Friday, December 7, 2012

Jefferson Junior High Naperville


Just back from a quick trip to Naperville Illinois – a town a bit south of Chicago and voted as the second best place to live in the United States  in 2006 by Money Magazine.


I don’t know which city beat out Naperville – but I can see why it placed so high. Their old downtown section was quite pleasant as well as the home of Anderson’s Books. I have purchased quite a few of my literacy minded t-shirts (read or die, fictional character, zombies are were people too) from Andersons at various conferences over the years and having an opportunity to visit the mother ship was one that neither Sara nor I could pass up.


Of course we didn’t drive six hours just to visit an amazing independent book store – we were visiting one of the junior highs in the city. Well actually we visited TWO of the junior highs since we went to the wrong school first. We were asked to Jefferson Junior High by stellar English and Science teacher Holly Bontkowski - but someone in our travelling contingent decided we should go to Lincoln Junior High – now I’m not naming names but it wasn’t me, or either of our dogs who came along with me and Sara on this trip. Do the math.

Bontkowski – doesn’t that name just conjure up visions of a black and white photograph of a football player wearing leather helmet all gap toothed smiling with a cut above his eye bleeding down his cheek?  Now Holly may not have looked like that cleated tough as tanned leather interior linemannaperville002 – but she certainly is digging in her spiked heeled boots in the trenches of the education world. We found her to be a kindred spirit.

Luckily we were running early enough to still make it to the correct school just in time – we literally walked into the first classroom and immediately started teaching. The lessons went extremely well – mostly due to Holly’s hard work making sure all the kids were prepped and ready to work. Even combining a couple classes (which sometimes can be too much of a distraction for young writers) didn’t put a damper on the learning.

Other than enthusiastic teachers and students I also discovered the motivational powers of donuts as instigation to get volunteers to share their work out loud with their classmates.

So – thanks to seasonally appropriate monikered Holly and all her crew who gave Sara and me an early holiday gift of a great school visit in the second best place in the United States!


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Singapore American School

sas001Okay the jet lag is slowly wearing off like steam rising from a sidewalk as the remnants of a tropical cloud burst evaporates 137 miles north of the equator. The past month had been my and Sara’s third trip to Singapore in two years our second visit to Singapore American School in the same time. The little island nation macheted out of the jungle is becoming a second home to us.

It’s funny how sometimes folks back here in the States assume we are going to be holed up in grass huts and charging our iPads with a surplus diesel generator cantankerously poofing out black smoke rings. The easiest way for me to describe Singapore is imagine New York City – dip it in bleach – fix the entire infrastructure and update the architecture by a hundred years and you’d be getting close.

sas002Speaking of sate of the art, our second stint at the Singapore American School (henceforth to be referred to as SAS) proved to be even better than our first – mainly because we knew our way around the school this time. Knowing and working with some of the same teachers as we did last year it felt more like stepping into the classroom after a long vacation. We all have those long distance friendships with folks that no matter how long the time intervals between meetings we just start right up again mid-sentence. That’s how we feel about SAS.

sas004Thanks to the second invite from our friend Dr. Nancy Johnson, we have had the opportunity to really push ourselves as writers, teachers and education consultants. We are basically embedded into the 8th grade classrooms for three weeks, working with each of the three duets of Reading and Language Arts teachers for a week. We begin each week with three hour and half assemblies for the entire eighth grade a hundred or so students in each session. We then would spend the rest of the week with one “side”. Each side has two teachers and a third of the students – A, B and C sides were respectively on the first, second and third floors. If you think this is a bit confusing – I won’t even go into the schedules which require a slide rule and a Home Depot paint chip chart to figure out.

sas006All we had to do was stand in a room and wait for the kids to show up. It is such a luxury to have so much time with the classes. A lot of the time Sara and I get to see a class of kids once sometimes for less than an hour – here we worked with each group of kids twice apiece. Four hour and half sessions and an assembly to boot really gave us an opportunity to go deeper in our instruction and to build on what the other had worked on the day before.

sas005It’s also easy to look good when working with such dedicated teachers – Nancy, Brian and Brian, Erin, Scott, Rebecca and Betsy all embraced and improved our classroom work encouraging us to go ahead and stretch our ideas. I know we leave SAS better teachers for the experience.


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Don’t Panic

batam003Once again I find myself hurtling 35,000 over the earth inside a metal tube coming back home.

