Monday, August 19, 2019

What's Your Story?


One of my favorite times of the year is when our school works together to serve others.  This past April we had our third annual Poverty Action Week.   One of the special learning opportunities every grade level experiences that week is to hear different ministry leaders share their stories with our students.  I had the privilege of talking with two of this year’s speakers.
In my short conversation with Sr. Margaret I listened with awe as she shared some of her experiences.  Her humility inspired me.  It was apparent that Sr. Margaret loved sharing the Gospel through her role as a Daughter of Charity.  Our conversation reminded me of that quote from Mother Teresa, “I am like a pencil in God’s hand...  He does the writing.  The pencil has nothing to do with it.”  Sr. Margaret’s joy stemmed from the story God was writing in the lives of the people she serves.

Sr. Margaret was first inspired by the work of the Daughters of Charity when she was going to law school in Saginaw, Michigan.  She shared how watching the Daughters of Charity’s work with the poor inspired her to become a sister.  Since becoming a nun, Sr. Margaret has used her legal background to help people in need.  She has been an advocate for patients, helped Haitian refugees, and educated prison inmates.  Sr. Margaret enlisted the help of her friends to build a proper education building for the inmates she was teaching while she was serving in the South Pacific.  She helped create and maintain a library and an after school program.  Sr. Margaret worked with special needs high school students, and she was her community’s lead representative to the United Nations. 
I am truly grateful that Sr. Margaret shared her experiences with our students.  Listening to her story reminded me of how important it is to follow our call, and that our callings are unique and given to us by God. 
While Sr. Margaret was speaking with our fourth and fifth graders, Joanna was speaking with my first graders.  Joanna’s children have all graduated from our school now, and she is currently working on her masters degree in social work.  Joanna shared with my students about her experiences working with women through a program called Changed Choices.  The mission of Changed Choices as stated on their website https://changedchoices.org is “As followers of Christ, we empower currently and recently incarcerated women to achieve lasting, positive change through programming and personalized mental, emotional, physical and spiritual support.” (8/12/19)
Joanna described how she felt the first time she went to visit the women at Changed Choices.  She told my students that she left that first morning thinking that bad people were in prison.  “But after meeting these women for the first time I realized that they were good people who had made a really bad choice.  These women were funny, smart, pretty, kind, young and old.  Making mistakes is part of being human.  We all need a little help sometimes, and we all need support to get through tough times.”
Joanna explained that it’s a privilege for the women she works with to meet with her.  “We meet with them for one hour.  We’re the only people from the outside they get to see.  They have to see family members through a glass window.”   My students were greatly impacted when Joanna shared how grateful these women are to touch grass, and that they get up at 4:30am.
Joanna reminded my students “It doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made.  We’re better than the worse thing we’ve ever done in our life.” What a powerful reminder of our communal need for Grace.
I can think of no better way to show our students how they can be pencils in God’s hands than to continue to share the stories of ministry leaders like Joanna and Sr. Margaret.
What’s your story?  How are you helping others?  How are your students helping others?  Let’s keep this conversation going.
As always, thanks for reading.
Ellen


Sunday, August 4, 2019

What Does it Mean to be Brave?

What does it mean to be brave? Merriam Webster's online dictionary defines it as "having or showing mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficulty :having or showing courage."  

I've reflected a lot on what it means to be brave in the last two years as I've faced unexpected health challenges which led to being diagnosed with a chronic condition. I've described my journey as a roller coaster.  I joke that this is why I don't like real roller coasters.  I don't like being jarred, jerked, surprised, and unexpected turns and drops.  I much prefer a smooth, calm, leisurely walk on the beach.  

In order to stay healthy, I've had to make drastic changes in my diet, and I have had to accept that some days my best efforts can't alleviate my symptoms.  I've struggled with managing my frustration, and I've read a lot to become more informed on my condition.  I've met some inspiring and encouraging people.  I've learned to look for the good in all my days, not just the ones where I'm able to take a calm walk.

During the course of my journey, I became aware of Taylor's story.  I knew I wanted to share it on my blog.  Taylor is a living example of what it means to be brave.  


