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Party Over Here

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After a very rough week that started out with a media frenzy around our teacher sick out, we are getting dressed for the first faculty Holiday Party. It’s being held at a lovely reception hall not too far from the school. It’s a catered affair in a beautifully decorated place. In New Orleans, everything revolves around food and music. We’ll have both. The only drawback may be the cash bar.

Our new principal is escorting his wife and introducing her to the staff tonight. They will also meet the spouses of some of our Board members. It’s our first party. I hope everyone has their dancing shoes ready. We’ve even invited most of our vendors to celebrate with us.

Today at the school, they distributed about $1,000 in toys and games to the students in a Yule Lottery. Every child who was present for class received a ticket. After the students wrote their names on the tickets, one name was drawn from the pile. That child had first-choice of all of the gifts. There was a Holiday Barbie, Transformers, Tea sets, footballs, scooters, skateboard, musical instruments, dump truck, board games, bubble bath, toy make-up kits, even a cat that moved when you passed your hand before its eyes. The teachers continued to draw names until all of the gifts were distributed. Each lucky child picked a gift from the display, based upon the order of his or her name being selected. I always love to watch the toy selection. Most children will have their eyes on a special gift, hoping that no one picks it before it’s their turn. Older boys and girls frequently select something for a younger sibling. The lottery is a great way to encourage attendance on the last day before a long holiday. I wonder what the attendance was like today.

We tried to order personally engraved pencil sets for each child in the school, but the order never went out. We’ll have them for New Year’s. The students received only the peppermint candy canes that were supposed to adorn their pencil cases. All teachers and staff members received a beautiful silk poinsettia. Their gift certificates had not arrived when I finished signing checks at 3:30 this afternoon. We’ll have them for New Year’s too, I guess.

I have to stop blogging early now because I need to find my dancing shoes. What are you doing to celebrate the holiday, now that school is out?

4 Comments

Rough Strife and the Work of Christmas

Dear Dr. Roslyn,

I've been reading your blog for a couple of months. I am a Unitarian minister now living in the Boston area and have returned recently from the 10th relief and recovery service trip I've led to the Gulf Coast since Katrina. We began not long after the storm and flooding by helping members of the Unitarian Universalist church in St. Tammany's parish with their homes and yards, and ever since the first time I came as a volunteer, we've worked in the city as well. On the last five trips - March, May, August, October and December 08 - in addition to gutting and rebuilding houses, we've worked in Recovery schools, with the blessing of Troy Peloquin, doing whatever has been asked of us, from painting to tutoring to unpacking boxes to tree planting to personal support and listening. So far the schools have included Baby Reed when it met in the Baptist church last spring and morphing into Schaumburg after it moved in August; AP Tureaud; and the new Reed Elementary and Gregory Schools housed on two of the "temporary" moonscape campuses.

I hope I don't embarrass myself or you when I say that you have become one of my heroes. Your commitment, understanding, resourcefulness, honesty and genuineness are all qualities that shine through in your writings. I've been meaning and wanting to write to you to thank you for what you're doing and how you're doing it but hadn't done so yet, and now that I have read your last few posts, I just want to say how sorry I am. All of my questions and thoughts about the schools can wait.

I realize what I know about public schools in post-Katrina New Orleans is very very limited. I do read the Times Picayune daily and check for articles on Education Week that concern New Orleans. My non-profit Long Haul comes for a week at a time every 4 to 8 weeks with 15-20 volunteers who show up and do, to the best of our ability, whatever the principal, reading specialist, custodian or office staff say help would look like on that particular day or that week. It's a very tiny contribution; what children in New Orleans deserve is enormous.

When you ask, "How hard can it be?" I think I know enough by now to respond thusly: very, very hard, almost unimaginable. Yet you stepped up to the plate in spite of vast and staggering problems and stunning obstacles. Your can-do attitude and clarity are inspiring. I have to believe there are many children who have benefited and will continue to benefit as things unfold; that your vision and hard work matter.

I realize that you aren't interested in blame or things that might cause further conflict, division, hurt or anger. I know you are trying very hard to see what your own contribution might have been and why others in this situation have done and said what they have. As a parish minister I have experienced many struggles in congregational life that have taught me a great deal about myself and other human beings, as well as broken my heart at times and torn seemingly good things to pieces. Life in community, and especially leadership in community life, can be extremely challenging and a source of anguish and terrible setbacks, as well as the most exhilarating experiences of accomplishment, growth and love.

So at this time what I really want to say is that I am rooting for you and what you are working for. Thank you. Most of all please just know that you are not alone.

As theologian Howard Thurman wrote:

When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost
To heal the broken
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner
To teach the nations
To bring Love to all
To make music in the heart.

With gratitude and blessings on the journey,
Rev. Mary

--
Rev. Mary Harrington, President
Gulf Coast Volunteers for the Long Haul
Helping people in the Gulf Coast region rebuild their homes, their neighborhoods, their communities
and their lives for as long as it takes
www.longhaulvolunteers.org

Rev. Mary,
You are a blessing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and prayers.
Roslyn

I would like to echo the sentiments of Rev. Mary when I also say you really have risen to the occasion of using all your past experience (there is much!) to the table in dealing systematically and comprehensively with what would seem to most people like an unmanageable task. In addition to this, and in the face of a somewhat pressured, embarrassing situation before the holidays (the sick out of the staff) you were able to rise above any personal feelings or misgivings inspired by this and regroup quickly and effectively enough to provide a wonderful holiday season for both the students and the staff. This I find a marvel and it brings to mind all of those important things we tend to forget in the mishmash of the daily goings on at any school: giving and giving back, sharing, caring, using a little charity and ingenuity to bring smiles to the faces of those kids that won something from your Yule Lottery, etc. I may be rambling but there is truly so much spirit involved with what you were able to accomplish, that I am certain it did not go unnoticed by anyone, including any lingering reporters! ;) Our staff was given a holiday luncheon by our principal and everyone enjoyed themselves. I LOVE the idea of having a Yule Lottery for our school for next year. Perhaps you'll indulge me and let me "steal" that idea for use, perhaps to be done through our PTA, or our winter concert next year. This year we had some prizes donated by businesses in our community and we did a simple raffle but if it were handled properly and more people were to get involved, we really could do something wonderful for our kids too. I know for some of your kids there, that Yule Lottery may have been some of the only real Santa treats around. God Bless your efforts and yes, you are not alone!!

Thanks Karen. Your comment reminded me of an old Christmas story I wanted to share. I'll do it in today's blog.

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  • Roslyn: Thanks Karen. Your comment reminded me of an old Christmas read more
  • Karen Fisher: I would like to echo the sentiments of Rev. Mary read more
  • Roslyn: Rev. Mary, You are a blessing! Thanks for sharing your read more
  • Rev. Mary Harrington: Rough Strife and the Work of Christmas Dear Dr. Roslyn, read more

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