Restorative Justice in Schools: Urban Essentials 101 – August 2, 2016

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Restorative Justice in Schools: Urban Essentials 101

Among the vast changes in California schools, one of the changes includes the need for restorative measures before suspension and expulsion can take place.  In the California Department of Education’s Code 48900.5, it states that:

“A pupil, including an individual with exceptional needs, may be suspended for any of the reasons enumerated in Section 48900 upon a first offense, if the principal or superintendent of schools determines that the pupil violated subdivision (a), (b), (c), (d), or (e) of Section 48900 or that the pupil’s presence causes a danger to persons” (California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5).

The letters corresponding to the offenses include the following:

A–altercations, fights

B-sold/furnished a knife or dangerous object

C-use/under influence or possession of drugs or alcohol

D-look alike substance (offered/tried to sell)

E-attempted to commit robbery or extortion

(California Department of Education, Education Code, Section 48900.5)

 

What does this information mean? It means that unless the student is deemed dangerous, he or she may not be excused or suspended on their first offense for minor infractions. The subdivisions above represent extreme cases resulting in suspension on the first offense yet other minor behaviors such as defiance, cursing, wayward behavior, etc., may not result in suspension. To a teacher, these minor offenses, if continual in the classroom, are often the major things which deter from teaching.  If students continually feel that they can get away with such behavior, they will continue to do so until something is done to modify the behavior. When efforts to modify a student’s behavior fail, a teacher is left frustrated and powerless in certain cases.

Administrators must show documentation that other efforts have been made to change a student’s behavior. There must be evidence to present once students and administrators meet with their school districts for suspension or expulsion hearings. So where can this modification happen?  Restorative Justice programs are one option. They have been purchased by many school districts in an effort to help teachers and students work through behavior issues with the hope that this modification will allow teachers to teach and students to learn.

One current program is called Urban Essentials 101: Unleashing the Academic Potential in Urban Underperforming Schools.  Created by Mr. Julius Lockett, a former police officer and educator, his program is one of many programs seeking to help students modify their behavior in the classroom.  Julius is adamant that his program will work in the schools if everyone is motivated to believe in the components of his program.  These components include the posture or belief system of the school and the teacher-student mediation process.

Although there are various programs claiming that they are restorative in nature, there is only one that stands out and includes the terms, “restorative justice in school communities.” That program is Urban Essentials 101.  UE101 is being adopted by various California schools in an effort to meet the requirements needed to restore relationships between students and educators. In an interview with Mr. Lockett, I learned that although Mr. Lockett is a very charismatic and persuasive presenter and educator, he, like many young men, struggled in the school system as a young man.

In high school, Mr. Lockett was involved in defiant activity including truancy and defiant behavior which eventually led him to juvenile hall.  Growing up in the urban ghettos of Atlanta, Georgia, Julius quickly learned that life was dangerous and harsh.  He knew he wasn’t a good student and with the negative influences surrounding him, this realization made it hard to see any hope in the future.

He credits three individuals to his change in behavior as a young man.  These three men were his father, Reverend Julius L. Lockett, his science teacher, Mr. Charles Banks, and his basketball coach, Mr. Calvin Jones.  It was Mr. Jones who helped him improve on his academic habits and behavior which eventually helped Julius get into college.  In all three cases, it was the relationship or connection of a special individual which Julius needed in order to turn his behavior around.  So it is no surprise that the program he created stems from the need for relationship building.

As explained by Julius, there are two different models or sources of restorative justice.  The first model, a countermeasure to the criminal justice system, focuses on questions such as “What law was broken? Who was the criminal? What punishment was given?” In response to the CJ model, RJ (restorative justice) asks such questions as “What harm was done? What are the needs of the harmed that was done? What can we do to make this right?”

Lockett’s model is restorative justice in schools. It focuses on developmental stages rather than questions.  These stages include the following:

  • Gaining commitment – capturing the hearts and minds of those involved in the process.
  • Developing a shared vision – understanding where teachers are going and why they are there in the program.
  • Developing responsive and effective practices – how we think about the people involved and how we address the students in difficult situations.
  • Developing a whole school approach – addressing different departments and bringing them together to unify in thoughts and approaches.
  • Developing personal relationships – connecting with students and teachers, staff, community.

Whereas the first models focus on punishment rather than reform, the restorative justice in schools approach, Urban Essentials 101, focuses on the relationship of teacher to student and modifying behavior of the student.