Here is my interview with Taylor:

How did you discover that you had diabetes?  
It took quite a while before they officially diagnosed me with Type 1 Diabetes, but several months leading up to the diagnosis I had not been feeling well. I was always tired, I felt super weak, and I constantly needed to go to the bathroom. I found it extremely hard to play sports because I was so weak. I also had lost over 30 pounds in just a few months which was a big red flag to my family. When the symptoms first started I was told it was just a sinus infection and was given an antibiotic. After weeks passed with no sign of relief, my mom finally decided to take me back to the doctor. None of us were expecting the diagnosis of diabetes.  


How did your diagnosis affect your life?  Who helped you the most?
It was a whirlwind of emotions when I was first diagnosed. I remember I just kept thinking "How am I supposed to do this for the rest of my life?" After the diagnosis I was pretty scared to jump back into my life with school and sports because I was still processing all that had happened. But step by step I took on this new challenge in my life, and day by day it got a little easier. I definitely have become more aware of what foods I eat, and I have to watch myself extra carefully when I am playing sports and exercising.  My whole family, especially my parents, really helped me adjust to this big change. This was just as new to them as it was to me, but they were always right there when I needed them the most. I couldn't have gotten through it without them. Also, I am so thankful because I have the most supportive and amazing friends. Many of us have been friends since our days as Saint Matthew Wildcats. They were so understanding, and they didn’t treat me any different after the diagnosis which was exactly what I needed. They are such a blessing in my life.


Was there anything that helped you that you would like to share with other children who have diabetes?
A big problem I struggled with and continue to struggle with is the feeling that I need to be perfect at managing it. Diabetes, as I have learned, is a roller coaster. No matter how hard you try you will have some days that your blood sugar is trending high, and that’s OK. My biggest advice to other kids like me is don’t worry about having that perfect report. As long as you are managing it to the best of your abilities, you are doing amazing! Another thing that really helped me is knowing that I am not alone in this disease. While sometimes it may feel like no one understands, there are people all over that have the same hardships and struggles, and we are all supporting each other. That is why attending Camp Morris had such a big impact on me. 


How did you come up with the idea to start a non-profit?
After I was diagnosed, I spent about 24 hours in the hospital so they could monitor and stabilize my blood sugar. Throughout my hospital stay I was visited by multiple educators and members of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. They gave me a ton of information to process in a short time, but everyone was so wonderful and patient and assured me that this would not hold me back from experiencing life. It was on the way home from the hospital that I realized that I wanted to do something that would benefit the Type 1 Diabetes community. I wanted to help other children adjust to their new life, but I was unsure of what I could do. After a couple more conversations with my parents, the idea for Type Taylor was born!





What are your current goals for your non-profit?
My current goals for this non profit is to be able to send two children to a camp I have attended for the past two summers. This camp is for all diabetics ranging from rising third graders to rising eleventh. I really believe this camp can change someone's life because it changed mine. Being in that environment where everyone understands and supports each other is really indescribable. While there are so many amazing diabetes research studies being funded around the world for a cure, my main focus is trying to help children manage and live with their diabetes while we all hope for a future cure. 


What are your dreams for your non-profit?
My dream for this non profit is to continue to expand to help families that may be struggling within the Type 1 community in whatever way I can. Whether that be continuing to send children to camp or helping provide diabetic supplies, as long as it is aiding the Type 1 community in some way I am all for it. 


How can people help you?
Any donation, no matter how small, is so greatly appreciated. Along with donations, spreading awareness about this nonprofit and Type 1 Diabetes is helpful to our cause. I am so grateful to be a part of the St. Matthew community and to have met so many wonderful people on this journey. I cannot express enough how thankful I am for your support and contributions. Our website is endtype1.com, and there you will find additional information regarding Type Taylor and how to donate. Also you can reach us at help@endtype1.com with any questions or comments. 


