Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Top of Spaghetti, All Covered in Cheese...I Lost My Poor Meatball, When Somebody Sneezed.

(Note: Although this looks like my marble countertop, these are not my meatballs. My meatballs are much better looking, thank you, because my parents taught me well).

(all in text - he was at work)

Bryan: I know you are are work. What sounds good to you?
Chitunga: Spaghetti and meatballs.
Bryan: It's like 100% humidity outside. You want meatballs.
Chitunga: Yes, that sounds good.
Bryan: Actually, it does sound good. I'll see what I can do.

And the day takes off. I write for a few hours, I go for a 5K run, I do laundry, and then I do groceries - sure, I can make spaghetti with meatballs. I had most of the ingredients, and I already have my air condition on.

That's what I did. Chitunga got out of work early and when to play football with his high school friends and then I went to laboring over the muffin pans. I have mastered the meatball (as my parents taught me) and if I had two little containers of tomato paste, I think I would have mastered the sauce, too - just a tad bit runny, where it could have been thicker.

But the flavors - superb! Besides, spaghetti and meatballs always taste better on the second night, and on the first one, it was pretty darn good.

The whole muffin pan baking idea is also brilliant, as cleaning up the grease is much easier and the meatballs stay in tact. I guess I'll be thankful over the next few nights (I made 24 meatballs) because  dinner has already been prepared. That, thin spaghetti and salad will keep us filled until at least Friday. Of course, he doesn't eat until right before bed. I still try to eat at a normal time.

And BOOM! Just like that and it's June tomorrow.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Another Generation of Garage Festivities on Amalfi Drive...CNY Picnic Style When a T-Storm Passes Through

I missed the ol' garage gathering at my parent's home yesterday, as everyone gathered to hang out by the pool. Cynde sent me this photo of Jacob and Sean acting cool in their patriotic specs (and I also noticed the J.C. has on a cool pineapple t-shirt),

There are photographs aplenty of Casey and me, Cynde and me, and Casey and Cynde, doing the same. When it stormed, we congregated in the garage and watched it pass through. It's wonderful to see that tradition is continuing.

Tunga and I spent the day competing in a corn row tournament in Monroe, but also played Polish Horseshoes and Ladder Ball. Patrick and I dominated at Polish Horseshoes - I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing, but no-one beat us.

Nick, Patrick's cousin, also brought a great bottle of bourbon with him, and I'm glad he did at 3, because then I could stop by 3:30 so I could drive home at 10:30. Ah, these 3 day weekends are a total blast.

I got up at 7, hit Home Depot, landscaped the yard some more, planted more grass seed, went for a run, did laundry, and still had a good time being carefree by the afternoon.

Today, they're calling for 100% rain, so I know I have 12 hours of catching up on writing and work I put off yesterday. I'm actually looking forward to it. I got too much sun these last couple of days and feel somewhat like a lobster.

And allergies. Ugh. We need rain to kick this pollen out of the air.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

A Walk, A Lawn Mowed, a 5K, a Hike, a Graduation Party, And Digital Work. I Guess That Was a Saturday.

The littlest things make me happy, like this $3 screen magnet I found at Targets. Two sides of a frog come together on the screen and I love that I now have it. I snapped a photograph of it then noticed that Chitunga was in his spot by the garden reading one of his economic books. It brought a sense of tranquility and calm - not too often that he chills out and simply reads.

The summer weather had me in boost-mode and I got energized to exert all I could in hikes and runs. Julie and I went to Weir Historical home in Wilton to discuss possible National Writing Project collaborations and to hike their grounds. It was beautiful and close by - bringing back all my environmental days at the Louisville Nature Center. We arranged to bring this summer's cohort there during the first week.

I also attended a graduation party for Yolehema, who finished her Masters in Social Work at Fordham. She definitely gave herself a royal party and everyone was ready to dance and celebrate.

And the sun is out indeed. I think I got a little burned from being outdoors so much, and now I know I need to get my legs. The psoriasis are really bad. I look like I have chicken pox.

