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Coffee-Shop Kids...and Hope

COFFEE-SHOP KIDS…AND HOPE

By

Chuck Cascio

www.chuckwrites@yahoo.co

     Kids. All ages. They wander into the coffee shop daily after school. They meet sometimes to sip a beverage but often just to interact informally with one another. 

     Mostly, they laugh. They occasionally talk about a project--from school or something to do at home or an idea blossoming from their fertile imagination, the latter prompting infectious chatter among them.

     Yes, they are often loud, but their energy is inspiring. It provides me with some much-needed hope. Hope that the disruption our society is currently experiencing will be addressed by the youth of today in their own way. 

     Will that way be different from, say, the ways of previous generations?  Of course. Because that is how change occurs. That is why my music-loving parents had a hard time understanding the appeal of the raucous rock-and-roll of my youth as compared with the melodious songs of Sinatra and Dino and the opera arias that wafted throughout our home. They came to realize, perhaps reluctantly, that what they were hearing was not “wrong.” It was just what fit a new generation.

     After all, the appeal of what affects life morphs from one generation to the next. The coffee-shop kids look different from the kids of my youth, just as the long-haired males and mini-skirted females of my generation looked different from the "more appropriately" attired youths of my parents' generation. But that does not mean the kids of today are inherently “wrong.”istockphoto-825154518-612x612.jpg

 

     The coffee-shop kids exhibit their intelligence and creativity without even being fully aware that they are doing so. 

     So what if they burst out laughing at some image on a mobile device that one of them shares with the others? 

     So what if they actually talk with their in-person group while simultaneously texting other friends who are elsewhere? 

     It is their energy, creative conversation, and commitment to one another in the informal, after-school, coffee-shop setting that impresses me. 

     But...why do I need hope? Why do I need to wish that what I am seeing is evidence of the reality in which they think...and love...and live? 

     I do not pretend to have answers to those questions, but there are restrictive elements that surround kids today that I find disturbing.  Sure, kids have to understand that there are limits to what is--and should be--considered acceptable. That has been true with every generation, but those things change over time. 

     There is harm in not just letting kids meet and interact and play…as kids. Those informal freedoms result in their own internal guidance and decisions that will lead our society in the future. Suppressing those freedoms will only suppress the creativity that leads to positive changes.

     If in today's world it takes a coffee shop to provide that free, creative environment, then, by all means, I welcome it. Bring on the coffee. Bring on the change. But bring it on freely by letting the coffee-shop kids be, and think, and create with some degree of trust and independence.

Reader response is always welcome. Send to chuckwrites@yahoo.com.

Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

MAKING 9/11 A LASTING LESSON

MAKING 9/11 A LASTING LESSON

by

Chuck Cascio

 

     That morning is etched forever in our memories. 

     The first report: A plane has crashed into a building at the World Trade Center. The immediate reaction: This sad, tragic accident will cost countless lives. 

     And then the second plane hits. Another realization: This is not an accident. This is an attack. This is terrorism inflicted upon innocent people in the airplanes and inside two beautiful buildings that highlight the New York Skyline. 

     And then the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 

     How did you react when you heard? What did you say? What were you doing? 

     My sister and her husband, living in TriBeca just blocks away from the smoldering buildings, evacuated their residence and ran uptown amid the swarm of people, the screams, the ashes, the horrified confusion. 

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     I was in the midst of opening a meeting of my new team in my Princeton, NJ, office, when the meeting was interrupted by an associate who called me aside and tearfully told me of the plane crashes, of the World Trade Center buildings aflame, of people jumping out of windows in desperate attempts to be "saved."     

     I stopped the meeting. My new team and I went to a room where we watched and gasped in disbelief at the horrors unfolding on television. 

     The unthinkable. The sense of helplessness. The fear I felt about being unable to reach my sister and her husband whose phones were not working, only to find out later that they were safe. I telephoned my wife and other family members just miles from the flaming Pentagon, and heard from others who were concerned about my own safety. 

     Six weeks after the attacks, my wife and I visited the smoldering space in New York where the Towers once stood. Vast emptiness. Soot still drifting. Ash still smothering the streets and shops, small and large alike. 

      Some things we just do not forget. We hope we learn from those things. 