A little side note: This summer I was fortunate enough to send a kid to camp. His name is Wesley, and he is a rising fourth grader. He was diagnosed when he was two years old, but his family had never been able to afford this camp. Throughout the week, I watched Wesley make friends and embrace his Type 1 Diabetes, and that was something I cherished watching. He loved it so much that on the last day the counselors couldn’t get him to pack because he didn't want to leave. This week only made my passion for this non profit stronger. I knew what a big impact the camp had on me, but seeing firsthand the effect this camp had on him and the joy he had while being there moved me in a way I cannot describe.


I am grateful to Taylor for sharing her story and for encouraging us to face our challenges and to look for ways to help others who are struggling.

Thanks for reading,

Ellen

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Let's Do Something...




Poverty Action Week
St. Matthew Catholic School
Charlotte, North Carolina
April 8-12, 2019


Have you ever longed for more opportunities to remind your students that we are all part of one human family...our collective human family?

This is the third year that St. Matthew Catholic School in Charlotte, North Carolina has set aside Poverty Action Week for that purpose.  We want to remind our students of their greater purpose through Catholic Social teachings.  Our theme this year was One Human Family...

For all of Lent, students and their families collected change in their rice bowls to benefit Catholic Relief Services.



Our fourth and fifth grade students had the privilege of hearing Thomas Awiapo speak at the beginning of Lent.



Each year Poverty Action Week culminates with a school wide food packing event.  This year our students, parents, faculty and staff packed over 50,000 meals for servantswithaheart.org.  




During the week students also had the opportunity to listen to community leaders talk about their experiences serving in the community and beyond.  



For our Mass that week students had the chance to recognize ministry leaders from our parish for their volunteer efforts.


During Poverty Action Week I showed this video on https://www.kulaproject.org/.  My purpose in showing this video was to remind my students of their friends in Rwanda.  They've been bringing in change to support the work of Kula Project all year.  


After watching the video one of my girls asked me, "Miss Deem, why are they so happy if they are so poor?"

I paused for a moment and then said to her, "I think they're happy because they are grateful for things we take for granted -- like their homes and the opportunity to send their children to school."

Of all the experiences I shared with my class this year during Poverty Action Week, her question has resonated with me the most.  

I would like to spend the remaining six weeks of our school year reminding my students of their blessings and encouraging them to keep sharing those blessings with others in need.





Please let me know how your students are making a difference in their communities and in the world.  Let's start a conversation about service.  Let's do something to make a difference.



As always thank you for reading,


Ellen









Go to the Top of the Bleachers, Ellen



Go to the top of the bleachers, Ellen...

I didn't want to move....

They told me I had no choice. If I wanted to stay in my apartment complex I had to willingly give up my lease which ended in the summer and move the end of April.  The new owners wanted all the remaining apartments renovated by July.

I had lived in my apartment for twelve years.  I had experienced so much life in those twelve years. I had grieved the loss of both my parents during those twelve years.  I had lost two cats during those twelve years.  They didn't understand what an impossible task it would be for a first grade teacher to move with 7 weeks of school left.  I was comfortable.  I didn't want to be uncomfortable during the most challenging time of the school year.

My boyfriend, friends, and family all told me not to worry.  They told me they would help me.  They told me I would learn to love my new space.  They told me I was making room for my future.

So just like Sam I Am's friend in Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham, I decided to embrace the thing I didn't want to do.  I packed and purged and labeled every single thing I owned.  I had to face reality that I was still hanging on to too much from my parents.  I had to face reality that I needed to start digitizing some of my notes and photos.  I had to let go to move forward.  Facing my move was like choosing to try green eggs and ham.  I didn't believe I would like it, but I knew I had to try.


Just as they promised, my boyfriend, friends, and family showed up in full force to help me moving day.  They worked hard, helped me with whatever I needed, and made sure I wasn't alone until every task had been completed.  These are only some of the friends and family who showed up that day.  I even had to tell friends to not worry about coming because we accomplished more than I ever imagined we could in just 8 hours.  What was I complaining about?



My transition to my new home was a rough one, but almost a year later, I can see how making that move was the best thing for me.

I'm still purging, letting go, donating, and reorganizing.  I'm still grieving, but I'm also celebrating.  I'm remembering my parents with smiles and gratitude more often than tears.   

