Saturday, July 31, 2010

Space Camp!!!!

Cutting out tissue paper to make a hot air balloon!

My group, "Harmony" before our mission in space!

I have just returned from Space Camp where the the teachers of every state and many nations gathered to learn science and bond together across national and international lines! And so we did!

When you arrive in Huntsville, Alabama, space is written on the landscape. Posters, ads, space t-shirts.

Why? After WWII, 118 German scientists surrendered to one American Soldier. They came to Huntsville with vision and the dream of space. First, they were put to the task of making missiles, but then, space exploration began. Kennedy wanted to put a man on the moon and every heart in Huntsville beat a little faster to get the nation on that track.

Space Camp is a place where children and adults come to learn about dreams. How can I fly? What is the proper balance of my machine and my body? What does it mean to work in a team and what is my role? What can and should I expect of myself?

You are up early and go to bed late. You do missions that feel real and in between, you make hot air balloons, rockets and do Martian math. You see why your design for thermal protection was the best or the worse. You learn to appreciate different kinds of minds.

One day, Christa McCauliff's mother comes to visit and each teacher cries for Christa, that teacher who won the "Teachers in Space" competition, trained at NASA to become an astronaut and perished upon take off, along with her crew. Turns out that Christa wrote letters of recommendation the day before she went up in the Challenger when NASA had her in quarantine. Figures. Teachers do things like that.

Christa wanted to bring ordinary people to space with her. She was a history teacher and she figured she could make it easier for people to understand what kinds of things she was seeing.

You go girl! Your message lives on in each one of us.

You also learn that astronauts are funny people who horse around in space. You learn about the challenges of a space toilet and the kinds of food people eat that gives them the necessary high calorie meals each day.

Space camp. A place where everyone is a scientist, if only for a week.

When I returned home to Newark Airport, the faces and words of my Teacher of the Year friends and International teachers were still with me. A family for a week.

A plane roared overhead. I admired its slick tubular body and the fins that kept it gliding through the open sky. I wondered about its balance, weight, materials and fuel.

Once you touch space, you are never the same again!

Monday, July 19, 2010

World Cup, DC and life

I am in Washington D.C. right now. I am a semi-finalist in the NEA Teaching Excellence Awards so I have flown in from Spain to give a sample lesson and have a conversation with some very prominent panelists. All I know is that I will do my best.

Spain was something else. To be in a country thrilled with World Cup fever. I spent time with friends, had some choice wine and strolled with my husband, daughter and granddaughter on the magnificent streets of Salamanca.

These are the days that you think about when times get tough. Olyvia at one year old wandering down the cobblestone streets. Thinking about how my husband Joe's face lit up with joy when I came out of the gate at Barajas airport. My daughter Melynda's ideas on how to help the students in my husband's program better adapt to Spanish culture. Little bits of treasure.

You've got to savor it all.

Last night, I had a fabulous dinner with my former student, Adam Nathan, who is working hard to help the world through important policy work about education and business. I was so proud of the things he was telling me about - socially conscious investing, the creation of a non-profit, the high cost of poverty. It was so great to learn from a former student - wonderful to be in a totally different city - DC - and get together with Adam, five years after his graduation. I felt happy that he wanted to. I know I did.

Tomorrow, I'll give a lesson to the good people of the National Education Association and will teach them a bit of Spanish and talk about what I believe is important in education.

Wish me luck! I'll do my best to represent New Jersey's finest teachers. Send me a bit of your strength and knowledge. I know that I'll need it!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Spain wins the World Cup!

I am in Salamanca, Spain, visiting for a week and I happened to be here when Spain won the World Cup!!

What happiness is in the streets. I have never seen such multigenerational jubilation here in my life.

To think that this country once had a terrible Civil War (1936-1939) and that the Spanish flag, for many, became associated with Dictator Francisco Franco's band and that now, this same flag belongs to all Spaniards, shows that countries can prosper, heal and redefine themselves!

Ole, La seleccion espanola y Ole SPAIN!!!!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Philadelphia July 4th Parade!

Back in February, a parade producer contacted me to ask if I wanted to be in the July 4th parade in Philly! I immediately accepted and later found out that Mary, the Delaware Teacher of the Year and Michele, the PA Teacher of the Year, would be in the parade as well. We all had our own drivers and classic cars to ride through the streets!

I sat on the back of a red 1966 Ford Classic Convertible, the guest of a car collecting family who had volunteered to do something nice for teachers. I was propped up on a rim lined with towels - for my comfort - and had the double task of waving my hand to the crowd while swooshing the flag back and forth.