Ah, but it's a 3 day weekend so I get another day, and then another day. I've said it over and over again - We should work 5 days, get 3 days off, work 5 days, get 3 days off. That extra day makes all the difference in the world. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

When a Good Friend, @_silvergal, Shares How To Live on A Friday Night Over Guacamole and Margaritas It's a Good Night

On Wednesday we confirmed we'd get together on Friday night and on Friday morning we determined the time, venue, and dinner choice. Mexican it was, and she came with a gift - a little book by Sandy Gingras written by a mother to her son upon his college graduation. As a child he declared he wanted to grow up to be a whale and his mother, Sandy, hoped he'd keep dreaming with his imagination even as he entered the real world with all of its adult mundaneness.

I am thankful for Kathy Silver's friendship and the way her yellow wings keep an eye out for my stripes.

To paraphrase the book, living a life requires,
  • Staying unique, 
  • Walking your own path, 
  • Following your heart, 
  • Moving gently, 
  • Wondering and being awed,
  • Staying connected with others, even the less fortunate,
  • Letting ducks cross the road, 
  • Aiming for good, 
  • Allowing the imagination to be beautiful, 
  • Doing what matters, 
  • Knowing if you want enough, everything is possible,
  • Being ready to begin, and
  • Always climbing your own ladder.
I know the advice offered by Sandy Gingras is the same that Kathy and I have given each other over the last few years, especially in my directorship of the Connecticut Writing Project and her administrative duties at Bassick High School. In this world, it's easier to shine when you have individuals like Kathy on your side. We don't see each other often enough, but we share our survival techniques and know, intrinsically, the value of optimism, surrounding ourselves with happy people, and loving each and every day.

Thank you, Kathy, for the gift. I am cherishing the little book!

Friday, May 27, 2016

On a Good Note - I Look Like a @cocoandbreezy Fashion Statement. On a More Real Note, It's FRIED-DAY and I'm cooked.

I stopped by my office in the late afternoon yesterday and realized I had two pairs of sunglasses on my head. This means that I presented at the Center for Academic Excellence with both shades atop my head. Not a single attendee seemed to notice that I had not one, but a duo set of lenses upon my noggin. I am chalking this up to the end-of-the-semester exhaustion everyone in attendance must have been feeling.

We spent 15 weeks running University responsibilities, and still found time to attend a conference at Fairfield University with anticipation of improving and tuning pedagogical practices. I haven't been this wiped since teaching in Louisville and running proms, award ceremonies, culminating projects, grading and portfolios. The work is never-ending (and although I love every second of it, it truly is a process that takes every ounce of energy an individual can muster).

Ah, but today is Friday. I recognize the weather has changed and others seem to be negotiating a summer mode of action. I'm not so lucky, but I do see a window of opportunity to recollect what it is I'm doing, where I'm heading, and what's in store for the summer.

I loved Coco and Breezy's Third Eye sunglasses
This audience didn't seem to notice that there was something
unusual upon my head.
for Prince, and I guess I'm channeling them in this mishap confusion of having four eyes during a day of action and support of teaching and learning. I'm also looking at this as a sign that I need a day to myself to unwind after a challenging (yet rewarding) semester.

And with this post, I am shouting out to amazing artists who are changing the world with eyeglass creativity. I'm not a musical hunk or as powerful as others who don their amazing craft, but I can channel their influence with humor.

Here's to them and to the month of June which is right around the corner.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

When You Realize You Only Live Once and You Book Uncle Bucks For the @CWPFairfield Summer Kick-Off. Not Fishy At All

Caryn, my program manager, recently attended a birthday party with her son, Kyle, and came into the office stating, "We so should do an event at Bass Pro Shop." The mega-store opened on the wharf in downtown Bridgeport and I've yet to step inside, until yesterday.

The Trophy Room is booked!

Carol said the crowd during the week is really light, so she was willing to cut us a great deal. We have the executive suite next to the bar and in between the eight lanes for bowling. As artwork, portraits of Ernest Hemingway hang on wooden panels and everything is brand new.

I figured, "Where else is there a better location to begin telling some fish tales?"

