The Pot and the Kettle

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Last month Facebook revealed it had discovered 450 accounts and about $100,000 in ad spending Russia used during the U.S. presidential campaign. As a result, the company turned over a copy of roughly 3,000 advertisements identified on its platform as spreading covert Russian propaganda. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been investigating any connection Facebook had with Russia. The ads in question potentially caused racial, and other social political tensions during the election (ABC News) (NY Times).

If that wasn’t enough bad press, Facebook has also been scrutinized for encouraging fake news.  Rutenberg and Isaac (2017) wrote, “Facebook has faced criticism for giving too much prominence to fake news; for censoring as offensive an iconic Vietnam War photograph of a naked girl fleeing a bombing attack; and for allegations that members of its “trending topics” team, which is now disbanded, penalized news of interest to conservatives”. As such, the company has issued statements on their policy of publishing so called fake news. The policies prohibit ads that are “violent, discriminate based on race or promote the sale of illegal drugs” (Reuters)

A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One that sounds good, and a real one.    ~J. Pierpoint Morgan

In January, Facebook hired Campbell Brown, former host on NBC News and CNN, to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.  “The addition of Ms. Brown comes as Facebook is struggling with its position as a content provider that does not produce its own content — that is, as a platform, not a media company” (NY Times).

What many people may not know about Brown is she is the founder of The 74. From the website, “The 74 is a non-profit, non-partisan news site covering education in America. Our public education system is in crisis. In the United States, less than half of our students can read or do math at grade-level, yet the education debate is dominated by misinformation and political spin. Our mission is to lead an honest, fact-based conversation about how to give America’s 74 million children under the age of 18 the education they deserve” (The 74).

It is no secret Brown has shown her disdain for teacher tenure and teacher’s unions, while supporting charters and vouchers. As the founder of The 74, Brown came out in full support of Betsy DeVos (The 74). Last fall she hosted a Republican Presidential Primary Debate  which was sponsored “solely by the country’s foremost group promoting vouchers, the American Federation for Children, and hosted by her then-new website, the Seventy Four” (Slate).

So much for non-profit and non-partisan.

Then this happened. The Network for Public Education wanted to purchase an ad with Facebook during what they were calling School Privatization week, instead of School Choice Week. According to Diane Ravitch, “We made it a Facebook ad. It was accepted and all was fine. Then, after a few days, Facebook refused our buys and blocked us from boosting any of our posts. We are still blocked from boosting or buying nine months later.”

Ravitch wants to know why Facebook algorithms don’t recognize ads that interfere in our elections but block criticism of School Choice? And why do Facebook algorithms ignore ads placed by Russian propagandists but block ads placed by the Network for Public Education?

Steven Singer, a teacher and public education advocate wrote a recent article called School Choice is a Lie. It Does Not Mean More Options. It Means Less. No sooner had Singer posted the article to his Facebook page, that he was told his story was blocked for one week, and he received a message saying the story “violating community standards.(gadflyonthewall). According to Singer:

This is just an examination of why charter and voucher schools reduce options for parents and students – not increase them.

It’s an argument. I lay out my reasons with reference to facts and make numerous connections to other people’s work and articles.

I don’t understand how that “violates community standards” (gadflyonthewall).

Do you see where this is going? Maybe this is a lesson in what is and what is not acceptable to Facebook. Or maybe it wasn’t acceptable to Campbell Brown because her new job, as noted above is to lead a team to partner with organizations and journalists to work more effectively with Facebook.”  To work more effectively to do what?

On Singer’s ban, Ravitch wrote, “Steven Singer was censored by an algorithm. Or, Steven Singer was censored by the Political Defense team that tries to prevent any criticism of charter schools and TFA. Singer says he’s been posting similar blogs since 2014 without incident. It’s also no secret that Zuckerberg is a big fan of charters and vouchers.

