Another book series, Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat comes in at #9. These are fantastic books with instantly likable characters. There is dark, brooding, (goth?) Rosamond with her four cats - Super Hex, Big Hex, Little Hex and Hex who is always staring out from under her bangs and uttering strange statements.

There is optimistic and sunny Annie with the dangerous dog Fang that she only sees as a cutie pie. There is Nate's own dog Sludge who provides Nate with the key to solving his mysteries by just being Sludge.

And, of course, there is Nate himself. Pancake loving, serious talking, overly dramatic Nate. In each book (and we have read quite a few this year) Nate solves a new mystery - nothing is refused, nothing is too small.

We went to see a production of Nate the Great: The Musical at Town Hall in Manhattan this year. What a hoot!

The Wanda Witch book series by Katherine McEwen rounds out the top ten. I like these books. Lauren is not a fan. Obviously our students like them because they beat out some other deserving titles for the coveted spot in the top ten.

Wanda is a witch in training who can't seem to get her spells right (think Bewitched's Aunt Clara). Wanda is brought back on track by Cat-a-bogus, her guardian of sorts who makes all things right again.

I guess these are silly, strange books but they strike a chord with their magic, charms and spells.

So there you have it. The top ten books for the 2008-2009 school year for first grade class 201. I wonder which ones will make the cut next year.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Free To Be...You and Me

There's a land that I see
Where the children are free.
And I say it ain't far
To this land, from where we are.

Take my hand. Come with me,
Where the children are free.
Come with me, take my hand, 
And we'll live...

In a land
Where the river runs free -
(In a land)
Through the green country -
(In a land)
To a shining sea.

And you and me
Are free to be
You and me.

Free To Be...You and Me was the stupendous brainchild of That Girl! Marlo Thomas.  It only seems fitting that given my recent obsession with the television series our school play this year be (coincidentally) conceived by Miss Ann Marie herself. 

When I was in sixth grade our elementary school performed this show and I have vivid memories of the repeated refrain "a doll, a doll, William wants a doll.  A doll, a doll, William wants a doll".  The role was played by a really cool boy that was very popular so he could pull off playing a boy who longed for a doll 'to wash and clean and dress and feed; a doll to give a bottle to - and put to bed when day is through".  Even as a young boy I thought what a progressive show. Free to Be indeed!

Marlo corralled her talented friends (Judy Blume, Carl Reiner, Mary Rogers, Judith Viorst, Charlotte Zolotow, Arnold Lobel and others) and each one contributed a song, story or poem. The book became an album and then a show.

In the hands of our talented school directors, Dawn and Vanessa, the show shined in an edited version of the original. Rehearsals were held during lunch periods and from my point of reference it seems as though it was put together in a very short span of time. Quite impressive!

The finished product was presented last Tuesday in the midst of the ASL Festival with two performances.  For the closing number all of the students were ushered onto the stage to sing and sign the title song. And there I go again with the water works.  

But according to the show It's All Right to Cry!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Closing Ceremony

Hurray for the "47" Alumni Association for ensuring the closing ceremony of the ASL Festival was an enjoyable event for all of us. Thank you!

The Alumni Association was integral in ensuring the presence of guest performer Robert DeMayo (pictured left) who told stories relating to his experience growing up as a Deaf child & brought our students onto the stage to perform in a series of entertaining skits.  

I don't want to give away his act but there was a bit about riding a roller coaster that had my class in stitches.  To see them cracking up like that was so precious to me and I knew when I saw their faces that the program was a success.

Throughout the week each class also participated in an Open House. During scheduled times we would visit one another's classrooms to see student work. For some this meant sharing ASL videos which were projected in movie theater fashion and for others it meant sharing their writing, drawings, artwork, class projects or photography.  

There were some surprises. One student shared a book she wrote and illustrated. Her drawings were so amazing that (I hate to admit) I didn't believe she created them. So, I asked her to draw something for me on the spot (see picture on the right). As she drew she gave me a detailed step by step description of the process. She is so talented! 