In asking Julius why other restorative justice programs have failed, he explained that many restorative justice models are being brought into the school districts and do not include implementation experience or presenters who know or have worked in schools. Also, some of the programs do not include a designated room for defiant students when trying to modify behavior.  In his program, the defiant student is pulled out of the classroom, thus allowing the teacher to continue teaching to the remainder of the students. Some of the other restorative justice programs have not been successful, because they set a program in place that is centered on punishment of the student and does not serve as a whole-school relationship builder between teacher and student. In essence, the school change and mentoring aspect between teacher and student is the driving force for the program.  This is where Urban Essentials 101 fits into the schools.

With a background in law enforcement and education, Julius designed a program that understands both the justice aspect of society and its issues along with the educational and relational aspect of school environments. The Urban Essentials 101 program includes a schoolwide posture, which is basically an acronym representing traits which the school wishes to follow such as FAITH or PRIDE as possible examples.  All students and teachers learn the posture and are reminded of the traits throughout the school community.  Another aspect of the program includes the teacher-student mediation process in which the defiant student must complete a form stating what happened from the student’s perspective. The student is sent out to an in-school suspension room for the teaching period. At a convenient time, the student must return later to the teacher, and together, the teacher and student write an agreement about improving the behavior or situation which occurred (Lockett).

Is the program full proof? Not completely. Of course, there are setbacks that come along with any new program implemented into the schools.  The buy-in from teachers is one of the main setbacks which Julius has seen in implementing such a program.  Some seasoned teachers, who have seen so many implementations come and go, sometimes do not wish to alter their form of discipline with their students.  To them, a referral or citation equals power over the student.  Another setback is sustainability.  Even if a school can implement the program, it takes time for any new implementation to become normalized. The longevity of a new program is always difficult to measure at any given time depending on the culture of the school and its teachers, students, and staff.  Like Julius has stated, it means nearly everyone must be on board for his program to succeed, and many times, this is not the case.

Another setback is also the student’s attitude in this program.  Some students, despite all efforts, may choose to follow their continued pattern of behavior, thus leading them into the path of suspension and expulsion.  However, even in these cases, the program is designed to show the efforts of teachers and administrators and the various measures that have been taken to help the student curb their unruly behavior.  Therefore, the last measures taken against these students include suspension or expulsion, in extreme cases.

Have there been triumphs? Yes, there have been several triumphs. Since implementing his program in various schools which include Merced Union High School District, Keller Leadership Academy (San Diego), Hiram Johnson High School (Sacramento) and Discovery High School (Natomas) just to name a few, there has  been  dramatic improvement in teacher-student relationships in the learning communities.  Student achievement has also increased since students want to remain in classrooms where they feel valued and connected to the teacher. The biggest triumph which Julius notes is the decrease in suspensions. 40% reduction in suspensions has been seen in schools where the program has been implemented.  Although there may always be unruly children despite the efforts made by educators, Urban Essentials 101 makes a conscious effort at establishing a connective bond between teacher and student so that students are taught, mentored, and counseled.  Students learn how to behave in situations where they might not have otherwise known how to act or change.

As a teacher at one of the Urban Essentials 101 trainings, I was intrigued by Julius in the way he immediately connected to his audience.  Somehow, he found a way to change many of our stubborn mindsets about mentoring, (or as he put it “Disciple-ing”), children by sharing his personal experiences, setbacks, and triumphs.  It is evident that his experience in law enforcement and education along with his spiritual connection to God has allowed him to change the way many teachers see education and discipline.

In closing, it is evident that as we look at the world with its current issues of hatred, terrorism, and violence, our children may be the next generation requiring extended counsel with issues they face in their homes, relationships, and community.  And although it has never been the place, our schools may once again play a part in counseling these students in addressing difficult behaviors and situations that otherwise would have been taught in the home. Although restorative justice in schools may not be the complete answer to discipline, at least Urban Essentials 101 is a starting point for teacher and student to unify, discuss, and peacefully resolve issues in a classroom.

 

Mr. Julius Lockett attended college at Georgia State University, earning a BS and MS in Public and Urban Affairs. He has also served as a police officer in Fulton County, Georgia.  In 1996, he took a position at VORP, (Victim Offender Reconciliation Program), an affiliation of Fresno Pacific College, under the founder, Ron Claassen. While working at VORP, he earned teaching credentials in Physical Education and Social Science from Fresno Pacific College.  He later earned an Administrative credential from the University of San Diego, California. He has served in California schools as both a teacher and administrator in the San Diego, Sacramento, and Merced areas for twenty years. Currently, he serves as a Program Administrator and Facilitator for Urban Essentials 101, Inc.