Something tells me it is a location that will be used for entertainment for Crandall events quite often. The Trophy Room even has a swank pull table and they're catering us with flatbread pizza. Who'd of thunk that the fishing lure store with speed boats and taxidermy animals would also offer a unique setting for next week's gathering of teachers and writers? Not this guy, but I walked in to the space and said, "Book it!"

I'm looking forward to the quirkiness of it all.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Threading the Bassick Generation on a Pathway of Success @fairfieldu - Celebrating a Phenomenal Young Man. Great Things Ahead

Last night, Chitunga, Glamis and I hosted Nickalos Whyte, Fairfield University Class of 2016, over for a BBQ. Nick graduated in 2012 from Bassick High School and just finished his undergraduate degree in International Business. When he was a senior in high school, Chitunga was a freshman. We had a mini-celebration so the two of them could exchange notes about next steps for themselves as the world continues to open their doors for them.

I've known Nick almost as long as I've known Fairfield, and before him I knew his cousin, Reco, who transferred from Herkimer college. Nick has played on Varsity soccer at Fairfield and it's been great to see him evolve as a student and athlete.

The dang spring rain and storms put a damper in our plans, so we ended up at a diner (actually, I used it as an excuse so I wouldn't have to cook). Nothing like an omelet at 7:30 p.m.

Glamis especially appreciated a new face on Mt. Pleasant and wouldn't leave Nick alone. As for me, I was appreciative that the dog bothered someone else.

Wow. It's Wednesday. I'd better get to work. Summer is here! And there's a lot on the agenda.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Jeepers @pamelaMarieKell, The Next Time I Walk With You I'm Wearing a Chewbacca Mask. It's All Good.

Fashion Police Arrested her at 1:23 p.m.
Bail was set at $75. Chitunga saved her because
he's a tremendous flirt.
Ritually, I tend to do a lunch walk with my administrative assistant, Caryn, around Fairfield University's campus. Pam - my twin separated by birth, but a few years (cough cough) older - tends to walk with her friend Bev. Occasionally our paths cross, and sometimes we jump ship, and that is exactly what happened yesterday.

Bev was out and Caryn was sick. At 1 p.m. when Pam asked if I wanted to walk, I said sure. I had been sitting at my desk all morning. Then she looked down at her pants and said, "They're going to get dirty. They're too long. And they're white." I said, "Put on your sneakers. This is an office, there must be clips somewhere."

She found them. Then I said she looked like she was going to sweep the sidewalk outside a dog grooming parlor or nail salon. She didn't care. She just wanted to walk.

And we did. It's beautiful to stop in the middle of the day for exercise, because it releases adrenalin to kick-start the afternoon drag - I wanted to nap all day, Monday, and I could never really get the sleep out of my eyes.

Funny, when I look at this photo now, it seems as if it is two people facing each other. It reminds me of Casey's congenital hip when she was a toddler and had to walk with a pillow between her legs. I have to admit, though, Pam kept a good pace and never once complained that the clips were banging into her calfs or shins.

Seriously, Fairfield's campus is ridiculously beautiful this time of year.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Photo To Capture The Energy and Karma Of The Last Five Years @FairfieldU: One Shot Says It All.

Jessica Baldizon, Class of 2016,
Graduate School of Education and
Allied Professions, Fairfield University
I was excited to see that Jessica Baldizon was on my A-G student roster during yesterday's Fairfield University Graduate Commencement, but even more thrilled when she entered the room with a cap decorated by her students' signatures and the word Ubuntu made with African beads, pencils, and white ink.

Jessica has been with me for the last few years, first with an EN 411 course on teaching writing and for summer work woffering academic enrichment to refugee and immigrant youth via Ubuntu Academy. This summer, it will be the third year of collaboration and I'm so proud she's a top-notch collaborator. She is also an incredible ESL teacher and educator destined to change the lives of many.

This Fall, Jessica, William King and I present our collaborative efforts with relocated youth at the National Council of Teachers of English in Atlanta, Georgia. She and Mr. King have taken their summer work at Fairfield University and used it within their instruction in Cesar Batalla, K-8, and Bassick High School, 9-12. The young people they work with for 180 days are some of the same ones we offer summer literacy enhancement for in July. 