Singer says he has no idea why this particular blog was blocked, and he may never know. I’m curious as to why all of a sudden Facebook is choosing what content will be available, and what will not.

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I’m curious as to the connection through all of this. Coincidence?  I don’t believe in coincidences. I believe it’s the pot calling the kettle black.

These are my reflections for today.

10/13/17

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Be an Upstander

The Bully

The bully demonstrates aggression to a victim in the form of verbal, physical, emotional, sexual, or psychological abuse. In a bullying incident, there is an imbalance of power between the bully and the victim. The bully wants to subjugate the victim, who fears the bully’s power. The targets of a bully can be a single individual or a group of people. According to safe@school, “The males who bullied had greater tendencies to be abusive in their adult intimate relationships than those who did not bully, and the females who bullied were more abusive to their children. The research also discovered a correlation between bullying and a range of social problems, including employment difficulties, alcohol and drug dependency, and divorce.” The older a bully get, the more aggressive they become with verbal threats and abuse.

The Victim

Victims of bullies may develop a fear that the bullying will get worse if they report it to someone, or tell someone about the bullying instances. They are also unable to remove the stigma attached to them by the bully and this results in isolation. As with bullies, victims develop antisocial behaviors as this undermines their sense of self. Those who become targets are more sensitive, cautious, and quiet than other kids (Psychology Today).

The Bystander

In a bullying situation, a bystander is the person (or people) who stand by witnessing a bullying incident. Bystanders do not take part in the bullying, but do nothing to intervene as they witness the incident. Bystanders can be affected by what they witnessed. They are often bothered by the experience, often aligning themselves with the student who bullies. They may blame the victim, or accept their own implicit failure by failing to intervene. “A general lack of adult intervention can lead them to believe that those with power are allowed to aggress against others and achieve added status as a result of their behaviour. They may even take advantage of opportunities to adopt the same antisocial behaviour” (safe@school).

The Upstander

In a bullying situation, an upstander is the person who witnesses the incident, knows it is wrong and does something to make things right.  It takes courage to speak up on someone’s behalf. “The word itself has the ability to empower… to make an active change…, in an effort to build communities that support difference and unify against intolerance(NIOT.org). Being an upstander means standing up for what is right to support and protect someone who is being bullied. In many ways, this is another way of saying someone is being socially responsible. Two ways to become an upstander are to help others who are being bullied and to stop untrue or harmful messages from spreading (The Bully Project).

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There is no better time to understand the dynamics of bullies and to take action.  What do you do when you witness (or read about) an incident of bullying? Are you a bystander or an upstander? We’ve become complacent in a time when we should be showing our discontent. Every one of us has a responsibility to be an upstander, to stand up against bullies and the injustice surrounding bullying incidents. This is essential if we want to change our communities, our country, and even our world. Shifting from a bystander to an upstander can support the need for our society to not only understand the dynamics of a bully but to also change it, That’s on us.

Martin Luther King said, “In the end we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

These are my reflections for today.

10/6/17

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Lunch Shaming

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Michael Padilla is a state senator from New Mexico. As a child, he spent many of his school days mopping floors so he could have lunch. He befriended cafeteria workers for a piece of bread or a left over sandwich. Padilla grew up in foster homes where lunch money was an exception (NPR).

Della Curry made national headlines a few years ago as a cafeteria worker in Aurora, CO who gave lunch to a child who was crying because she didn’t have lunch money and she was hungry. The act of a good Samaritan  was defined by district and federal policy as stealing. Curry was fired (NPR). Scott Simon wrote, “The school district says students from poor families can qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch. Curry says those programs overlook students from families who may struggle, but don’t quite qualify — if that’s the word — as poor” (NPR).

Stacy Koltiska was a cafeteria worker in Pittsburgh, PA. Last year she quit her job when she was forced to take lunches away from two students and replace them with sandwiches because the families owed more than $25. These were elementary students. High school students don’t even get the sandwich. Koltiska posted to facebook her experience with the school district. Remembering the day, she said “His eyes welled up with tears. I’ll never forget his name, the look on his face” (CBSnews)Koltiska said what these children experience is humiliating and embarrassing, and she fought for this practice of so called lunch shaming to stop.