For inquiries about Urban Essentials 101, Mr. Lockett may be contacted at Julius@ue101.com or his website, www.ue101.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki – Book Review – July 23, 2016

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The novel, Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money, by Robert T. Kiyosaki is not the typical read.  It is a combination of personal account along with vast information that would make any middle to low income earner cringe.  The middle to low income earner cringes, because he realizes this man has known a secret that makes him millions and is easily attainable to all of us.

The how-to-book is a mixture of personal stories from Kiyosaki’s childhood and his adult life.  Although he is respectful of both of his dads, he does mention at times that he leaned more toward his rich dad’s belief system mainly because he produced results from his actions, such as investments, fortunes, etc. From the reading, one can tell that the poor dad had good intentions in raising his son and was a very hard worker; however, Kiyosaki wanted what his rich dad had attained.  Kiyosaki explains how he modeled his rich dad’s teachings and has been successful to this day.

In a very easy, straightforward style, Kiyosaki explains how one can attain wealth and assets.  He is quick to point out that those who spend carelessly will still find themselves paying for the luxuries that are wanted and not necessarily needed.  He is also adamant about learning financial lingo and terms if one wishes to understand how to make money work for oneself.  He acknowledges that many do not wish to take the time to learn such matters and he is correct in this statement.  Many people miss out on improving their financial status due to ignorance, not the opportunity to acquire a better income.

After finishing this book, I must admit that I am not a math person (even though I took higher level math courses in high school).  I tend to think in words since I am a writer and not necessarily in numbers.  However, after reading this book, I realize that the mentality or mindset which we have about money must change in order for us to be successful in our finances.

The book has motivated me to look for the opportunities which Kiyosaki suggests in acquiring wealth and to change the way I speak about money in front of my children. The rich or upper class do use money to their advantage and they teach this concept to their children by the way they handle their money in their daily finances.  All of his suggestions made logical sense and were reinforced with the personal examples he used in supporting his findings.

I would definitely recommend this book to any individual, especially those who consider themselves part of the middle to low income classes.  It is an insight into the world of the rich and a way for all of us to change our course of handling our money to better ourselves and our children.  Although guaranteed fortunes aren’t promised, by reading the book, one will learn how money can work for you in ways you never realized.

an Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski – Book Review – July 23, 2016

IMG_5603In one of the early passages of this novel, an Invisible Thread, written by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski, Laurie explains the idea of the “Invisible Thread”  and her relationship with an eleven year-old boy named Maurice:

“I believe there was a strong unseen connection that pulled me back to Maurice.  It’s something I call an invisible thread.  It is, as the old Chinese proverb tells us, something that connects two people who are destined to meet, regardless of time and place and circumstance” (Schroff, Tresniowski 6).

I came across this book in Barnes and Noble one day. I was intrigued that a professional sales rep and a young boy could strike a relationship that would last over years.  I began reading this novel one day and finished two days later.  The odd revelation that a busy professional felt compelled to return to this young boy, Maurice, on the streets of New York City, and the heartstrings that tugged and pulled at her to return to him each week made me want to keep reading. Any other person might have missed this opportunity in helping this young boy, but Laurie’s encounter proves that one person’s presence  is enough to change this young man’s life forever.

In the process of feeding Maurice and building a relationship with him, Laurie discovers that although their lives are very different as an adult and child, much of their childhood stories are similar. Maurice’s family life is very harsh and violent while Laurie’s early life is filled with tribulation and anxiety as well. What I enjoyed most about the novel are the chapters where the author returns to her childhood and explains some of the insecurities and trials she encountered in her own life.  It is in these chapters that the reader sees the connection of Laurie and young Maurice, who is in a daily struggle to survive something he cannot escape. Laura’s aid to young Maurice and all of the measures she takes to help him show what one person’s love and persistence can do to assist those in need.

To be honest, I did not think the novel would strike such emotion, but I found myself crying in several sections of Laurie’s account. Although I knew the novel would serve to inspire the reader, I found that the vivid descriptions of her life and young Maurice’s life made me aware of the divine intervention displayed in these encounters, and although I did not expect a spiritual read, this is exactly what I received.  What a great surprise to find hidden in the treasure of these pages, especially to an avid reader as myself.