When I think about the energy, excitement, scholarship, and practice that have gone forth to support a youth population we believe in, a photograph like this speaks the universe. What I cherish the most about the artistry of Ms. Baldizon in celebration of her achievements and accomplishments, however, is the inclusion of student names on her cap, promoting the community in which she effortlessly and empathetically embraces. We are partners who believe in supporting young people locally with recognition of complex histories globally. 

Yesterday was a very proud day for all who embrace education at Fairfield University and I was thrilled to be part of every second of it.

Congratulations, 2016 Grads!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Nope, Not the 4th of July Quite Yet, But We Can Play Corn Hole As If It is a Holiday, Can't We?

I always know when I'm spent, because it's easy for me to say #$@# it, and to make an excuse to hold a beer in one hand and a beanbag in the other. Pam and I found American Flag corn hole sets, and I bought one for Mt. Pleasant and she picked up one for Patrick in Monroe. My Saturday of grocery shopping, writing, landscaping, laundry, walking the dog, and cleaning, quickly was highlighted by the fact that at 5 pm, I said I was done and I'd be willing to play corn hole...which I did.

Nope, it's not necessarily the most productive way to spend an evening, but it is a very necessary one. Funnier was the fact that I made guacamole to bring and that is what Pam made to offer. So, we only had guac and beer. It sufficed.

I must admit, though, that I hate Patrick and Dan who have, for the last five years, monopolized the game. They never lose. They are like marksmen who hit the hole every time and it's insane. I do my part (like I do with horseshoes), but they cannot be competed against. They're ridiculous.

Ah, but that was Saturday and today is Sunday. I must head to campus for the undergraduate and graduate students' commencement. It's sort of become the prom for me...I look at my watch and calendar and think, "Really, again?" Ah, but I realize how special it is for those who just went through the process. I remember how awesome it was for me to be in the Carrier Dome for my own (having skipped out on all ceremonies for my Masters degrees).

Just let the rain subside, please.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Getting Into a Cadence To Kick Off a Rainy Graduation Weekend, I Present Emcee J.C. and His Beatbox Debut



This gem was sent by my little sister, Casey, and features Jacob Charles and his (nobody knew) beatboxing skills (can't wait to see Abu and Lossine syncopate with him while dancing in the kitchen). I had to post his rhythm here, because I wanted a location where I knew I could find it in later years! (sorry for the video delay - had a YouTube/IMovie/Iphone glitch).

It's Saturday morning and I'm unwinding from a frantic, hectic, and dare I say par-for-the-course week. I got the laundry done, went out with Sydney and Jennifer Johnson, Chitunga and his high school counselor, Ellen Rosoff, and his friend Gino, who has recently passed his first phase of funeral director licensing (an interesting entourage to celebrate the week that just was with rather fascinating conversation - I continue to amaze myself with how I recreate Brown School communities in my personal life).

I am taking JC's musical talents with me this weekend, however, to offer a cadence for writing and in preparation for Sunday's commencement, a book chapter, and a conference on deck.

Here's to the music of the universe and the unpredictability of it all.

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Final Farewell To Mentor, Friend, Colleague, Feminist and Scholar Dr. Susan Franzosa @FairfieldU

I wish my words this morning could be as poignant as those spoken by Dr. Faith-Ann Dohm given during the Graduate School of Education and Allied Profession's Award Ceremony hosted at the Dolan School of Business. After several years as a philosopher, a Dean, a teacher educator, and a proponent of feminist ideals and contributions, Dr. Susan Franzosa has decided it is time to retire.