Earlier this year, Padilla introduced legislation in New Mexico which would prevent any child from being lunch shamed. When the bill was introduced, he read about other schools and policies of lunch shaming.

Some provide kids an alternative lunch, like a cold cheese sandwich. Other schools sometimes will provide hot lunch, but require students do chores, have their hand stamped or wear a wristband showing they’re behind in payment. And, some schools will deny students lunch all together (NPR).

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       School districts practicing lunch shaming would use this stamp on a child’s arm.                                It says, I need lunch money.

Padilla’s bill – the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, which became law in April, requires the USDA, which administers the federal school meal program, to require all school districts have a written policy on how to deal with students who can’t pay for their lunch, or have an outstanding balance with the district. Since the introduction of this bill, Padilla has heard from lawmakers from other states who are interested. California state Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D) introduced the Child Hunger Prevention and Fair Treatment Act.

New York took a different approach to the problem. Beginning fall 2017, free lunch is available to all 1.1 million students, regardless of income level. Seventy five percent of students in NY already qualified for free or reduced lunch (NY TImes).

The new initiative reaches another 200,000 children, saving their families about $300 a year per child. These additional lunches are not expected to cost the city more money, thanks to the federal Community Eligibility Provision program, under which schools that offer free lunch and breakfast to all children are reimbursed based on students’ poverty level. By taking advantage of the federal Community Eligibility Provision, schools can increase reimbursement for meals — thus wiping out meal debt — while they improve nutrition, eliminate stigma and cut administrative costs. (NY TImes).

New York City joins other cities such as Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Detroit who have put an end to lunch shaming. Unfortunately there are still too many districts still employing barbaric practices of lunch shaming. Humiliating a child for being poor is a horrific practice. I applaud districts for working with district, state, and federal policies to eliminate such practices.

These are my reflections for today.

9/29/2017

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Even More Charter Scandals

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LOS ANGELES – Over the summer, I wrote about the Los Angeles School Board Elections (Philanthropy and Politics in Education).  With the financial influence of such people as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, and billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, there was a lot of purchasing and positioning charter  advocates to the LA School Board.  According to a report in the LA Times this week, School Board President Ref Rodriguez was arrested and charged with three felony counts, “conspiracy to commit a crime, perjury and procuring and offering a false or forged instrument, and he faces 25 misdemeanor charges, one for each donor he allegedly reimbursed.” Rodriguez apparently cashed out on an investment for $26,000 and instructed his cousin Elizabeth Melendrez to deposit the check into an account under his parents name. The complaint in the file claims Rodriguez’s mother “then wrote checks to her son’s friends and relatives, reimbursing them for donations to his campaign” (LA Times).  His first fundraising statement indicated he had raised roughly $51,000. However, prosecutors say 25 of the donations were reimbursed, and that of all the money raised, $24,250 actually came from the candidate himself.

Rodriguez had been under investigation for two years, but apparently nobody on the board knew until last week. News of Rodriguez’s arrest sent shock waves through LA, especially school board members. As we have learned in countless other charter scandals, an indictment does not require anyone to step down from their positions. As one board member said, “To be accused of a crime does not preclude from being able to serve as a board member” (LA Times).  Opponents say this is just another example of the failure of reformers “and their billionaire allies [who] have often been allowed to act with impunity, and above the law(LA Times). If convicted, Rodriguez faces up to four years in prison.  Days after his arrest, Rodriguez stepped down as president but remains on the board.