Stylistically, Laurie’s account is not difficult to read by any means.  The authors, Schoff and Tresniowski, are straightforward in their writing efforts, and although dates and years are given to understand the timeline of events, it is by no means boring.  The structure of altering chapters between both characters serve the novel well as the reader sees the parallel issues unfold between the two individuals. Some inclusion of actual pictures and letters help to reinforce the strong bond established by these two individuals, Laurie and Maurice, in later chapters.

It is always a welcome joy to find a great novel among the millions of others on the book shelves.  I was thoroughly impressed by the tale of this woman, Laurie, and the young boy, Maurice.  Their love and friendship has endured throughout the years even to his adulthood.  I am always encouraged when I read stories of such magnitude that drive the human spirit to see beyond a simple encounter, and marvel in the divine connection that bring two people together.

See for yourself as you read an Invisible Thread.

My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry by Fredrik Backman- Book Review – July 23, 2016

backman grandmotherIMG_5602The novel, my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, by Fredrik Backman is a heartwarming story of a granddaughter’s love for her grandmother.  It is through the grandmother’s influence that the young protagonist, Elsa, with her quick wit and smart mouth, learns to address a cast of characters and makes this novel come alive.

When her grandmother passes away, Elsa struggles to find her place with her pregnant mother or mum, stepdad, and new baby to arrive, and her biological dad, with whom she finds it hard to communicate. While Elsa tries to understand the people around her, she soon discovers that her grandmother had plans for Elsa after her death, and that is, to discover and deliver several letters as a sort of treasure hunt for Elsa. In dispersing these unique letters, Elsa discovers hidden truths about the people surrounding her life.  As stories and tragedies arise in her realization of these people, Elsa learns that her grandmother is still teaching her even without her physical presence.

Stylistically, Backman’s writing style is eloquent and versatile as always; however, with the story of Elsa and her grandmother, there are sections that are a bit difficult to comprehend with the fantasy elements of their secret language and secret world, the secret world which the grandmother has taught to Elsa. For myself, there were parts where I became distracted mainly because of the inclusion of these fantasy elements. Others, however, may enjoy the inclusion of these elements.

The main theme of love and acceptance is reminiscent of Backman’s other work, The Book of Ove. Although it may be coincidence, the inclusion of the elders in the cast of characters is seen in both of Backman’s works and may suggest the reverence which we should pay to those who are older and wiser than ourselves. It may also suggest to the reader that elders should be cherished while they are still present in our lives.

In either case, the novel, my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry, is again a gem of Backman’s efforts to create a worthwhile and eye-opening novel filled with lines and dialogue that keep you reading and wanting more.

A Man Called Ove- Book Review – June 26, 2016

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One of the most interesting and heartfelt novels I have ever read is a novel called, A Man Called Ove, written by Fredrik Backman. The novel was published in English in 2013 and was a number one bestseller in his homeland of Sweden (Simon and Schuster.com).

Although I read this novel at the end of September (2015), I waited to write a review on the novel simply to soak in all of its goodness.  I had purchased the novel at a bookstore in Oregon and was intrigued how a fairly new writer was already a bestselling novelist. Since I was soon to be an author myself, I was curious at the success of the novel.

Once I started reading the novel, I couldn’t put it down. At the time, I didn’t exactly know what intrigued me or inspired me to keep reading the book.  All I knew  was that it had a story line that kept pulling me back for more.  The descriptions, many subtle in their placement within the novel, were so simple yet powerfully written. The words captured the essence of Backman’s heartfelt intent as he wrote the novel.

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In my English class, I present “book talks.”  This is where I share what I am currently reading at the time with “my kids.” While I was explaining a section of A Man Called Ove with the kids, I watched their faces as I explained the characters and the setting. I read several sections from the book and in that moment something happened. It was one of those moments that you never forget: you’re reading to your students and they sit awestruck, really contemplating the meaning of the words.

It was what I read to them that made them really stop and think about the main character, Ove, and his plight in the story.  Ove is described as an older gentleman who spends his days with the love of his life,Sonja.  One of the quotes I read them began,

“There’s a photo on the wall beside the front door, of Ove and Sonja.  It’s almost forty years old…She’s suntanned, wearing a red dress, and looking so happy. Ove is standing next to her, holding her hand.  He sits there for what must be an hour, just staring at the photo. Of all the imaginable things he most misses about her,the thing he really wishes he could do again is hold her hand in his.  She had a way of folding her index finger into his palm, hiding it inside.  And he always felt that nothing in the world was impossible when she did that.  Of all the things he could miss, that’s what he misses most” (Backman 69).