Our trip to Singapore was an eventful one on several levels. Our work with teachers and students at the Singapore American School always pushes us as writers and teachers. We've come away with great ideas each time we have visited the school. Some ideas are hatched in the van on the way to school chatting with other visiting educational consultants, some are cooked up over dinners with teachers and others just pop into existence in the classroom when an unexpected assembly cuts instruction time short.

batam004Working in the international school community also pushes one culturally. We discovered economical breakfast options hidden amidst the bling bedazzled high end shopping district of orchard road attended a yoga laugh therapy session in the botanical garden and survived a mountain bike trek into Indonesia with SAS teachers who's seeming goal was to run me into the dirt.

batam001First off - the bike trip. One does not want to hit a 300 pound pig while careening through a jungle at breakneck speeds on a rented bicycle. My friend and extremely fit 30 something Reading and Language Arts teacher Brian instigated an excursion to the island of Batam to take advantage of the day off from school afforded by Hindu holiday Deepavali. Seven of us took the 50 minute ferry across to the island and mounted our cycles and headed into the Drak Mountain Bike park.

batam005Not to make excuses (here comes my first excuse) due to travel I had not been on a bike for almost a month and the first 45 minute uphill climb in the humid 90 degree heat just about did me in and I had to take a break while the rest of the crew sliced into the jungle for a loop I would never experience. I rejoined the gang and kept pace for a bit headed downhill and on more level ground through twisting turns on a narrow jungle path. I kept up that is until catapulted over the handlebars when my front wheel met an intractable cluster of roots which I landed amidst deflating my lungs, leaving me gasping for air and hoping not to have broken my ribs again. Luckily no bones were broken and along with the wind a little bit of pride were also knocked out of me. Just enough to let in some sense. I picked my battles with a little more discernment for the remainder of our day, taking breaks and copiously hydrating and really enjoying the rest of the day, only taking one more spill.

batam000 I took solace in the fact that I had no more effort give - I had pushed myself as far as I could go. Oh yeah, the pig ran across the path just as we were a.most done for the day. I swerved ever so gracefully, close enough to get a good whiff but we both escaped unscathed. Of course I was bringing up the rear of the group and there were no non-porcine witnesses to my most elegant move of the day.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Every Now and Then

Received this note from a past student - I have removed the name to protect the innocent.

You probably won't remember me but my name is K. B. I was on the first Slam U team to represent Cleveland in San Fransico at the Brave New Voices poetry slam; along with, Chris Webb, Jessica, and Shawn Wright. I don't know if I ever told you thank you but I truly appreciate that experience and all the time you spent helping us to become better writers, speakers,thinkers, poets. What you taught me about performing is still embedded in me to this day.

This too was engrain in mind: "people's number one fear is speaking public . Number two is death."

Again thank you!!!!

K. B.
 That'll perk you up for a day or so.

Here's a picture of a squirrel just for the hell of it.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

I'm not dead yet...


Well - Sara and I curated a Before I Die event in Slavic Village. See the post preceding this one for more details - in the meantime here are some pics from the day.

Every now and then this old T-shirt I got working at Playhouse Square comes in handy.

 The foor traffic was steady throughout the day - it was fun to watch folks faces change from suspiscion as to what we were up to - to deep thinking about what they might write on the wall.

 Along with travel, family was mentioned a lot.

Here's the crew from the Cleveland Leadership Center Boot Camp - who were the impetus of the Cleveland version of "Before I Die". Earl Pike, the main instigator, is center with arms crossed while co-conspiritor Christy is second row - fourth from the right.

 Some of the messages were very poignant. 

 Sara directing some of our visitors as they make their pacts with the universe.

Boot campers umloading and erecting the installation @ 7:15am!

Saturday, September 29, 2012


What's on your bucket list?

Sara and I are curating an event that is sponsored by the Cleveland Leadership Center, this is a one day, interactive public art project that will happen in Slavic Village. Before I Die is a global art project that invites people to reflect on their lives and share their personal aspirations in public space. This project was started by Candy Chang on an abandoned house in New Orleans after she lost someone she loved. 

Learn more at

Our site is at 8414 Broadway, Corner of Broadway and Harvard, Cleveland, OH and we'll be there from 7am til 7pm Thursday October 4.

Sign in here:

Stop on by and share your dreams aspirations and hopes via a paint marker on plywood.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Mylan Park–West Virginia–turkeys welcome.