ALBUQUERQUE –  This week Tim Keller, the New Mexico state auditor released results of an investigation into a likely fraud-embezzlement scandal with the La Promesa Early Learning Center. According to the report, “a half a million dollars was diverted from the School into a former employee’s personal bank account between June 2010 and July 2016. Keller reviewed bank statements and school records and “discovered an apparent forgery scheme that funneled over $475,000 from the School to an employee’s personal bank account. As a result, hundreds of kids were defrauded of funding that should be going to their education. (krwg.org).  The report can be found in its entirety here.

NASHVILLE – According to The Tennessean, a lawsuit was filed against RePublic, a Nashville based charter network. The lawsuit alleges that “RePublic violated the federal Telephone Consumer Protection Act by sending messages through a commercial auto-dialing service without the consent of recipients The Tennessean. One text read: 4th-grade parents, your child is eligible to attend Nashville Academy of Computer Science next year. Please call us at 615-873-0484 to tour our facility! The Tennessean

This is just one example of what happens when student information becomes public record. School board member Will Pinkston said, “The RePublic lawsuit underscores, in real time, the reason why our district needs to get a long overdue handle on student and family data security”The Tennessean.

ATLANTA -The Atlanta Journal Constitution reported that criminal charges were filed against Christopher Clemens, the 38 year old founder of Latin Academy. Charges against Clemons include 55 counts of forgery and theft of at least $1.3 million after a Fulton County grand jury indicted him on seven additional charges.  One charge claims $800,000 theft from the school which later closed. Another charge is for thefts of more than $500,000, including money allegedly taken from Latin Grammar School and Latin College Preparatory School (AJC). Clemens is also accused of using the school’s credit card for “dinners, non work-related travel expenses, bonuses to employees, ATM withdrawals and personal entertainment at night clubs” according to the Atlanta police (CBS46).

BATON ROUGE – In an ongoing investigation, police in Baton Rouge have charged Laurel Oaks Charter School principal and founder Shafeeq Syid Shamsid-Deen with cruelty to a juvenile and false imprisonment (The Advocate). “The child told investigators that Shamsid-Dean, 31, told her to ‘go into the closet with the spiders, and if she screamed, he would turn the lights off’ (The Advocate).

One of the teachers who found the child told police that she was “weeping hysterically” when they opened the closet door. The closet contained paint, other supplies, and a small chair that appeared to have been placed there recently because of its cleanliness, police said.

When one of the teachers emailed Shamsid-Deen with objections about the punishment, he responded that the school “will work to make sure we have a proper time-out area for scholars to reset in the cafeteria,” the warrant says (The Advocate).

As a side note, Samsid-Deen has a BA in history and political science and after college,  worked for the Teach for America. He then spent three years with New Mexico’s department of education, overseeing the development of a new teacher evaluation system.

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I recognized that I preach to the choir as many of my readers are connected to public education in some way.   Please share this blog with others who may not be aware of these horrific scandals plaguing so many schools and children across the country. Ignorance is no excuse.

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These are my reflections for today.

9/22/17

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Education Bill Fails in Senate Committee

Betsy DeVos once said, “School choice increases equity for our nation’s students and families by placing power in the hands of parents and families to choose schools that are best for their children” (Washington Post).   Apparently the Senate Appropriations Committee does not agree as it overwhelmingly rejected the Secretary’s budget (29-2) last week. Not only did the committee reject the 14% cut in the budget, but members voted to increase spending  by $29 million (Washington Post).

The budget included $2 billion for Title II, a federal teacher training program, which Trump  proposed scrapping. The budget did not include a $1 billion increase Trump  wanted in funding school choice programs There was a $25 million dollar increase in funding for charter schools, but that fell far short of the $167 million proposed (Washington Examiner).

The Trump administration wanted to cut $1.2 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program, which helps school districts cover the cost of after-school and summer-learning programs. That, too was rejected (EDWeek).

The administration had sought a $1 billion boost for the nearly $15 billion Title I program, the largest federal K-12 program, which is aimed at covering the cost of educating disadvantaged students. The Trump administration had wanted to use that increase to help districts create or expand public school choice programs. And it had hoped to use the Education Innovation and Research program to nurture private school choice.