This quote exemplifies just one of the moments in the novel when we are drawn to Ove for his love to his wife, Sonja.

However, there were other instances when I felt like I wanted to strangle Ove for his drastic, almost illogical reactions to situations surrounding him; however, after the reader learns of his upbringing, it was apparent that there were many ingrained traits which Ove possessed which simply weren’t going to change.  The pattern and order of his life is like his religion and to change it would mean the world was going to end.  In seeing life through his eyes, we know that he is destined to do some of these crazy mundane stunts, yet we feel empathy for him because he is simply being himself.

A quote which demonstrates Ove’s lack of change reads,

“Now Ove is standing in front of his wife with two plants.  Because it was a question of principle.

‘There was no way I was going to pay three Kronor,’ rails Ove, his eyes looking down into the gravel.

Ove’s wife often quarrels with Ove because he’s always arguing about everything.

But Ove isn’t bloody arguing.  He just thinks right is right.  Is that such an unreasonable attitude to life?” (Backman 33).

The quote above definitely shows Ove’s stubbornness in certain cases. However, as in any compelling novel, there is always transformation of some sort and this definitely occurs in the character of Ove.  Without giving away the ending, we see Ove as a man truly transformed by the power of relationship and love.  Those people surrounding us can be powerful motivators, and those people who take the time to simply care about each other make us feel part of something greater than ourselves.  Love is a theme which transpires throughout the seams of the novel. It is the binding force that makes this novel truly something to be cherished.

After reading through each section of this novel, I remember putting the book down and just contemplating Backman’s craft.  I would keep thinking about the words that tugged at my heart in certain places and made me connect to my own life — experiences with love, loss, and hope. I marveled at the complexity yet the genuineness of such craft to make a reader feel this way each time. I even went back to certain pages to find those words which really left their imprint on me, then I’d say, yes, that’s the line.  So simple, yet speaks the truth.

Yes, this is the one thing which I can say made me keep coming back for more.  It was the meaning behind the carefully chosen diction,  and the subtle way in which thought and insight made this book reach out to me.

Now, here I am bringing it to you. Go to the bookstore, purchase the novel, sit in your favorite reading chair, and enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

The end of the year for teachers – May 30, 2016

We’ve all seen the posts on Facebook.  The posts about teachers ready for the summer –the pictures of crusty-eyed cats comparing us to just how tired teachers are this time of year or the videos of young children bursting gleefully through the doors of their campus, scattering this way and that way just to escape.  Yes, teachers of America can empathize with this feeling.

Many of my students ask me, “Mrs. Frenes, do you enjoy your job?  Why do you get the summers off?  Is that why you teach?”

My response, of course, is quite direct. “Well, listen Jimmy, I love what I do.  It is all I know and I enjoy the kids, my classroom, my colleagues.  But would I wish this career on anyone else?  No, and not for the reasons you would think.”

Veteran teachers (it will be my 20th year coming up) can say this and many will nod their heads – “We don’t know anything else other than teaching.”  By this statement, I mean, we don’t sit around daily adding up the stress levels that almost make our heads want to explode, or wonder why we have knots the size of boulders in our shoulders from grading, nor do we over analyze the 170 essays that need to be graded before next week’s grading period ends.  We just do what we need to do and that is our life. We have never known anything different than our teaching life.

Does it take a toll on our bodies? The answer is yes.  Before I started teaching, I actually had a full head of hair.  I’m not bald, mind you, but my daughters laugh when they see my hair in a ponytail and wonder where the rest of the strands are hiding. Yes, I used to have thick, shiny hair at the beginning of my career.  Now, well, I’m lucky if I still have hair to trim when I go to the salon.

And our bodies?  I have spent more money on a masseuse just to work out the knots in my neck that never quite go away from grading essays.  Maybe other English teachers are stronger than I am in this area, but many I know feel the same pain that I do.  English teachers will understand what I mean by this pain, because after spending hour after hour, night after night, trying to reach a deadline for a stack of essays, our arms are numb from commenting or grading, and our backs, necks, and shoulders have tensed to the point of no return.  We just see the deadline we set for ourselves and keep plugging along.  We don’t cry, we might whine, but we don’t stop.  We just see the deadline.

As for the summers off, I have stated this before to students, “If teachers didn’t have the summers off, they most likely would go crazy.  Not because of the work and not because of unruly students, but mainly because of the thousand little things given to us to do on top of all of the grading, teaching, etc.”