     What did we learn from September 11, 2001? The instinctive search for the safety of family. The horrifying awareness of the innocent death of others. The sense that we must take steps to ensure our own safety, the safety of those we love, and the safety of strangers. We learned that heroism is real. And we know that deep pain still lingers for many people directly affected by that day. 

     So we should consider the lessons of 9/11 as more than memories. We should act upon those lessons whenever we see those memories emerging again in reality, albeit in different forms both large and small. By doing so, our memories emerge as active lessons...lessons that will help bring a positive meaning to that tragic day.

#####

(Feel free to email me with your thoughts: chuckwrites@yahoo.comIf you would like to submit a blog piece of your for possible publication on “Blog On!” please query me at the same email address. No work that you submit will be posted without your prior approval, and you will retain all copyright ownership. Submission of query and/or submission of a piece for consideration is NOT a guarantee of publication.)

Copyright: Chuck Cascio; all rights reserved.

THE CHALLENGES OF 2021 AS WE OPEN SCHOOLS

(The following piece by Elizabeth Arons, CEO of the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy, was also shared with Bellwether Education Partners.—Chuck Cascio)

THE CHALLENGES OF 2021 AS WE OPEN SCHOOLS

by

Elizabeth Arons

Chief Executive Officer

Urban Schools Human Capital Academy (www.ushcacademy.org)

earons@theushca.org

August is typically always the most challenging time for any public school district Human Resources/Human Capital/Talent Management office as the district gets ready to open schools. But in a “normal” year, these challenges are mostly predictable.  Districts can usually estimate the number of resignations and retirements of staff based on previous hiring years.  They often hire early, predicting roughly the same number of vacancies as in past years.  They also can estimate predictable leave of absence requests, likely numbers of new substitute teacher candidates, staffing needs based on class size ratios, and the list goes on.  

But this year is different.  Only a few months ago, it appeared the Covid-19 showed signs of waning.  Then the Delta variant took hold.   And HR/Talent departments nationwide are challenged in ways never before imagined.

Here are at least a few of the dilemmas causing HR/HC/Talent departments in school districts to be stuck:  

·      Will there be a larger number of vacancies as some teachers, especially those nearing retirement, decide not to return to in-person learning?  

·      Or will there be fewer vacancies or need for new hires if significant numbers of students have left the district or opt for remote learning?  

·      Should a district even offer the option of remote learning to accommodate those students who did better in that environment, or should they require all students to return to in-person learning, which many experts think is essential to better student outcomes. 

·      If they do offer remote learning, do the subject fields match the teachers who are requesting to teach remotely?  

·      How many teachers, principals, counselors, bus drivers, food service workers, etc.will apply for leaves of absence, fearing exposure to the virus, especially among younger, unvaccinated children?  

·      Should the district require vaccination for all employees, like a number of businesses are now doing?  If not, what happens if a staff member contracts the illness and exposes everyone, students included, to the disease. 

·      All things considered, should HR hire up or should they lay off employees?  

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Those of us who support and advise Departments of Human Resources are equally challenged.  In pre-pandemic years, we have always advised them to “overhire” a bit at the start of the school year, anticipating last-minute vacancies or leaves of absence.  We also push hard to hire earlier in the Spring, when the candidate pools are largest and the applicants are better qualified.  HR has always had significant difficulty filling critical shortage fields – math, science, special education, Spanish, bilingual, computer science, etc.  – because traditional Schools of Education at colleges and universities don’t produce them. And to make matters worse, Schools of Education have been declining in enrollments for several years – down 15% - causing some urban and rural districts whom we serve to scramble even for typically oversubscribed fields like Elementary and Social Studies. 

Teachers have been significantly stressed during the pandemic, shifting rapidly to remote learning without adequate training, guidance, or revised materials.  Some adapted quickly, others were struggling the entire year.  In addition to shifting to remote instruction, many had a hybrid model, teaching some students in-person and simultaneously teaching others at home.  One of the most compelling reasons teachers stay in the profession is the love they have for interaction with their students, but that reason was certainly diminished during remote learning.  And as we look forward to school opening, the Delta variant is now challenging the likelihood that in-person learning will be the only mode of instruction for all students.  In addition to all the staffing challenges, most districts are gearing up for mental health issues that have been impacted during the pandemic for both staff and students, including loss of family members and friends to the disease.