The Senate bill essentially rejects both of those pitches. It instead would provide a $25 million boost for Title I, and $95 million for the research program, a slight cut from the current level of $100 million.

But importantly, the legislation wouldn’t give U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her team the authority to use that money for school choice. In fact, the committee said in language accompanying the bill that the Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos must get permission from Congress to create a school choice initiative with the funds (EDWeek).

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Republicans and Democrats on the committee acknowledged that the bipartisan agreement isn’t the bill either side would have written on its own. Patty Murray (D-WA) said,  “While this budget is not what I would have proposed on my own, I am pleased we are continuing to invest in our students and educators and I will continue to hold Secretary DeVos accountable if she tries to undermine our public schools”  (EDWeek).

This budged was lauded by teachers unions, state governors, and other educators across the country. There is still work to be done – especially when it comes to cutting funding for Pell Grants for college students,  but this is a bipartisan step in the right direction.

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Agreement on this budget is not expected until the end of year, but there is reason to hope Congress, perhaps, is doing their homework on such important issues in education.

These are my reflections for today.

9/15/17

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Sphere of Influence

Today I have a guest blogger, my esteemed colleague, co-author and friend. She writes about a sphere of influence we all have and may choose to act on or not every day.

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With the recent events in Charlottesville, Houston, and the current impact of Irma as it hits Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the people in my life who live and work all over the United States. It’s not that I forget about them when their specific cities or states are not blasted all over the morning news and radio programs, but at times it’s easy to be lulled into thinking our lives are progressing in forward-thinking momentum. Yet when natural catastrophes, violent human behaviors, and unpredictable incidents occur, it often serves as a harsh reminder that this world does not always operate in positive progress. These events clearly impact huge numbers of people – time seems to stand still, lives are changed in an instant. These events also give us individual opportunity to truly consider our own thoughts, words, and behaviors – our proactive and reactive responses. What are the ways in which our thoughts, words, and behaviors impact and influence others?

In recent years, my research on preparing pre-service teachers to work in environments with diverse students and families led me to examine some of the social structures and interpersonal dynamics present in other areas of scholarship, such as psychology and government.

In government, sphere of influence is defined as a country or area in which another country has power to affect developments though it has no formal authority. In psychology, it is a systematic way to view how one’s surrounding environment influences who one is and will become. I would argue that each one of us can not only be acted upon by these outside forces, but each also possesses the potential to act upon, within, and even beyond our spheres of influence.

So the sphere of influence as a concept is not a new notion, but applying sphere of influence to the field of education is a new opportunity to address the intersectionality of our lives as learners, teachers, mentors, coaches, colleagues, administrators, professors, family members, and friends.

It’s been said that a teacher has a ripple effect on human lives. Specifically, a teacher in Year One teaches 25 students, then in Year Two teaches a different 25 students, in Year Three teaches a third unique set of 25 students, and so on. And for each individual life a teacher touches, this individual grows up and takes the lessons learned as a young person into a whole other sphere which comprises their adult lives. So as a pebble thrown into the middle of a huge lake, the original point of impact ripples out to reach, eventually, the farthest edges of the shore.

Yet educators are not the only ones with a widespread sphere of influence. Each of us, and our own families and homes, neighborhoods and communities, workplaces and professional organizations, possess a great potential to powerfully contribute toward creating a kinder, more respectful, inclusive world. This potential power within each of us centers on our choices. Quite simply, each morning when we wake up we have choices – choices such as how we greet the people we encounter, whether we will stop and help someone in need, how we will respond to that one person who is always complaining. These interactions stem from the specific spheres of influence each of us occupy.

So the questions surrounding sphere of influence are really WHAT and HOW.

WHAT: What do you represent? What beliefs are worth the effort of standing firm? As educators, many of us believe in developmental growth and learning. As a mother, I advocate for all children to receive equitable access and opportunities to quality healthcare, education, and housing. As a human, I greatly value respect for and acceptance of all people.