Speeches given in her honor over the last few weeks have been many, but I'm using my blog this morning to pay tribute to the woman who hired me to Direct CWP-Fairfield and who has been a tremendous advocate for my grant-writing, community involvement, and support of urban education. She's always been a gentle soul, a vibrant visionary, and a critical friend. I remember fondly a day that she and I worked together at St. Martin de Pores in New Haven and when I was a first-hand witness to her skills of working with middle school youth and creating magic with their education. I also recall the day that Dr. Franzosa delivered a paper at the Graduate School research forum when her administrative duties were cast aside and she shared her scholarship on the state of higher education and where she sees Schools of Education should be heading next. She is politically savvy, well-connected, tough, and a fighter. Fairfield University has lost one of their greatest social justice champions and a maverick for working with local schools, educators, superintendents and community organizations.

The retirement is well-deserved, too. It won't be the same not having her for advice, feedback, quick hellos, and institutional knowledge. Dr. Franzosa's expertise will be very difficult to replace and she will be tremendously missed.

For those of us just beginning our carers, Dr. Franzosa has modeled integrity, poise, grace, kindness and professionalism. I wish their was a way to bottle up her talents to sprinkle on all of us across campus.

Congratulations, Susan! You deserve every second of this new chapter in your life.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

International Institute of Connecticut - A Visit and A Reminder Of The Greater Work Needing To Be Done Locally

Earlier this semester, a graduate student from from Sarah Lawrence College who was doing a capstone on relocated refugee youth stopped by my office to interview me about my work with Ubuntu Academy and to find out how she could infuse arts-based practices with a series of workshops at iiConn - International Institute of Connecticut. I knew her time was limited and I suggested she buy clay and allow the young people to sculpt narratives they wished to share so that she could better guide their English acquisition at the center. I'd forgotten about that conversation, but yesterday I met with iiConn's director, Claudia Conners, to discuss possible collaborations for the summer.

Claudia and I did a walk-n-talk around Bridgeport, then she returned me to the office to show me the clay figurines the young people created under the care of the graduate student. She heard that I had an influence on that project and wondered what my work has been with young people. It was a great conversation and the two of us brainstormed possible collaborations and partnerships for the future. Refugee relocations centers need so much: clothing, housewares, furniture, tutors, jobs for immigrants, and everyday assistance - all of which must come from altruism and kindness. As bad as public schools are, centers like theirs are totally underfunded. The fortunate few who arrive to the United States only have a few months to pay back the U.S. government for their relocation. Young people, because of schools, have the greatest shot for making it easier for the families to eventually land on their feet.

I stopped by iiConn in between meetings and was glad to connect with the director and share what we've been able to accomplish over the last few years. The young people I have been fortunate to work with are like those in Louisville and Syracuse - dedicated to achievement and a hope for new life.

I was touched to see the artwork, because I wasn't a part of the programming, but the creations were special to the new director at the center and she wanted to share them with me. It's nice to see the influence one has even when one isn't around for the actual work.

The afternoon stroll with Claudia inspired me to work harder and to think even more creatively about how my fortunes as an American citizen can benefit those who are arriving. I'm hoping the future will offer opportunities that will continue to be programs to replicate. Not bad for a Wednesday...but now it is time for Fairfield's commencements to take hold. Time to celebrate the graduates!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Grade In For 48 Hours and I'm Already Thinking To What Comes Next - CWP's Busy Season. #Breathe

I took a breath and celebrated yesterday that I actually saw the end (fireworks/celebrations/even a few games of Pitch). Then I started thinking about what's coming: Invitational Summer Institute and Young Adult Literacy Labs and I went into panic mode. I used my white board to begin listing what needs to be accomplished in the next few weeks.

Last year, 9 teachers attended, 17 teachers were hired, and 158 young people participated.

This year, I have 16 teachers attending and we are still counting youth, but it is looking like it will be near or above last year. It's like running a school, but I have to find all the funding myself to pay for the teachers I hired (and we publish the work of the students who come to us). We went to online payments (credit cards) this year and that has already shown tremendous growth. I love getting daily reports of who signed up for what!

I laugh, too, because this side business of summer work is keeping CWP alive, but isn't necessary the work of the University. My focus this month is to write about the work, so my scholarship meets the redesign of what is a growing opportunity for teachers and students in Southern Connecticut.

My good news from yesterday? I came home from work, ran, and then reviewed a few articles. When I went to offer feedback online, the site was down for maintenance, so it freed up a few hours to read for pleasure. I also cut out coupons for BJs and went with Chitunga to do shoe purchases (successfully, too).