I am going to invite her to my class this week to teach my students how to draw.  I envision it will be like those late night art lessons I used to watch on television when I was a child.  

I am sure that the coming week will feel a tad depressing because the excitement is over. However, I like to think that it is really just a beginning. I hope that the celebration and focus on American Sign Language and Deaf culture will continue.  Perhaps in our monthly Spirit Days and hopefully in another ASL Festival next year.  

Thanks again to everyone who worked so hard to make this a success!  xoxo

Saturday, June 20, 2009


This event was a grand smash on the 4th day of the ASL Festival.

What is the ASL Bee Competition?

Our JEOPARDY! style ASL Bee was indeed a rousing success, a stand-out among many during our week long festival. Each class selected one student representative and these children were then divided into four teams with names like 'stinger', 'hive' and 'stripes'.  

In true JEOPARDY! form each team was asked to answer questions from the following four categories.
  1. Deaf Culture
  2. Handshapes
  3. Picture This!
  4. Our School
Each question was assigned a point value corresponding to its level of difficulty. Picture This! required the students to sign a phrase like "walking through the mud" or "raining hard" in American Sign Language.  The answers were provided via video by staff members.   

As the competition became more heated the original four teams were whittled down to the final two. These two teams were then asked one final JEOPARDY! question which was to "create a brief story using those two handshapes (an open five handshape and an O handshape were pictured).

The teams huddled together while some of us in the audience sang the JEOPARDY! theme song - more than once.  Finally, the teams were ready to present their stories. 

The first was about planting and the second had an ocean theme. Planting won!  The crowd went wild.  The winners were certainly proud but the best part was seeing the happiness on the faces of ALL the students.  The 'losing' teams were bouncing along with the rest of us. 

It has long been my thought (and that of Mary Poppins) that the best way to learn  is to 'add an element of fun. Find the fun and SNAP! the job's a game'. Although the ASL Bee was a game I actually learned a bit about American Sign Language myself. I imagine that this can be said for many of the folks seated in the chilly auditorium.  

What more could you ask for?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Deaf Panel Discussion

The ASL Festival continued today with the Mother and Father Deaf Panel Discussion.

This consisted of 7 hearing individuals who are Children of Deaf Adults (CODAs) sharing the experiences, joys and challenges of growing up with Deaf parents. The discussion was moderated with good humor by another CODA who works as a sign language interpreter.

This was a truly fascinating hour that brought unique insight into what it means to grow up as a hearing child with Deaf parents. The issues, questions and stories spanned a range of topics, some humorous and some outrageous.

One participant shared that she was often embarrassed when out in public with her mom because everyone would stare at them as they talked together using American Sign Language (ASL). When riding the subway one day she began to seethe at the unwanted attention.

As she felt her anger bubbling inside her the urge to scream at the other passengers began to grow. Her mom saw what was going on and explained to her that she should feel proud of her language, proud to be who she is, proud to be Deaf (or in her case the daughter of Deaf parents). This proved to be a turning point for her and she explained "Yes, I am proud!"

However, everyone did agree that strangers seem to be fascinated when they see people signing and will often give more than a cursory glance their way.

Children with Deaf parents are often called upon to take on the role of interpreter. Because they walk the line between two cultures, two worlds, they are asked to act as a go between in situations where it is highly inappropriate.

One panel member told of her experience interpreting at her own grade school parent teacher conference. All was going along splendidly until the teacher said that she talked too much in class. This was not something that the student wanted to tell her mother. She knew it would get her in trouble so she hesitated. Torn between this unfair obligation of taking on the adult role as mediator and simply being a kid. As she grappled with this inner dilemma the teacher and parent got the message across non verbally. Years after this story took place the woman who told it was able to laugh but it highlights a serious burden that is placed upon CODAs.