HOW: How will you use your sphere of influence? Will it be something you acknowledge and capitalize upon in your life? Will you use it to propel positivity or harbor hate? Or will you pretend your life and choices bear no impact upon others’ lives, refraining from action?

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I urge you to think. I urge to you act. The world cannot survive with our silence.

Cori Brown, Rowan University.

9/8/17

 

 

 

A new box of crayons

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Many of us remember when we were kids, one of the highlights of going back to school was getting new school supplies. There was nothing better than a brand new box of Crayola crayons. Whether it was 12, 24, 48, or if you were really lucky, you got the 64 box with a built-in sharpener. The smell. the perfectly flat heads, and the colors; brick red, periwinkle, and the ever-popular burnt sienna. New crayons were a simple pleasure, and one we revered. Much like new sneakers could make us run faster and jump higher, a new box of crayons could make us artists.

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) roughly 15 million children (or 21%) are living in families with incomes below the poverty threshold. Not only can these families not afford to provide for their basic necessities, but school supplies are a luxury. A new box of crayons is for privileged kids.

In researching for this blog, I found inspiring stories about how communities are making sure kids are getting the supplies they need.

In Raleigh, NC, children from low-income families, came up with a plan to raise money for supplies, and new clothes. Two children set up a lemonade stand called “Sweet and Sour Lemonade.” On a good day, the stand can make up to $100. The money raised will be used to help members of their community get what they need to start school (KRON). 

In Rockingham, NC  the owners of Hooks BBQ and Buffet sponsored a BBQ with support from other community sponsors to give low-income children a good time and some needed school supplies. Hundreds of people attended and at the end of the evening 200 book bags stuffed with binders, pencils and crayons were given away as prizes (Richmond County Daily Journal).

Just outside Sacramento, CA community members used facebook to ask parents how much they spent on school supplies and if they knew if their child’s classroom pooled supplies. “The post generated a lengthy discussion from dozens of local parents, teachers and one board member. Most reported how much they spent on school supplies this year. Answers ranged from $25 to $100, many indicating that this cost was outside of new backpacks and clothing” In this district, 61% of  households classify as low income, so parent donations are needed and greatly appreciated. (Galt Herald online).

In Westchester County NY, community members are teaming with The Sharing Shelf to collect and distribute school supplies to children in need. Rob Astorino, Westchester County Executive said, “Since launching our backpack partnership, we have helped give vital school supplies to thousands of children in Westchester County. As always, our goal is to help as many children as we can” (Pelham Daily Voice).

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Photo courtesy of http://www.dailyherald.com/article/20150715/submitted/150719388/

In Maine, members of the Augusta Elks Lodge plan a back to school giveaway of items they say are “tools kids need to have a chance to be successful in the classroom” (Kennebec Journal). The giveaway includes pens, pencils, notebooks, backpacks, lunch boxes, clothing and healthy snacks.

For 25 years, Catholic Charities in Joliet, IL has a Back to School Fair for students from low-income families. This event offers pens and paper, books, medical exams and social services (The Herald News).

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Photo courtesy of  http://www.theherald-news.com/lists/2017/08/03/1230d07772f24b56a92682c691fc50f0/index.xml?page=1

I found so many stories of this kind- a wonderful demonstration of communities helping children. Each of these stories has the common thread of giving kids the tools they need to succeed. If you remember the excitement of a new box of crayons, how about the next time you see a Crayola display pick up a few boxes and take great joy in proving that excitement for a child who wouldn’t otherwise get that.

Local churches, temples or other houses of worship, the community YMCA, and Starbucks are a few places that accept donated school supplies. You could always just take them right to a school. Providing a new box of crayons to a child who can get creative and colorful, and start the school year on a positive note.

These are my reflections for today.

9/1/2017

 

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