He was out of the house by 7 a.m. - fascinating change in the Mt. Pleasant routine.

Oh, and the photo above cracked me up, because Caryn (my program manager) asked me what we needed to work on next. I took a picture of my whiteboard and emailed it to her. She printed it out and it was on her desk so she has a check-off list. Novel, indeed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

It Doesn't Seem Possible, But I'm Actually Celebrating on Tuesday That The End Is Here! Phew1


Last night, a Monday night, I actually took Pam and Chitunga out to dinner to celebrate the culmination of our semesters. Tunga had his last exam (one of three this weekend), Pam turned in her 25 page paper (she got an A-), and I finished the last of my undergraduate/graduate projects. We needed a reason to celebrate. 

I worked on grants all day, then stopped by Home Depot to do get more landscaping goods. I waited for the kid to get out of his last exam (much later than I anticipated), then we met Pam and Kaitlyn for dinner. It was a much needed, relaxed gathering over food.

I never do this, but Chitunga and I came home and we played cards. I channeled Casey and taught him Speed, 21, War, solitaire, and finally Pitch. Man, I miss pitch. He's a quick study, but he wasn't so sure about his thumbs or shuffling the cards. He was fast to pick up the games, however, and beat me at them all. Of course, he also lucked out winning at solitaire the first time, too.

Then, at 10 pm he announced, "It's time for bed. My summer shift begins tomorrow." His new schedule is 7 a.m. - 3 p.m., Monday thru Friday, throughout the summer. He was promoted to office manager and relocated to Bridgeport, a good hour in traffic closer to home. I asked, "Are you sure you'll be able to fall asleep at 10 pm?" (knowing that his typical retreat is 1 to 2 a.m.). He responded, "I have to get used to this routine." 

And so just like that, snap, it's summer! I have 30 days to get ready for the summer institute and young adult literacy labs, he's full time, and the weather is bound to get nicer. Seems odd to think there will be space to think in my schedule over the next month.

It's all good. Last night, a Monday, we chilled out a bit - something very unusual for the two of us. He's such a phenomenal kid and all my frustrations with him - his work ethic - are ones that I own, too. But at least we got a night of cards in, and now I'm ready to challenge my mom and dad in a Pitch tournament.

Monday, May 16, 2016

A Word or two for Werdi...Finished His Associate and Is Fulfilling The Syracuse Tradition at Brockport

When I first began working with Werdi Mugaya he was an ambitious freshman in high school. He was dually enrolled in an English class at the same time he took advanced ESL, while maintaining his Somali Bantu heritage, creating an ESL magazine, and co-establishing with me a summer program for Somali youth at a local community center.

Since 2012, he and I have had time to correspond via Facebook, but we continue to miss each other in my short trips to Syracuse. On my drive back to Connecticut yesterday, he texted to say he was home and I was able to drive by his apartment to put a hug together with the OCC graduation he achieved on Saturday (before I departed for the twins).

Werdi is earning his Physical Education degree and hopes to teach in schools and coach his favorite sport, soccer. I remember the first time I took him to Destiny, the giant mall in Syracuse, and he couldn't believe such a place existed. We went to a bookstore and I told him to pick out any books he wanted - which he did. He was always an aggressive reader and he was a strong advocate that more stories about young people like him need to be told.

Werdi is now a junior at SUNY Brockport, after completing his first successful semester. I couldn't believe how old he looked and the two of us talked about traditions, Americanization, his desire to represent his Bantu culture, and his drive to show a love for the United States.

He, like many first-generation Americans, sees education as the heart and soul for advancing himself in a new culture. He was extremely interested in interning with Ubuntu Academy and hopes to gain as much experience working with youth as he can.

I am still shaking my head at how far he's come - but then I'm also realizing this was his destiny all along. The kid is driven and I have tremendous pride for all he's set out to do.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WERDI! WHAT A COINCIDENCE! I WROTE ABOUT YOU TODAY
THEN LEARNED TODAY IS YOUR DAY! MAKE IT THE BEST!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Words for @LBility and @AbuBility On Their Accomplishment. A Speech That Goes Beyond Words, Alone.