While many of the districts we serve have been back to in-person learning this past year, the Delta variant has proven to be more contagious and presents even greater challenges than the original Covid-19 virus.  We wish we had easy answers to opening schools this year, answers to help guide our hard-working HR/HC/Talent divisions nationwide.  But our organization, like so many others, is taking one day at a time, following the science and hoping that once schools are open, all students and staff can adjust to whatever the circumstances are and stay safe.  

(For more information and updates on important education issues, visit www.ushcacademy.org or www.bellwethereducation.org)

(Copyright: Elizabeth Arons, all rights reserved.)

Lessons in Racism: A Tribute to Donal Leace

LESSONS IN RACISM--
A Tribute to Singer, Songwriter, Teacher Donal Leace
by
Chuck Cascio

 

It has been present all of our lives. We can look around and still see it. But it hits us hardest when something spurs our awareness and reminds us: Racism is real...it has been real...we have seen it ourselves, personally.   

Donal Leace (no "d" at the end of his first name) was a Washington, DC-based Black singer, songwriter, entertainer, scholar, and teacher whom I met many years ago when I was 16 years old and working one memorable summer at my cousin's folk music club, the Shadows, in Virginia Beach. (Note: That club is not related to any club or restaurant that may have the same or similar name in Virginia Beach today.) I learned recently that Donal died of Covid in December 2020, and though I had not seen Donal in many years, hearing of his death brought back many memories...memories made all the more significant to me as the country engages in heated discussions about race. 

One of my many jobs at the Shadows was to book hotel reservations for performers and then to greet them at the designated hotel when they arrived. Donal was scheduled to sing at the Shadows for a couple of weeks as the opening act. He drove down from DC (he lived in an apartment above the famous Cellar Door club in Georgetown), and I met him at the hotel where I had reserved his room. As we walked into the hotel together, a noticeable silence overtook the lobby. 

When I reminded the man behind the desk, whom I had interacted with before, that I worked at the Shadows and that I had made a reservation for Donal, the man looked confused. He browsed a ledger intensely, flipped some pages, then finally looked up and said, "Sorry, got no reservation for him and no rooms are available. Fully booked." He scribbled something on a piece of paper and shoved it at me, saying, "But here is the address of a place where he can stay."

 

Donal_Leace.jpeg

Donal Leace: Singer, songwriter, teacher...

I started to argue since I knew I had made the reservation and even had a confirmation number. But Donal tapped my shoulder and said, "I know what's going on here. Let's go." 

We went outside into the beach sunlight and I started to blurt, "Donal, I'm sorry, I..."

"It's not you, Chuck. This is what it is. You see what it is, right?"

Of course I did--everywhere in Virginia overt racism was evident daily: The "Colored" restrooms and water fountains separate from "Whites Only" ones. The swimming pools with signage stating boldly, "No Coloreds." The segregated schools and neighborhoods. But in that moment with Donal, it all hit me hard, personally.

We rode about 20 miles inland to the address the hotel clerk had given us, finally coming upon a dilapidated, sad building with a sign in front that read "Colored Motel." 

"Guess I'll be making the trip from here to the club and back every night," Donal said matter-of-factly.

Something swelled from inside me, and I said, "We have room at our house, Donal. Come stay with us!"

Donal hesitated, then asked, "Are you sure? Will your roommates be okay with me?"

"Yes," I said without hesitation, and we climbed into his car and rode back to the house I shared with three guys all in their early twenties. When we arrived, I explained to my roommates what had happened, and there was no hesitancy. Donal was given a room and throughout his stay, we all laughs and music together…but we shared other things, too, such as:

After Donal's first night performing at the club, we all finished our closing chores, and I asked Donal if he wanted to join us at a local diner where we always went for our late-night/early-morning food and laughs. He came with us, and as we all entered the familiar diner on the main beach drag, I immediately recognized the evil quiet that blanketed us. We were quickly seated in a far corner booth by a waiter who knew us all, except for Donal, by name. 

We introduced the White waiter to Donal, but the waiter simply turned away, refusing to shake Donal's extended hand. A minute or two later, the waiter returned and handed menus to each of us. Hungry, filled with the nightly relief of pulling off another successful club experience, we all started enthusiastically blurting out what we were going to order...except for Donal. He quietly perused his menu and, once the rest of us had quieted down, said, "Um, this place seems a little pricey, doesn't it?"