We are like a hamster on the spinning wheel racing along until someone stops the wheel, and says, “Here, take a break.” We, the hamsters (teachers), look in puzzlement, almost astonishment, at the person stopping the wheel, because we don’t know what to do with ourselves.  Of course, once we do stop to rest, we get home and crash, sleep, nap, or start blankly at the television.  It’s like a shock to our systems that we get a break.

Well, summer is almost here and teachers can rejoice as they see the numerous posts about the last day of school. We fantasize about what to do with all of the free time we will now have as summer approaches.  We are just like our kids needing a break,  running gleefully out of our doors until we return in August to get on the spinning wheel again.

 

 

Crossing from one world into the next

I’ve always been a spiritual person. Even as a child, I believed that there was more around us than what one saw presently on earth. By spiritual, I don’t mean a “holy roller” or “fanatic,” ready to convert the next sinner. Spirituality meant being connected to feelings or cues around me and seeing beyond the literal. 

The concept of spirituality has led me to the idea that there are angels or spirits among us who watch over us in our daily lives. I know many may think I am crazy, and this is understandable. Most people don’t take time to notice the small instances happening around us. 

When I was pregnant with my son, I was only about a week away from delivering. Nine days before I gave birth, my grandma (really my husband’s grandma of whom I claimed) passed away suddenly. With preparations for the burial and everything else which accompanies an event such as this one, there were so many overwhelming feelings. Our loss, more plans and arrangements, time to grieve. During this week, I sort of lost track of the days and realized that on the morning of the funeral, I would later be packing a bag for the hospital to deliver my son the next morning.

I began to ponder this concept of life and death. Here I was going to deliver a son and the day before, we had just buried and said goodbye to a beautiful and dear soul who had so impacted our lives. How was it possible that from one day to the next we were experiencing a pain so great in losing our loved one, and the next, marveling in God’s beautiful creation in our son’s birth? I remember feeling an eerie strange feeling after his birth, as if I didn’t know what I should be feeling, grief or happiness? sorrow or joy?  This was the feeling that lingered with me days and weeks after his birth which I didn’t understand. I knew I loved my son dearly, but the sudden loss of our grandma made this joy seem incomplete in some way. 

As my son grew, I began to notice that when I read to him, he would stare at me in an unusual way. At first, I couldn’t figure it out, but then I realized the look. His eyes would focus in a certain fashion and it was then that I knew. The look was the same stare which my grandmother gave me when we had our conversations. 

Grandma loved to read. As we drank coffee together, I could talk to her for hours on books and literature, so the connection soon made sense as I began to notice this pattern.  Something in her spirit was still lingering here around our newly born son as though she wanted to watch over us for awhile. I felt like she still wanted a little piece of time with us on earth.

There were other instances when my son gave me grandma’s look; it was enough to give me the chills as I thought of her spirit still with us. I know it was her and I could feel her presence with us in some way. 

After about a year and a half, that same look disappeared. In time, I figured it was her way of crossing back into the world she was now part of, the spiritual world of heaven. 

There have been other instances in my life when the presence of spirit has been very real. Skeptics will say that these ideas of angels and spirituality are nonsense, or a figment of one’s imagination. 

I say that if you pay close attention to your surroundings, you might just find a small piece of heaven lingering around you, asking you to take note of how precious your time is on earth. 

On Raising Daughters – October 30, 2015

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When I first became a mom, all I wanted was a healthy child.  I wasn’t set on one particular gender.  Whatever God gave me was fine by me.

So when I held my firstborn daughter, I was in love.  With each additional daughter (three daughters, then my son), I grew a heart for each of them.

Now, I look at my three daughters and my young son and I wonder, “How did I get through those early years?” The bottles, the diapers, the earaches at two in the morning.  I remember the endless anxiety of my children being sick or being properly cared for by their caregivers. It was a rough time.  I was like any other mom who loves their children and wanted to be reassured that they would be okay.

With a full time job, the anxiety increased tenfold as I questioned, “Am I giving them enough of my time?”  or “Am I being the mom that I’m supposed to be?” Balancing work and motherhood was always the struggle and there was never enough time to be the mom I wanted to be.

It’s not like you’re given an owner’s manual at the end of your hospital stay that reads, “Follow directions 1,2, 3, then proceed on with life.” No one prepares you for what is coming each day and most moms do the best we can as experiences emerge in our daily lives.  Eventually, I relaxed and started to feel comfortable in this role of mother to my children.  However, it was never easy.