Dear Abu and Lossine,

I'm not sure I can capture, exactly, everything I want to say for the two of you today or all I hope to share with your family, your friends, and the world you've created for yourself in the United States. We've been collaborating and thinking together now for almost eight years and I recognize you both as VIP in my Syracuse life, my Connecticut life, and with the history of the world as I've lived it.

You are family and I love you both.

You are miraculous and should be proud.

You are personalities and I'm in awe with the ease in which you move a crowd.

You are achievers who buckled down and set your eyes on a prize.

When I talked with Mustafa this morning about this graduation accomplishment I began rattling off numbers and statistics:
  • only 30% of the United States earns a college education, 
  • only 1% of 60 million refugees worldwide are given asylum in the United States, 
  • only 50% of youth attending urban school districts like Syracuse graduate high school,
  • only 1% of the world has opportunity to partake in higher education,
And, despite all these percentages working against you, you hunkered down and became outliers. You, with the guidance of the Great Whatever, Allah, God, and your own internal drive, beat the odds to say that you are Liberian youth who overcame history, civil war, the challenges of city streets, and naysayers to achieve the impossible. Your tassels were once again flipped because you believed in three things: (1) education, (2) education, and (3) education.

When I sent you the collage I put together to commemorate the last 8 years I couldn't help but get tearful. The photos with you and Casey's kids, especially, made me realize how much you have fused yourselves into the Crandall world.
  • Honor Society inductions,
  • Soccer games (both for Varsity and club-play),
  • Programs at Syracuse University,
  • Basketball (and lacrosse) games at Syracuse University,
  • Learning to fish,
  • Learning to drive,
  • Walks with Baby,
  • High school graduation,
  • My own graduation (playa hater degree)
  • College acceptance at Brockport,
  • Say Yes summer employment, 
  • Writing Our Lives,
  • The Hamptons,
  • Trips to NYC,
  • Meeting Kwame Alexander, Ishmael Beah and Nikki Giovanni,
  • Finding love and joy with Attallah Sheppard,
  • CWP-Fairfield employment,
  • Ubuntu Academy,
  • Volleyball matches,
  • Holidays with the Crandalls, Isgars, and Barnwells.
  • Movies
  • Pam adventures with Patrick, Kaitlyn, and Derrick,
  • Glue sticks and water fountains (nothing about feet),
  • Brotherhood with Chitunga, 
  • Introduction of Glamis,
  • Introduction of the Crandall special,
  • Ramadan 2015,
  • The fact that aliens continue to invade (in Amazing Races),
  • Loans, um loans, okay, then there's the loan thing, $$$$ and 
  • Great conversations....so many memorable and irreplaceable conversations between the three of us.
Yet, above everything else, it is your laughter, humor, and willingness to explore the world with me that I cherish the most. We've shared books, ideas, and opportunities. We've offered each other trust, respect, and integrity. It is amazing what these years have revealed.

So, when I think about everything, I realize how much I am the man I am today because of who we've become together. Seeing you in your robes triggered a fountain of memories, especially those of my youth in 1994 when I first stepped into the unknown with a diploma. I took a chance and leapt to another world (Louisville) and started everything anew. Standing on my own required faith that the net would appear - which it did. When I left teaching in 2007, too, I had to believe there was a reason - now, I realize that two of those reasons graduated yesterday with a college diploma. The two of you are the reward for the biggest risk I ever took - leaving the Brown School and returning to Syracuse. I am so thankful I did.

Your souls are surrounded by love, culture, tradition, and a one-of-a-kind history that few could ever imagine. You continue to be two of the greatest things that have ever happened to me and my pride for you both cannot be captured in words (not even this speech written over and over and over again for your graduation can say what I want it to say). It's hard to put into words, simply because I know what I have to say is something that is actually felt - a truth that arrives beyond words: seeing one another eye to eye, greeting each other hand to hand (yes, Crandall's handshake is whack), and appreciating one another hug to hug.