We pulled out to get into the parade line up at half past eleven. Next to me, were over a hundred Chinese Americans in red shirts, large Styrofoam top hats with flags stamped across the paper bands and a collection of dancing dragons. A local high school steel band was edging up next to me on a float. We were all lined up like planes on a runway poised to enter parade world.

I positioned my feet on the back seat of the slow moving convertible to keep my balance. I just dug them in when we would start and stop.

Soon, we drove in front of the parade president and dignitaries who started announcing my arrival with a full bio. Names of my family were intermingled with events and deeds from my history - all on loud speakers. One car length ahead were a pair of volunteers who were carrying a six foot banner with my name and "New Jersey Teacher of the Year" across it.

"Way to go, Maryann! Good Job!" A woman called out and started a thunderous applause.

In fact, the whole street was waving and shouting my name and giving me the thumbs up for teachers. Small children eating cotton candy waved and were so excited when I waved back, specifically at them.

"Nice hat," I said to a little boy. His fingertips moved up to touch the glittery plastic and he smiled.

Each segment of street brought a new wave of applause. It was as magical as being 5 years old and dreaming of riding in Cinderella's pumpkin carriage.

Impossible dreams are sometimes possible.

"Hey, New Jersey!" I looked over and there was Joanna, my good friend from work!

She was snapping pictures like a paparazzi and laughing, while running along the road. It was so great to have someone from my life see what was happening. Half my family is in Spain, running a trip and the other half had other obligations.

Having her there made me believe that what was happening was real!

The car inched along. The streets were lined with cheery Philadelphians eating water ice, melting fast in the hot sun. I saw grinning people in wheel chairs clutching three inch flags. Cops smiled back when I waved.

In 1776, a brave message resounded in these streets - one that the signers of the Declaration of Independence would not have even been able to fully grasp or predict

Americans watching the Philly parade, on July 4th, 2010, came in many races and religions, all equal and all with the right to the pursuit of happiness and equality.

Just a couple of blocks away, the liberty bell herself was soaking up sun through panes of glass. She had seen slavery, women without the right to vote and a time when you had to be white to be an American citizen.

Somehow, through all of those past and current trials and challenges, we are reminded of our core values when we celebrate July 4th.

And today, Philadelphia was indeed "the city of brotherly love."

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sam Lee, guest blogger

Here is Northern Highlands Regional High School graduate, Sam Lee & his proud family posing for a picture. Sam's peers selected his speech for presentation at our school's graduation. I found his words inspirational and invited him to share them on my site as a guest blogger.

"Fellow graduates, parents, faculty, and staff, you are staring at the next American Idol. Ok, perhaps not, but it sounds nice, doesn’t it?

According to Winston Churchill, we should “never give in (to defeat). Never, never, never, never--in nothing, great or small”. But the fact still remains. I can’t sing. I’ve had my try at singing- in the showers, in class, in front of the mirror and in the presence of my friends. And to be honest, I’m not the next Kelly Clarkson!

So then, what makes each of us unique? Why is our graduating class the best class in NJ, in the United States, in the world even? Why is Highlands so special? Is it because we’re DECA weapons, because we know how and when to get the best cookies in the cafeteria, or is it because we know that UIB stands for “User is blocked”?

Take a look at the person next to you. Do you see an actor, a doctor, or an NFL superstar? As for me, when I look at the Class of 2010, I don’t see “the future” or “this great beginning” that will end in all of us being movie stars and CEOs and supermodel divas.

I won’t use the tedious one-liners like “we are the next generation” or “follow your dreams and win big” and say that all 314 of us- just us, of course- will go out and change the world. But there’s always potential, always.

So then what about the short and stubby third grader who says he’ll be the next Yao Ming? Isn’t it ok to joke about that and say “it’ll never happen”? How about the shy brace face that says she’ll be the next Lady Gaga, and the class bully that wants to become a teacher?

It’s easy to laugh and joke or cast aside goals that seem “impossible”, and it’s all too familiar when we’re discouraged by adversity. But often, we find ourselves in a trap where it’s not others who discourage us or the size of our obstacles. Too often, it’s our own self defeating thoughts, our fears and worries.

Sometimes, all we need to do is stop thinking for a moment, and forget our anxieties about how silly we look or how incapable we are. If you want to “Dance with the Stars”, dance. If you want to be a singer, then sing. Let’s step out of our comfort zones and take a chance. When the Soulja Boy music is blasting on the dance floor, grab a friend and start the “crank”. Pull out the chicken wing or the chest pop if you have to. Just do it!

Congratulations Class of 2010. And, when the music fades, and we see that microphone on the open stage, let’s grab it, and whether we squeak or squeal or screech out of tune, let’s sing our hearts out."