Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Where in the world is the NJ TOY?

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Joe and I are driving to the Kappa Delta Pi International Honor Society in Education Honor Society, Delta Rho Chapter of Kean University.

I'm the keynote speaker.

The GPS unit says that we have arrived at the Westwood Catering Hall. One problem; I see a lot with trees where the Westwood is supposed to be.

I call my contact, Veronica, but the phone cries unheard. I call directory assistance. Why is it that I can find anything on the Internet in two minutes and operators have such a hard time locating anything tricky? I think they must use very "in the box" tools to get the job done. On the Internet, we can leap here and there and get places faster.

A woman in the parking lot tells us where to go. The opposite direction. We finally arrive huffing and puffing - in the most sophisticated way possible. It’s a miracle. We are not late. Phew!

Once inside, I see about 250 college students, all with their families, sitting proud. I am directed to a table with the Kean University leaders, advisors and Kappa Delta Pi board. Everyone has worked hard to get to this day. In the middle of the room, there is a table with over eighty social service projects that each inductee has done and all of them have been reviewed and evaluated. Getting into this organization is no small feat - it takes grades and important social contributions.

I get settled into my table and eat a roll. I realize that I will be fed prior to speaking at this event. I feel my body relaxing.

After the strawberry shortcake, it's my turn.

I get up to the mike and tell the story of my life and try to connect it to now, to these fine students. I find myself getting worked up when I tell them that each of their voices counts, that it really is up to each and every one of us. By their eyes, I can tell that they believe me.

April 9th

I'm headed off at 7 a.m. to the Foreign Language Educator of New Jersey, Spring Conference. Today, I am participating in an International Education day with Cheri Quinlan, the World Language Coordinator of the State of New Jersey. My topic is "Social Justice." Our show time is at 9:00, but it's an all day workshop with various presenters.

The conference is in Sommerset, New Jersey. Where is Sommerset? I drive downstate from Teaneck and make a right. It’s about an hour's drive. I pull up into the Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center which sits on a nice property. Grass, trees, easy parking. What more can you ask for?

I decide not to check into the hotel because it's already 8:30 and I'm worried about my tech set up and a cup of coffee. OK, I know I'm addicted.

At 9:00 a.m., the workshop is in motion. Cheri is an expert at getting us started and organized. My tech works and I am able to connect my life story with why I became engaged in social justice work.

My basic point is that when you learn a language, fumble for words, feel like an outsider, you have expanded vision to see other outsiders too. Then, you care more because you know that people in the world are real. You've met them and they are just like you in so many ways. When hard times come to them, you want to make a difference.

April 10th

I slept over at this nice hotel. I'm a little sad not to wake up at home because it's my husband Joe's birthday. We have this pink plastic cake that sings a jazzy "Happy Birthday" song when you push the bottom. We always surprise the birthday boy or girl in our house with this nutty song with the family dancing around to wake them up. It will happen without me, but I'll miss it. Sigh.

I visit some publishers who are displaying textbooks and have a moment to talk to one from Pearson Press. I tell him that I have a couple of hundred pages of a book I am working on "Call me Mariana" and he seems like he likes my story. We’ll see how that goes.

At 10 a.m., I go to the awards ceremony where students, who have created podcasts and videos, are being honored with their teachers. They are so very proud and we get to view some of the samples. Lively, interesting and fun! I like the hockey girl’s rap song in Spanish. Catchy tune.

I am called up for a FLENJ award after Ana Lomba's wonderful introduction. Ana has spent time reading this blog so she knows about my life. It’s a real connection. I think that it’s wonderful how I can write something on this page and it goes out there to you, to her.

Later, my workshop on "How to set up a mock trial in your world language classroom" goes well and before long I am headed back north to birthday festivities at the Murphy’s.

Don't tell anyone, but I picked up the present on the way home and even purchased pre-wrapped gift boxes. Once you put your items inside, it looks like someone has taken hours to wrap them. Well, someone did, just not me. Happy Birthday, Joe. Love ya, hon.