In those days, you could get a club sandwich or scrambled eggs or fried chicken pieces for a dollar or two, so we were all surprised at Donal's comment. He smiled sadly, knowingly, and flipped over his menu so we could all see. Every item on his menu was at least 10 times the price shown on the rest of ours'! 

One of my roommates angrily waved Donal's menu at the waiter.

"What the hell is this?" the roommate said.

"What do you mean?" the waiter said with a shrug.

"You know damn well what I mean! You gave him a different menu than ours! Everything on his is much more expensive! Give him the right menu!"

"That is the right menu...for him," the waiter said matter-of-factly. "So what can I get you guys?"

With that, we all climbed out of the booth, and one of the guys got in the waiter's face and said, "We won't be back here. Ever."

"Suit yourself," the waiter said, "but don't you go around saying we wouldn't serve him...and his kind. If he wants to pay, we'll serve him. If not, that's his choice."

Yes, some things have changed since those days on Virginia Beach. But not enough. Racism still exists. It is, and has been, all around us. Think about what you have seen personally. Think about how it hit you. Think about how it hits others, daily.

Racism is real. It is systemic. It must be addressed. 

Thank you, Donal—for your music, laughter, friendship..and for the difficult lessons I learned from you during that brief stretch of summer.

Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.

(Readers: Tell me your story, if you like. Nothing will be reprinted without your permission, and you will retain all rights of anything that is printed: chuckwrites@yahoo.com.)

 

 

READING AND DISCUSSION GUIDE: The Fire Escape Belongs in Brooklyn

Reading and Discussion Guide for
THE FIRE ESCAPE BELONGS IN BROOKLYN
By
Chuck Cascio

NOTE: If you would like  to discuss any of these items with me, please email me at chuckwrites@yahoo.com.

 
1) What is the tone established in the Prologue and Chapters 1-3? How does it contribute to the story arc and how does it tie to Volumes I&II?
 
2) Throughout much of the book, Mike "talks" to Sally-Boy. Do his "conversations" and recollections seem to calm Mike or do they seem to cause an increased sense of despair and desperation?
 
3) Chapters 8-11 are often referred to as indicative of a turning point in Mike's thinking. If you agree with that position, what are some of the specifics that occur in those chapters that imply a change and is that change a sign of maturation or further frustration or both?
 
4) Chapters 12-19 immerse readers in several realities that Mike and others of his generation face. Consider Mike's initial reaction to Erica, how his feelings develop, and what elements of his nature seem to be emerging. At the same time, consider what his roommate, Fish, is like and how interactions with Darrell Bingham affect them both and, also, what Bingham seems to represent.
 
5) Chapter 20 ties together several elements of life during the Vietnam Era upon which much of the book focuses. Of those elements, what emerges as having the greatest impact of that time and which, if any of those elements, still seem prevalent today?
 
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6) As relationships emerge and develop between Mike and Erica and Fish and Katie, what aspects of their personalities seem to come through most prominently. Which, if any, of those aspects seem positive and which, if any, seem troubling to you?
 
7) Chapters 31-33 move the reader from a party where the song "Satisfaction" has a real and symbolic role to deeper thinking on Mike's part about where he is headed. What are some of the key scenes (if any) that indicate to you a change in the depth of the characters and what are some of the implications of those changes?
 
8) As the storyline develops, the role of Professor Staunton emerges as more prominent as does the impact of the Vietnam War. These elements combine to result in decisions that some people might consider heroic and others might consider objectionable. How do you feel about the decisions the characters make both in context of the story and in reality?
 
9) Chapter 48 focuses on a ferry ride that Mike and Erica take. What do you think of the character development in that chapter? Do you see any foreshadowing of what is to come?
 
10) Chapters 49-53 are filled with character elements that move the story to various points of dramatic conclusion. What is unexpected? What did you anticipate? How were you affected by the different events that impact the characters?
 
11) In the Epilogue, do you feel that Mike has resolved his issues with Sally-Boy's disappearance? Do you think that Mike does justice to Sally, or is there more that he should do and, if so, what should it be?
 

Copyright: Chuck Cascio, all rights reserved.