Friday, December 9, 2016

Terese Jurgensen ~ Director of Student Services ~ December 9, 2016

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” 
― Charles DickensA Christmas Carol

The holiday season is a very busy one for the staff of Howard-Winneshiek Community Schools. There are wonderful band and music concerts, holiday parties in classrooms, Secret Santa exchanges among staff and holiday decorations created by students hung carefully in our hallways and classrooms. The entire holiday season, from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day, has always been a wonderful time in my life. I grew up in a cherished childhood with great memories and experiences surrounding these months of the year. It is not that way, unfortunately, for many children and families in our district and indeed for communities across the globe. 

For as long as I can remember, I have read the book and watched The Christmas Carol, written by Charles Dickens in 1843 during this time of year. Indeed, I can say with certainty that this work of Dickens has inspired me throughout my life. 

For those of you who do not know, Dickens wrote this epic classic because he was greatly concerned with impoverished children and the schools of his day: 

Dickens was involved in charities and social issues throughout his entire life.  At the time that he wrote A Christmas Carol he was very concerned with impoverished children who turned to crime and delinquency in order to survive.
“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.”
Dickens, as well as others, thought that education could provide a way to a better life for these children.  The Ragged School movement put these ideas into action.  The schools provided free education for children in the inner-city.  The movement got its name from the way the children attending the school were dressed.  They often wore tattered or ragged clothing. (http://www.charlesdickensinfo.com/christmas-carol/)
For the purposes of this blog, I am going to highlight different sections of the Christmas Carol and then reflect on our practices here at Howard-Winneshiek of how we are striving and partnering with our community to ensure our students' needs are being met during this festive time of the year. 
"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business! The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” (page 22)     
The holiday season is very difficult for some of our students. Yesterday, an elementary teacher informed me of a student who was really struggling and acting out in the classroom. She was very concerned and commented, "He is acting like this because he does not want Christmas break to start. He does not like to be away from the security, structure of our school." She went on to explain that she and her classroom associate will spend additional time with him and support him. Additionally, Keith Anderlik, our Success Case Manager in the elementary building, will be meeting weekly with him in a Social Thinking group. 
"The school is not quite deserted," said the Ghost of Christmas past. "A solitary child, neglected by his family and friends, is left there still. Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed." (page34)
During the last two years, we have worked diligently to create a Trauma-Sensitive school. As I have mentioned often in this blog, we operate our behavioral strategies and supports from the vantage point of SKILL -vs- WILL. There are so many behaviors that occur because students come to school at different cognitive levels and abilities. We incorporate positive behavioral supports, teach executive functioning strategies, as well as social and emotional learning throughout our district to build the cognitive abilities (the brain is like a muscle) to teach our students the Skills to be an engaged, life-long learner. 
"Is there peculiar flavor in what you sprinkle from your torch? Scrooge asked the Ghost of Christmas present. "There is," said the Spirt, "My own." "Would it apply to any kind of dinner on this day? asked Scrooge. The Ghost of Christmas Present responded, "To any kindly given. To a poor one most." "Why to a poor one most?" asked Scrooge. The Spirit replied, "Because it needs it most." (page 58)
The matter of WILL on the other hand, is much more difficult because it engages the issues of the heart. There are many students here that are my heroes because of the fact they come to school every day in spite of difficult, challenging circumstances in their lives. We do MANY things to support these students, but one of the greatest strategies we have put in place is our School Social Worker, Denise Headington. She is connecting our families to services in the community, reaching out with a smile, a listening ear, and a non-judgmental heart to every child and family she touches. We are so grateful to have her as a part of our Howard-Winn family. 
“This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And bide the end!" "Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge. "Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?”  (page 79)
One of our 21st System Design Essentials at Howard-Winn is to ensure that we are providing our teachers and associates Professional Development opportunities and models the expectations of classroom instruction by being data driven, differentiated, and at higher levels of thinking. We fully realize and continue to create opportunities for our students and families who have needs. I had two experiences yesterday that broke my heart. The first one involved a middle school student who had to "walk off his anxiety" with one of our school nurses, Sheila Halweg. He was very upset because two of his family members were going to rehabilitation because of meth addiction. The other occurred when a high school girl came to talk to me about how hard Christmas was because, "she was not like rich kids who got presents at Christmas." 
“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”  (page 21)

I received an email yesterday from Sharon Ollendieck, one of our school secretaries. In the email, Sharon was informing staff that this weekend the "elves" would be working purchasing presents and food for families in need this Christmas. Our school staff works on this project throughout the year by teachers donating money for "jeans week," collecting canned goods and financial donations from our teaching and associate staff. There are many good people throughout the staff that arrange these services and share them out during this time of year. I also know that many of our fine businesses throughout the district contribute also to this very worthwhile cause. 

“It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”  (page 43)

We have a student in our district who was recently diagnosed with a serious illness. He is a wonderful, kind and sweet-spirited young man. His classmates, led by Jean Daywitt, one of our junior high teachers, made him posters, cards, well wishes and shared it with him this week. This initiative, to reach out and support the student and adding to his happiness and inner-strength, was student led. This excites me because it speaks to the climate and culture of our school. I have included pictures of these students at the end of this blog. 

"A Merry Christmas, Bob!" said Scrooge, with an earnestness that could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. A merrier Christmas, Bob, than I have given you in many a year! I'll raise your salary, and endeavor to assist your struggling family, and we will discuss your affairs this very afternoon, over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop, Bob! Make up the fires, and buy another coal-scuttle before you dot another i, Bob Cratchit!"  (page 113)

I will be honest. Sometimes, when I am watching A Christmas Carol, I speed up the movie so I can watch the transformation, reclamation, of Ebenezer Scrooge. There is nothing like seeing this stingy, nasty man evolve into a man filled with the joy, hope and love for all mankind. I don't know which I enjoy more, the changing countenance of Ebenezer or the surprise and joy of the faces of those he encounters. I love it all! 




As we enter into these final weeks before Christmas, may it be a joyous one and more importantly a time when the true meaning of love, giving, sharing and reaching out to others permeates your heart. Let us, like Ebenezer Scrooge, remember to keep Christmas well. 

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Max Garcia
"Auschwitz - Auschwitz, I Will Not Forget You"
Additional copies of Max Garcia's book are available at CUSB bank. There was some confusion on books that had already been paid for when Max presented in September. My apologies! If you had paid for a book, please be sure and pick it up at CUSB. If you would still like to purchase a book, they are available for $20. 



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Have a wonderful week! If you would like to talk with me or if you have any questions or concerns, please reach out through my email: tjurgensen@howard-winn.k12.ia.us or 
my cell (563) 929-6344

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