I have heard stories of children having to interpret at the doctor's office or at financial meetings. That is crazy!

I have heard stories of school administrators refusing to talk with Deaf parents about their children - refusing to schedule an interpreter and even going so far as calling for a parent to be ushered out of the building by a security guard because they could not be bothered with them any longer. This is not only rude, impolite and appalling it is also against the law to refuse to provide an interpreter.

This kind of abuse continues because many Deaf individuals (certainly not all) will acquiesce when confronted with this unacceptable behavior. They feel a loss of power and often times lack the resources to follow through in assuring their rights.

I am proud of the fact that I teach at a school that honors American Sign Language. A place where Deaf and hearing individuals can communicate freely. A place where parents do not need to rely on their children for information about their progress. A place where children who are Deaf, hard of hearing or hearing with Deaf parents can feel free of staring eyes. A place where they can feel wonderfully ordinary.

Monday, June 15, 2009

ASL Short Films

The ASL Festival kicked off today with the ASL-beca Film Festival.

Each class from Pre-K to 7th grade was invited to submit a short film for inclusion in the 60 minute (plus) presentation. It spanned from Pre-K students fingerspelling their names and interviewing one another, to older students writing, editing & performing their original pieces. There were short films by creative teachers such as the impressive ABC story "ASL KO" by Douglas Ridloff (KO=Knock Out!) as well as short stories and signed interpretations of popular music.

It was fantastic to see our students reflected in the images on the big screen - both literally and figuratively. It was a day of pride in American Sign Language and Deaf culture.

As the program was winding down there were two videos that brought tears to my eyes. I was very moved by the performances of D-PAN Deaf Performing Artists Network. First as they signed the Christina Aguilera song Beautiful.

You can view it by clicking here. Check it out because it is, beautiful indeed!

The other stellar performance was D-PAN's take on John Mayer's Waiting On The World To Change.



Friday, June 12, 2009


Our school is simply buzzing with excitement and activity in preparation for next week's school wide ASL Festival.  

The upcoming festival is a celebration of American Sign Language (ASL), Deaf culture, literacy, the Deaf experience and also provides an opportunity to build and strengthen our community. It has been such a joy this past week to pass each classroom and see students & teachers engaging in the myriad ways to highlight American Sign Language. 

The festival kicks off on Monday with the ASL-Beca Film Festival.  It is a 90 minute film festival that will showcase films made by our students and also those of celebrated Deaf performers.  Each class has submitted one short film chosen from a variety of styles such as documentary, comedy, drama, thriller, interview or public service announcement. 

Tuesday ushers in De'Via which means Deaf View/Image Art. De'Via is created when the artist intends to express their Deaf experience through visual art.  De'Via may also be created by deafened or hearing artists, if the intention is to create work that is born of their Deaf experience.  Works may include paintings, sculptures, drawings, photography, printmaking, essays or poetry.  Student work will be displayed throughout the school.

On Wednesday there is a panel discussion about growing up in a Deaf household. Many of our students are hearing children of Deaf adults (CODAs) and Deaf mother's and father's will be discussing issues and taking questions from our students about this experience. 

We get into some friendly competition on Thursday with the ASL Bee.  A 'bee' is an old word to describe a gathering of friends and neighbors to hold a competition.  Our 'bee' will take place in the auditorium and will follow a Jeopardy-like format.  Teams of students will be asked to answer a variety of questions that vary in degree of difficulty.  This will culminate in two teams advancing to the 2nd round to compete in the ASL SLAM!  I am really looking forward to this!

Finally, on Friday there will be an ASL performing awards assembly and a guest ASL performer.  Throughout the week each class has signed up for an 'open house' in which to share their ASL stories (we have created ASL number stories - Lauren has been busy editing them all week and they are AMAZING!).  Each class has prepared something a bit different for the enjoyment of others.  

This is a huge endeavor and I must give thanks to Lauren, Dax and Jason for spearheading it.  I can't wait!!


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