My new home has more light.  My new home has a fireplace and built in bookshelves.  I'm focused more on my present now.  I'm enjoying my books, movies, and music more.  My cat loves being able to see the birds in the tops of the trees.  I even have a real TV. Up until my move I had two tube TVs.  I couldn't see the point in throwing out televisions that worked. 

Now you may be wondering about the title of this blog post.  Why would I choose the title "Go to the Top of the Bleachers, Ellen"?

Recently I attended professional development for our diocese and had the opportunity to catch up with a really good friend who now works at another school in our diocese.  We were in the high school gym, and I suggested we go to the top of the bleachers to listen to the presentation.  While we were listening to the priest, I realized how powerful it was to listen from the top of the bleachers.  Not only were we better able to focus on the priest's message, we were able to see in real life high definition the collective strength of our colleagues.  Seeing that many of our teachers together reminded us that we're not alone.  I see educators (myself included) tweeting all the time that "We're Stronger Together."  Seeing all the teachers from our diocese together in one room made that concept much more meaningful for me that day.

Being a year removed from my move, I can see that I'm not alone and that my new home has fostered great growth in me.  Living on the third floor of my apartment building is like living at the top of the bleachers.  My new view and surroundings have put my life and my calling in better perspective.  I am blessed more than I realized. I have lots more to learn, but I can see how the pain of my move brought me to a much better place literally and figuratively.  I'm excited to see what the next year will bring for me personally and for me as an educator.

Go eat green eggs and ham fellow educators.  I am confident that you will be glad you did:)

As always, thanks for reading,


Ellen

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

An Angel To Watch Over Me: My Interview with Author Alan Brady

Everyone has a story. Part of my story involves the families of the children I teach. I've wanted to write about one of those families for quite some time. I've taught two of their four children. From the moment I found out that Mr. Brady had written a children's book, I've been curious about how this story came to be a book. One of my dreams is to publish a children's book so I wanted to know the story behind this beautiful book, An Angel To Watch Over Me.

As I reflected on Mr. Brady's responses to my questions, I realized his answers tell the story of An Angel To Watch Over Me far better than I ever could. All I needed to do was write an introduction and share his story with the world.

I've used this book with my class on the Feast of the Guardian Angel. What I love most is how quickly my first graders are intrigued by the story of Joe. What I appreciate most about the author is his reason for publishing the story.

I hope you enjoy the story behind An Angel To Watch Over Me.






My interview with Alan Brady the author of An Angel To Watch Over Me:


Where did you get the idea to write An Angel To Watch Over Me?  Is it based on experiences you had as a child or experiences you’ve had as a father?

"When I was very young, I had a strong belief in God and the fact that each of us is given a guardian angel to help us on our journey in this life.  By the time I was in college I had completely drifted away from my faith.  I started my working life with very material goals and an outlook on life that was very self-centered. By the time I hit my thirties I was very fortunate to meet someone who made me think about someone other than myself.  As we made plans to get married, we both started going back to church and so began my journey back to my faith.  About a year after I married my wife Melissa, I had a Road to Damascus experience that forever deepened my faith.  It was as if someone pulled back the veil that keeps us from seeing the reality and true presence of God in the world as well as the reality of evil.  I don’t want to get into the specifics of what I experienced but it is enough to say that I no longer believe as a matter of faith that God exists, I know this as fact because of my experiences.

As a result of this deep conversion I have struggled with finding a way I can help others draw closer to God and deepen their own faith.  I wrote An Angel To Watch Over Me for my own children to help them see how important it is to place God at the center of their lives, and to know how much God loves them.  Our guardian angels are a sign of that love for each of us, and I wanted my children to see that God has given them a friend that they can turn to at any time, no matter how discouraged, lonely or frustrated they may be.  My children have a childhood that has many unseen friends such as Christmas elves, the Easter Bunny and tooth fairies.  Drawing upon my own experiences I thought how much better it would be to foster a belief in someone who is actually real, and a friend that can really help my kids throughout their life, even if they can’t see that person.

