Saturday, February 18, 2012

Whitney Houston

That Voice!  It is undeniable and instantly recognizable.  What an amazing voice and an amazing talent.  I can recall when she first burst onto the music scene.  I was a teenager attending Thomas Stone High School in Waldorf, Maryland.  She was a glamorous teenager who had grown up in East Orange, New Jersey.  She had the good fortune of someone hearing that voice and telling someone, who told someone, who told someone, who told a music man named Clive Davis.  The rest is history.  She became what is termed a phenomenal music sensation.  Her records sold millions worldwide.  Everyone wanted to hear that voice sing.  She could sing anything because we all just simply wanted her to sing.  It seemed as if no one could get enough of her singing.  I recall her music being played on the radio constantly.  Then came THE BODYGUARD.  That movie and soundtrack propelled her to international stardom.  On TV she seemed beautiful, sweet, wonderful to watch and someone you just wanted to befriend.

Then came public reports of "cracks" in her image.  The public saw her socializing with people the public didn't think she should socialize.  The public began to hear stories about her behavior being erratic, unprofessional and unpredictable.  Then came the stories of drug use, missed commitments and that reality show.  For years, the public watched as Whitney Houston appeared to self-destruct and wondered how such an amazing talent could fall astray.

I didn't have the pleasure of personally meeting Whitney Houston.  All I know about her is what I have gained from television interviews with her and others, footage of performances, magazine articles and gossip.  I'm not here to judge, but use her story as an inspiration and lesson for young people.

This was a woman who dared to dream.  She dared to follow her dreams.  She dared to take her talents from a city in New Jersey to the world stage.  She was a black woman who graciously navigated a nonblack world.  She took her studies seriously, believed in education and had her childhood school renamed in her honor.  She was a woman who didn't come from a famous or wealthy family, yet she achieved.  She gave back to her community and often spoke of the lessons taught to her by her parents.  That is the lesson or takeaway of her life story.  She was a dreamer and an achiever.  She didn't let obstacles hinder her and she believed in her abilities. 

All young people have ability and talent.  They just need to believe in themselves and dream that anything is possible if you are willing to put in the work.  Negative stuff aside, Whitney Houston clearly put in the work and she clearly achieved.  Let that be a lesson for all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Camp Achieve

I believe we all have a project of which we are proud.  That project for me is Camp Achieve.

Camp Achieve is a program of Achievement Services, Inc.  Achievement Services (AS) partners with schools to design and implement out-of-school-time learning for children who are underachieving in reading and math.  AS is a nonprofit organization and receives all of its funding via contributions, grants and contracts.  Funding is a constant need to do the work we do and to serve the deserving children we serve.

Camp Achieve provides kids in Baltimore City an opportunity to view education as fun and school as a great place to learn.  It provides kids an opportunity to experience places outside of their communities that show them that education is crucial to life success.  It provides kids a safe place to exercise their imaginations and interact with teachers who want to help them learn.  It provides parents a place where they can feel comfortable engaging in their child's learning.  Camp Achieve is all of this and more to the children we serve.  It's a life-changing phenomena.

Camp Achieve is doing great work with some great kids.  The program needs more supporters, more funding to continue its work.  Please check out and consider supporting our programs.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Education Debate

Currently, there is much debate regarding the condition of the public education school system in the United States.  The current administration in Washington is engaged in ongoing discussion, debate, argument etc. with Congress, education policymakers, teachers unions and teachers regarding the best approach to improve the educational achievement of children and improve their ability to compete on the global stage.  Plenty of people, educators and non educators, have strong opinions on the best way to educate children in this country.

As a school social worker for the past 13 years, I have an opinion as well.  It's true that the public education system in this country is broken, particularly in urban areas, where my experiences lie.  It's true that the public education system in this country is grossly underfunded, as compared to school systems in other countries.  It's true that education decisions by school boards that directly impact children are oftentimes made by individuals who RARELY enter a school to observe and talk to those who do the work everyday.  It's true that too many children, particularly minority children, are "passed along" or "socially promoted" and not given the tools necessary to succeed in the classroom.  It's true that most goals set forth in the NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND Act will not be met.

Now comes the good part.  It's true that all kids WANT to learn.  It's true that kids can learn.  It's true that the majority of kids come to school everyday because they value the learning process.  It's true that students in urban school districts are achieving great strides in the classroom, surpassing expectations on state assessments.  It's true that students respond positively to teachers and instruction if given the respect and dedication of the teacher.  It's true that kids have high expectations of teachers, just as teachers have high expectations of kids.  It's true that the American public educational system can be fair for all students, IF politics are set aside, school boards are elected and not appointed and make decisions that are truly based on the best educational interests of the child, appropriate funding is allocated toward school improvements from facilities to staffing and all parents are engaged in the learning process of their children.

There is much to be said regarding this sometimes heated debate.  It sometimes seems never ending.  I welcome dialogue on this extremely important subject matter.  However, no matter the ultimate outcome, kids will still show up to school, wanting to learn and adults will still show up to school, wanting to educate.  That is always good news.