I can say this — raising daughters can be a tumultuous, mind boggling experience when you consider the emotional and sensitive nature of our lovely daughters.

I say this in a loving yet reflective way since I can say that I’ve been through the teenage years with them (I’m still going through this stage with my youngest daughter) and I’m heading toward the early adulthood age with my eldest (she’ll be twenty-one soon).  And as I look at each daughter, in the fine complexity of each being, I have always tried to remember that although they come from me and are definitely part of my heart, each one is still their own person with different traits and strengths that I attempt to reach in their own time and way.

When I say “in their own time and way,” I’m referring to the cues I get when addressing each daughter based on their temperament and feelings.  Gauging this aspect of a daughter can be daunting in itself, because most of the time, I’m trying to see what I need to be for her and hope I’m correct.

I realize now that it is by the grace of my experience as a teacher that I have learned how to let them be their own person and have tried to let go of the fact that they are not expected to be “me.” I have seen many mothers try to be their daughter’s “friend” and then have it backfire when the mother didn’t like what the daughter was doing.  And I’ve also seen the opposite, the die hard mom, who insisted that her way was always right, and that was the end of it. Neither scenario seemed effective to me as I have viewed these examples over and over again in my years as a teacher. I think this has been a great lesson to learn early on as a mother, because it has released such arguments and anxiety to the question, “Why can’t you just do as I do?” “Why can’t you be me?”

There are still struggles that I have with each daughter, such as how to dress appropriately for each age level and how to speak respectfully to us in tone and manner, some of which, girls, especially, don’t realize they are coming across in a certain way. Again, this is part of all girls and their emotional characters.  Other struggles include what to put on social media in a world where every emotion, word, (and picture that goes along with it) is expressed for everyone to see.  With each daughter, there has been a unique struggle which I have encountered and had to embrace.

Since I have already been through these years, I now see myself very differently than them in many ways.  In my generation as a Hispanic teenager, there were certain things or expressions I never would have been allowed to express in any way. Like the question, “But how come?” or “That’s not fair.” These expressions alone would have been enough for a lecture in my household. I had no say so in my home at times, because my parents were my parents.  That was it. It was mainly out of respect that certain questions weren’t warranted.

However, I can accept that my daughters see things in their unique ways and still love them for their views.  And although I may not always agree, it is with my heart that I see them opening up to me  in our discussions and expressing how they see the world, in their own time and with the consideration of their generation.

As a mother and educator, I want my daughters to question and examine the choices made around them and wonder why things are being handled in certain ways. I really want them to think situations through and analyze their choices before acting on them.  And I want to be able to talk openly about marriage, relationships, expectations which we have of each other, and a multitude of other topics that they want to explore. Realizing this wish, it does come with many challenges.

We are vast worlds apart in our experiences.  The issues that they face and see everyday are concepts I couldn’t even begin to fathom at their age.  In trying to guide them in a world where I don’t have much experience with these issues, it makes these experiences very challenging to give advice and I hope it is correct for their situation. Everything in their world comes quicker and faster in their generation of technology and social media. I want them to question and then question again what is happening in their world. Their thoughts and opinions should still reflect integrity and respect in the ever changing world of individuals choosing to do whatever feels good at the present moment.

Also, the people and groups surrounding them are vast and unique. However, I want them to be tolerant of differences and love those around them in a way that they would wish to be loved themselves.  I find that now with the emergence of gay, lesbian, and transgender individuals coming forth in many facets of our lives, my daughters are the first to accept those different than themselves and see them with eyes of compassion, and possibly more so than I could have at their age, due to my generation and the stigma associated with issues which weren’t even discussed in my teenage years.

And so, when I see each daughter, I remember her as the baby I once held long ago, with hopes and dreams of her future endeavors. Eventually, I am brought back to the reality that as I watch each daughter emerge into the beautiful young woman she was meant to be, she is taking pieces of what I say and do every day of my life, and shaping her own view of the woman she hopes to become. She is merging her idea of the present world with the world of letting me go as her mother, while still holding onto the pieces she dearly needs for security.

All I can do is be present for her, model what traits I hope she’ll take from me, and tell her that I love her along the way. I’m a mother who will always be by her side in her triumphs and failures. I will constantly be watching, guiding, and molding her, when she so wishes this action from me, and even in times when maybe she doesn’t. I will love her in times when she can’t love herself.

This is what mothers of daughters always do.