As a father, and an ordinary and unremarkable individual, I wanted to inspire my own children that in God’s eyes, there is no such thing as an ordinary child and that each person is unique.  I wanted my kids to know that you don’t need to the brightest or the strongest to make a difference in this world.  I wanted them to understand and to achieve their purpose in this life, which is to love God, to reach heaven and to help as many people as they can fulfill that same purpose."


What was the most difficult part of the writing process for you?  What was the most rewarding part of the writing process for you?
"The most difficult part of the writing process was editing and refining the story.  I wrote the first draft in a couple of weeks and this part was relatively easy as I felt inspired in what I wanted to say.  I could see myself as a child in the main character Joe, and I drew upon some elements of my own experiences in the story.  However, reading and re-reading the story and attempting to look at it with a fresh set of eyes to make more careful word choices and changes to the story was a longer process, and this took a bit more patience.
The most rewarding part of the writing process was to create a story that is rooted in the eternal truth that God loves each one of us beyond all understanding.  This story offers hope to every child that God has great plans for them, even if they believe themselves to be ordinary and unremarkable.  It felt great to write something that might make a difference in the lives of my own children and hopefully many others; to believe beyond what we can see with our own eyes through the light of faith."

Do you have a favorite part of this story?  

"My favorite part of the story is when Joe’s guardian angel brings him back in time before creation and shows him that our existence is not just an accident or the creative hand of God at any given moment in time.  We see that God knew every detail about every person that will ever be born before he created the universe billions of years ago.  God loved each one of us before time began and he has waited for each one of us since then.  Now that is patience!"

How long did it take you to complete the book?
"As I mentioned, the first draft took a couple of weeks but it was probably four months before I had a draft I thought was close to completion.  I tried contacting a large number of literary agents specializing in children’s fiction around that time but I did not have any positive responses.  I did submit my manuscript to a select number of religious publishers but nobody was interested.  I was running out of options when a relative suggested self-publishing and I thought I had nothing to lose by investigating this as a possibility.
I settled on Outskirts Press to self-publish my book based upon the cost, client reviews and conversations I had with members of the publishing team.  I knew that the illustrations for the book would be a key element in the storytelling and appeal of the book.  On this basis I decided to seek out an illustrator myself rather than use the publisher’s in-house resources.   I narrowed down possible illustrators through the website Thumbtack, however, I was still not sure I could make a decision based upon work samples I had seen.  As the illustrations for the book represented a significant investment for me, I decided to ask my preferred artist to complete an image of the guardian angel in the story based upon my input and the description in my manuscript.  I was delighted with the result and commissioned Bhavna Bhen to complete the illustrations.  Unfortunately, Bhavna had a battle with cancer not long after she started work, but thankfully she did not abandon my project.  Bhavna’s work was put on hold for about five months while she made a recovery.  The illustration process took about a year in total.  It took an additional 3 months to complete all of the submissions to the publisher and finalizing the text placement, cover design and other publication issues.  In total the book took about 1 year and 7 months from concept to publication."

Are you planning any future books?  Do you have a favorite place to write?  

"As of now, I do not have any other future books planned but I have certainly not ruled this out.  I have thought about writing a faith-based book aimed at an adult audience, but I am not yet ready to start that project.  As far as a favorite place to write, I have an office in my home which is quiet during the day and this works well for me."

Who are some of your favorite authors?  Who are some of your children’s favorite authors?
"When I was younger, I used to read books by authors like John Grisham and David Baldacci and the purpose of my reading was for entertainment.  Unfortunately, with four children and a busy school and activity schedule I find that I don’t have as much time to read as I would like.  When I do find time to read, I like to read spiritual based books from which I can learn something new about my faith and the lives of the saints.  On my trips back to Ireland to see my parents I re-read the Diary of Saint Faustina.  For me this is the most important book I have read after the Bible, and a great influence on my faith life.
Like many parents, I feel that my kids could read more, and they have not really fallen in love with reading just yet.  My eldest (12) really liked Wonder by R.J. Palacio and Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate."

What advice do you have for aspiring authors?  