Sara and I have just returned from a two day visit to Mylan Park Elementary School on the outskirts of Morgantown, West Virginia.
We came at the behest and hard work of Sara’s college roommate Suzanne Smart whose last name is very apropos. She’s got to be a pretty sharp cookie – she brought us in didn't she?

We spent our first day conducting some teacher workshops in the library in the morning followed by a couple assemblies with the students in the afternoon. The second day we lead some writing workshops in the classroom. The students were some of the  most eager to learn that we have come across and we are hoping that this is just the first of multiple visits we make to this great community.

A cornerstone for families in this area is The Shack – a community center extraordinaire where Suzanne functions as one of the big wigs. It was through this organization that Suzanne was able to put together the logistics to get Sara and me into the school.

After our visit in the school we  had the pleasure of headlining a family literacy night which included a lasagna dinner and a gymnasium populated by free range toddlers. The day before when we swung by the center to get a lay of the land in anticipation of the literacy night we surprised some of the kids we had seen in the school as they played basketball. They were bug eyed excited to to see the visiting authors outside of the confines of school walls. One mohawked fourth grader exclaimed incredulously “What are YOU doing out here!.” as if the visiting authors are stored in the principles closet between appearances.


Well, thankfully we were allowed to roam free during our stay in the Morgantown area – not too unlike the flocks of turkey we saw wandering the hills on the way to school. I hope we manage to migrate back sometime soon.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There's a street for that...

 One of the amazing things about big Asian cities is the way certain services and shops are piled into sections of town. When Sara needed a special computer cable in order for us to see if there was anything salvageable from a fried hard drive on her mac we were sent to the Chung Sha Wan subway stop where we found several THOUSAND computer shops stacked atop each other. Whole multiple block and story sized buildings packed with shop after shop after shop of electronic equipment. Each place seemingly selling the same stuff – it boggles the mind as to how one decides which store to enter. Our decision was made by which one was open first as we were then headed to the airport.

Similarly – on a trip to Vietnam I asked our librarian hostess where I might find some sewing notions – zippers, buttons clasps – my mother makes purses and other seamstressy type things. The reply I received was “Zipper Street” of course. And that is where we went – zipper street blocks and blocks of honeycombed shops full of every type of sewing need.

So – when I saw Goldfish Market – on the map of Hong Kong in our hotel room I figured it would be worth a stop. Here are a few pics from this excursion. Even though we passed several dozen pet emporiums I have the suspicion we didn’t really find the market. It seemed a tad too calm. I think a little more research may be needed. Even so – enjoy some photos…

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hong Kong International School - good things come to those who wait.

An eighth grade class at HKIS
The hills of Hong Kong would give San Francisco a run for their money. The cab drive from the Cosmopolitan Hotel up to Hong Kong International School  should come with a disclaimer for those with heart conditions as the drivers careen through the curves like a video of a waterside ride being played in reverse.

The view from the faculty lounge - not too hard to get used to.
I met Clare P. (a 7 and 8 teacher at HKIS) a couple years back while Sara and I were presenting at the EARCOS conference and we have been corresponding for the last three years conspiring a way for Sara and me to visit HKIS. Well with our trip to Kuala Lumpur everything fell into place for a quick two day stay. This was Sara and my second trip to the city but our first to this school, a couple years back we worked at the Canadian School of Hong Kong which was great and we had heard nothing but good reports on HKIS so we were so happy to finally be connecting.

Well we couldn't be more satisfied with finally getting our ducks in a row. The teachers and students couldn't have been more receptive. All the great reviews we had received about the school were well founded. We managed to see the whole middle school plus wedge in a couple teacher workshops and the enthusiasm and appreciation we felt were unparallelled. It's fun to work hard when one gets such positive reinforcement. (the goodies and coffee in the teachers lounge didn't hurt either.)

Even a broken leg didn't stop this customer from writing.
The only regret we had for this drive by visit was that it seemed too short. Well to our happy surprise that just may be remedied as well. Before we even finished our second day we were working with the curriculum specialists on getting us back THIS school year. I don't want to jinx those machinations - but it's looking pretty good for a February encore - cross your fingers and fasten your seat belt we may be climbing those hills again sooner than expected!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kuala Lumpur is for the birds.

 Kuala Lumpur is home to the worlds largest open air bird park - here's a dozen pics  of some of its denizens.