I get home and dress to go out with the family for dinner. We decide on a small Teaneck restaurant called "Tuscany" where the people make a big deal about Joe and little Olyvia. The food is really slow cooked and delicious. When I asked the waiter, on the sly, to bring over some cake with a candle, he looks at me like I have stabbed him in the belly. "I know!" he sputters, "of course!"

I can tell that this is one of those restaurants where they treat you like family from the first five seconds. Just what we need since those slow cooked meals are not coming from my kitchen today.

Joe is happy and he is also a good sport. He has his family around and good food. Deep breath, enjoy, be.

April 11th,

We are going to church this morning and need to be there by 10:00. Reverend Smith comes over to me right away with a script to read to celebrate Britt Cryer, a wonderful church member who is getting an award for her years of Religious Education instruction. I have some words he has prepared for me to say.

I am called to the mike with other people who also have a script. All of a sudden, I realize that they are saying things about ME! I can hardly hear anything! What? This is a trick!

I realize that I have won the Winnifred Lattimer Norman Award for social justice. I had no idea! Words? I have none! I get flowers and a hug and eventually find my place on my script to read the words of introduction for Britt's award.

She starts to cry because they have told her that she was up in front to give me an award and I have been told that I am giving her an award. The two of us are there wiping away tears!

April 11th - Evening

I have an scholarship to give to a student for the University of Phoenix. A full tuition scholarship. The University is face-to-face or online, but is an exciting option for the right person.

I think that I have found that person. Tonight, we are doing a Skype interview because he is in Texas right now, coming to Paramus in a month or so.

I had met him through his essays and now, I'll meet him via video chat.

I am not disappointed. Alex is a sensitive and bright guy who is excited about this opportunity. I can quickly see that he is the winner. I am going to be able to award a person a four-year scholarship. How wonderful is this? It doesn't get better.

April 12th

It's Monday morning and I have some paperwork to do. I am always thinking about the next speech or presentation and can't get the tiny things done that "can wait." I bet I'm not the only one. Those things that "can wait" multiply and then become big jobs. This morning, I chunked away a little of that.

It's 3:30 and I need to go NOW with Joe to Hackensack Court House where our friend, Fran McGrogan is being sworn in as a Superior Court Judge. We get to the courthouse, after going through security and I spy Fran across the room. She is poised and beaming. She told me yesterday, though, that she is not fond of the spotlight, but here she is, ready to be a judge.

Fran started life in Paterson, New Jersey and when she was sixteen, she went to nursing school. For 20 years, she worked in hospitals, operating rooms and she tended to patients who were happy to have her care.

At the age of 35, she decided to go to law school at Rutger's Newark. She finished and worked for years as a lawyer to help children from abused families find a better, more supported life.

Now, I see her standing there with every hair in place. She is being sworn in and Leah, her daughter, is holding the bible. Over her gray pantsuit, they have slipped on the heavy robes.

The room is filled with judges - her new cohort here to support her as well as Senator Menendez, Senator Cardinale and other dignitaries. Alicia Menendez, the Senator's daughter, speaks eloquently about how people like Fran are important because of the things they do, not the people they know. Leah speaks about Fran's early days in Paterson where a hispanic family called her "Panchita" and they gave her friendship, food and the door to a new culture.

I'm so proud of Fran. She has skills and compassion, but she is great because she is putting herself out there to do what she can to fix the world. I didn't quite realize that to be a judge, you have to decide to be one, find sponsorship and then be approved by committees and politicians. It's something that a person starts, but that really leaves your hands at some point because there are so many people that have to approve of you. Lucky thing that Fran's work was so exemplary that she received nearly unanimous approval.

You go girl!

April 13th

It's nine o'clock and I'm getting ready for another bunch of busy days. I'm going to Vineland today to meet Shirley Santos, Cumberland County Teacher of the Year and tomorrow, Ann Hill, the Glocester County TOY. New Jersey is a big place. These places are hours from Teaneck. Hope I have clean clothes to wear!

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