"What motivates me is to write about something that not only inspires you but something that makes a difference in the world.  If we are to be judged on what we did in this life, then find a voice that tells a story that can help other people on their journey. It might not always be the most commercially successful approach, but there are many rewards in this life and the next life that are not financial in nature."

I hope that Mr. Brady's story inspires you to share your story.  

If you would like to contact Mr. Brady regarding his book, please email him directly at brady.alan.john@gmail.com.





As always, thanks for reading,

Ellen


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Welcome to Our Neighborhood!






Dear 1-D Parents,

I'm so happy to have the privilege of teaching your children for the 2018-2019 school year.  I thought it might be helpful to put my parenting resources in a blog post this year so you would have access to them on your phone.

One of the smartest decisions I made this summer was to go see the Mr. Rogers documentary.  That film rejuvenated me in more ways than I can describe.  I was reminded of when I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Rogers in college.  I was so nervous when I approached him to ask for his autograph for my cousin.  Since this was long before smart phones, I have no photographs to commemorate this moment.  What I remember most was his kindness.  He took my cousin's address and sent him an autographed photo and a letter.  He was exactly who he presented himself to be on television.  I realized two things this week in reflecting on this moment.  First, I want my first graders to be as comfortable as he was with who God has created them to be.  Second, Mr. Rogers planted a seed that day.  God used Mr. Rogers to start me on my journey towards teaching.  I just didn't know it at the time.  If you haven't already done so, please see Won't You Be My Neighbor?

http://focusfeatures.com/wont-you-be-my-neighbor/




Here are some of the books I've read and am currently reading that I think would be helpful:



Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever



http://www.reclaimingconversationbook.com/


Image result for reclaiming conversation









scc_book


This website is a very helpful parenting resource: http://www.familiesmanagingmedia.com/


Our service project supports families in Rwanda.  Please visit their website to learn more about who your children will be helping.



We are working on being good neighbors in 1-D.  We have been enjoying ending our day watching clips from Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.  

Our time together will fly.  Know that I cherish each day with your children and look forward to working with you this year.

Sincerely,

Miss Deem


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Dear Doc,

I've accepted my struggle with putting into words how Roy Halladay inspired me to be a better teacher.  I started this post back in November shortly after his passing.  I miss this man's presence in the game that I love so much, and I have decided it's okay that my post is unfinished.  My prayers remain with his wife, sons, and loved ones.  

November 2017

Dear Doc,

Tuesday was a tiring day for me.  I came home tired and grumpy and knew I needed to change my attitude.  After school I went home to change into more comfortable clothes before going to dog sit.  When I opened my closet full of Phillies shirts I decided I needed to channel you, follow your example, and improve my mindset.  I put on my Halladay shirt and got in my car to drive to my pet sitting job.  Before I started my car, my phone rang.  My friend Mark was calling to find out if I had heard the news.  He was the first to tell me that you had passed away that afternoon in a plane crash.  As the afternoon turned into evening, more friends and family members called and texted to make sure that I knew, and to share memories of you. 





July 28, 2018

I started this post back in November.  I still don't feel like I have the right words to describe how much you inspired me to be a better teacher.  I was blessed to be in the just the right time and place to take these two pictures.  I always wished I could have given them to you, but in hindsight I realize I needed to share them with Phillies Phans.  I took the top picture in Pittsburgh in 2012 during batting practice.  When I look at it I see one of my favorite players contemplating his gift.  I've looked at it countless times to remind me that teaching is my gift.  I took the bottom picture in Atlanta in 2013.  It was the only time I was present to see you pitch in person.  It was a rough day for you.  What I remember most is watching you warm up and seeing how hard you fought that day.  My niece and nephew were excited to see you pitch in person despite, the cold, the rain, and the score.  They even drew me pictures of you after the game. 

I miss seeing you pitch.  I miss seeing you encouraging and mentoring younger pitchers during Spring Training.  

I'm grateful for your example, Doc.  My prayers remain with your family and loved ones.


Ellen












What's Your Story?

One of my favorite times of the year is when our school works together to serve others.   This past April we had our third annual Poverty ...