And the page turns….October 13, 2015

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The package arrived and in eagerness, I asked my boy to help me open the box.  I was anxious to see the contents of my first novel.  I had seen it on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Others had already started reading and responding to the story with positive reviews. But, I wanted the moment to come when I would turn the pages to my own novel, Always Connected.

I had worked on this novel for over two years and finally decided to publish this summer. However, I knew that reading it for the billionth time in my own home on my computer wasn’t going to be the same as when it was done, completed, and finished.

So as my ten year old son pulled out the scrunched up paper from on top of my copies, I saw the cover, designed by my niece, Kayla Montemayor, a Senior at Clovis East High School.  Kayla is a gifted artist and when I told her about the story and my ideas, she designed the perfect cover. Her design captured the essence of the story, a young woman meeting her father for the first time in twenty-six years. The picture said it all.

What did it feel like to open my own novel?  Amazing! Pure and simple.  I looked at the names in my dedication and acknowledgment pages and marveled at how special these people were to me through this experience.  Something that had taken me so long was now locked into the pages of this new, fresh memory. It was captivating to look at the pages and see my name throughout the book and realize that I’m now a published author.

But really, I’m still the same exact person I was even before writing the novel.

What do I mean, you say?  Well, I never wanted to publish a novel for the fact of blowing up my ego a million times or to brag about what I had accomplished.  The love of writing is the reason why I wrote the novel and the feeling I get after I write something which no one else on earth can write in the same way. The fact that my ideas and thoughts are solely mine and embedded in these pages is enough for me.  I think most aspiring writers would agree.

And so, life continues as I head toward future novels, some of which I have already started to write.  The feeling of opening the pages of my first novel was awesome.  Nothing will ever replace that single memory. I also know that without a doubt when I open the page to another brand new novel which I’ve written, I will experience this same feeling once again and it will never get old.  Never.

On Becoming An Author – September 25, 2015

6x9KDP300dpi (1)     A dream is about to come true.  I am going to be an author.

     For the longest time, I have waited for this moment.  I have accumulated stories, poems, ideas, in the hopes that someday I would take the next step and actually do something with these projects.  In between being a wife and a mother to four children, I have also taught for nineteen years at the same high school and have loved my life.  It has been a little hectic at times, but it is my life and I wouldn’t change it.

      However, somewhere in the back of my mind, I was always wondering, “When will my stories be published?”  “When will I have the time?”

     In my life, time is a rare commodity.  I realized that I needed to make the time to get my work done. So, this summer I finally decided to research and see what I needed to do in order to get my work published.  And by published, I meant self-publishing.

     I had read the stories of authors who had waited months, even years to try to publish their work through a traditional publisher.  It was a fairly easy decision to try self-publishing for my first novel and see where this road would take me.

     I hired a copy editor and began the process of editing my (what I thought was) final copy.  It was a very humbling experience to go through this process since I really thought I was clear in my writing.  Well, I was wrong and hiring someone to help me really take a look at my own writing was an eye opener.  She made writing seem flawless, which it definitely wasn’t. I also gave myself a deadline since I had most of the summer to get the final editing done.  I wrote early in the morning for hours, and then, I still had the rest of the day to spend time with my family. Meeting my deadline was one part of the process.

     The next part was developing an audience for my novel.  So, I began the process of connecting to people on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  I began posting my synopsis of the book and the cover.  Amazingly, my family, friends, former students, and strangers began to take an interest and the support I have received has been immense.  Since I have shared much of my writing with my students (through examples for essays, assignments, etc), it was no surprise that they knew I could actually write.  I also created an Author Page on Facebook to invite as many people to follow my project or further projects.

     I also created a Facebook group called “Unexpected Blessings,” which is devoted to sons or daughters who have lost the connection of a father and were unknown to them, due to a former girlfriend or spouse never letting them know of their child’s existence.  Since my novel, Always Connected, is inspired by real events, this idea of a father not knowing his child is not a foreign concept.  The fictional story line centers on a father who realizes he has a daughter twenty-six years later.  It is an intriguing story of twists and turns as this new daughter becomes part of his family.

      So, in a few days, I will embark on this journey as an author.  It has always been my calling after being a wife, mother, and teacher.  I have always known this day would come and I knew that I didn’t want to wait forever for it to take place.  So we’ll see where this takes me and hopefully, as time continues, there will be more novels to share and enjoy with my readers.

Take a look at Always Connected. You might be inspired to see life differently.  It is the story that changed my life in a second. It just might change you.