Archive for September 29, 2012

The Power of a Fourth Grade Teacher

Nope, this is not a post about DonorsChoose, or any of the other great non-profits supporting teachers.  This is about my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Gilmore.  For me, fourth grade pretty much marks the earliest things I can remember from my school days:  reading The Hobbit and Sherlock Holmes stories, my first real book reports, watching the first Space Shuttle landing and the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  Mrs. Gilmore was one of my favorite teachers.  The twinkle in her eye, the friendly smile, the words of praise and encouragement, they made me want to do better.

It turns out that power of encouragement: knowing each of your students and keeping them motivated, is not something that ends with retirement.  I’ve been lucky enough to stay in touch with Mrs. Gilmore over the years.  She and her husband (Mr. Gilmore, of course!) are members of the church in which I grew up, in Simsbury, CT.  They recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary (congratulations!).  When Giving Back was published, my mom suggested that Mrs. Gilmore would enjoy seeing a copy.  I did send her a copy, and received a nice thank you card.  And even 30 years later, her kind words, the memory of her twinkling eye and friendly smile make me want to do better.

 Thank you, Mrs. Gilmore.


When I was looking for a picture of my old elementary school, I ran across this video of a CT TV station’s news segment on Building Character at Tootin’ Hills School, their outreach project of making PB&J sandwiches for the homeless and toiletry kits for people staying at a shelter.  The principal (who’s served 19 years at the school there) said that it had started 25 years ago.  It’s a bit frightening to realize that was still several years after I was there.


Fire at Beechwood School

Beechwood School serves K-8 students in East Menlo Park and East Palo Alto.  It was originally founded by 3 families who were involved in the Scouting program, and recognized that the boys entering their troop from East Menlo Park were behind in their reading skills.  They set up the school, and have built it into an amazing place that provides excellent support for their students.

Very early Thursday morning (4 AM, well before anyone was on campus), a pinched cord on an oven in the administrative building shorted out, causing a fire that destroyed the building.  Since the campus is a series of modular buildings, fortunately damage was contained to the one building (which also housed the Third Grade classroom).


Beechwood has been supported by both the Outreach Board of First Congregational Church and the Palo Alto Congregational Foundation.  Members of the church serve on the Board of Directors, and we’ve volunteered twice as a church to help with work days on campus.

So, while it wasn’t exactly as if there were a fire at the school where I went to Third Grade, it still hurts, much more so for the staff and students who do find a home at Beechwood.  The school is insured, and I hope the ~$400,000 in losses will be covered, but the time spent dealing with the damage and recovery, the losses from the school days without instruction, the  lesson plans and other “sentimental” items won’t be covered.  Beechwood could use you any support you can provide, financial or moral.


My Kind of Store: Reach and Teach

Craig Wiesner, co-founder of Reach and Teach, stopped by my blog the other day to offer congratulations on finishing the book, and commenting that Giving Back was the sort of book that fit in well at their store. This was a nice symmetry, since Craig had offered encouragement on the project just as I was starting to get serious about it, when I met him at a party in March 2011.

I interpreted Craig’s comment as an invitation to drop by the store, and I’m glad I did!  I’d been meaning to go before–they make their space available for community events, and some Collaborate For Africa (C4A) meetings have happened there, though somehow, I’d missed going.

While they were flipping through Giving Back, I was looking around at all the great stuff.  I’m mostly drawn to books, so flipped through (and bought) one on community organizing: Beautiful Trouble a how-to, with page-long descriptions of key principles and examples of implementing them.  Turning your old Palm Pilot into one of those “Hairy Dan” palettes with a magnetic stylus that lets you deposit iron filings was one of “62 Projects to Make with a Dead Computer”.  They also had a great selection of kids’ books, and toys and games.  I bought a couple of those, too, though don’t want to spoil the surprise of potential recipients by listing them here…  I decided I would leave a couple of things to purchase with my royalties from their sales, plus I had to rush off for dinner, but it was one of my favorite store visits in years!