I offer you a round of applause, a standing ovation, finger snaps, and the sounding of the horns. 

YOU DID IT! YOU REALLY DID IT! 

And I never doubted either of you for a second. I believe in you and always will.

Elephant Shoe,

Bryan

Saturday, May 14, 2016

After A Thursday Night With a Restless Dog, Friday Night Brought Forth a Different Canine #Thankful

Arriving to Syracuse on Thursday night where the dog slept the entire ride, I didn't anticipate that she'd be up all night driving me nuts. It was rather warm in my parents' house and she panted as if she just ran a marathon. In my house, she has her own cage and I don't allow her in my room. With Butch and Sue, she hops about from bed to bed, which she did last night, driving the three of us nuts.

She wouldn't settle. She sat on my chest and licked my face. When I dragged her off she moved to my feet. When I kicked her off she wined to go out. When I let her out, she came inside and barked. No matter where I went: couch, my sister's old room, and even my father's man-cave, she was a nuisance. The result was I didn't sleep at all.

Fast forward to Friday - Mike brought Bella over at 10:30 a.m. and the two of them proceeded to play for the next 8 hours. They ran, chased the hose when we opened the pool, played tug-o-war, sprinted, wrestled, and fetched balls together. They didn't stop, and when we went to lunch and Mike brought them to his house, they continued. When I went to pick her up at night she was ready to get in my car. This is the scene after she returned home. She moved only briefly to go from the couch to the bed I brought for her from Kentucky. It is a thankful scene after last night's chaos.

And speaking of chaos, I'm off. It's a day of graduations and road trips. It will be a very, very long day.

Friday, May 13, 2016

I Went To The Dentist and Got My Sticker. Then I Hit the Road In Preparation of a Special Graduation and Family Time.

I would have left sooner for Syracuse, but I had a dental cleaning that was scheduled, rescheduled, then rescheduled again. The teeth needed to be shined.

And then I drove. It is always a reflective time to travel to and from the home front, contemplating on where it all began and how much changes every time I return. Without a co-pilot, I drove straight through with no need to stop (the bonus for not drinking too much before leaving).

Made it in time for Scandal. They should have ended with Olivia's father holding a gun to Jake's head. That would have hooked me for sure for next season. I'm still hooked, but that would have been even better.

Also am prepping for the rain. Imagine being in Syracuse and a 3-day forecast of rain. Surprise Surprise. It's all good though because it's time with the insanity: arguments, aggravations, trying to coordinate visits, and making the best of the short time I'm in the area.

And no cavities. That is such an unusual story for my mouth, but not cavities this time - I am safe until November.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

And Then There Is That Day When You Stop Everything, Spend a Home Depot Garden and Get Your Hand In Dirt

I got dirty yesterday. I was the joke.

After a day of doing PD for Cesar Batalla on writing in the 3rd-5th grade classroom (definitely not enough time to do all I planned), I stopped by Home Depot and got mulch, more perennials, and a few annuals to work on the yard.

When I got home, Chitunga was already moving rocks from the back lawn and framing a few gardens (just like I requested, but I didn't know he was going to begin without me).

It already looks good. I think he has my dad's sensibility for lawn care because I hear everyday about which lawn is better than ours. He even made me look out his window at our neighbors landscape to say, "We got to beat that."

Bring it on.

I mowed, I dug, I planted, I mulched, I moved items, and I got all muddy. It felt great (and the grading waited, the grants waited, the writing waited, the emails waited, and the reading waited). I commenced with Maude (as my Grannie Annie taught me) and it was an afternoon/evening of unwinding.

I love when the seasons turn. Everything now is in bloom...

including my allergies...

Achoo. God Bless me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

ILY. Three Years Later and I Am Still Thinking Of Your Spirit. It Offers Hope When The Obstacles Come Flying. Miss You, Lois.

I knew yesterday was the three year anniversary. All day, I wanted to find a moment to myself where I could talk to the Great Whatever in hopes he or she would communicate to you that you were on my mind. I woke up and a red cardinal bird was once again at my back patio and I thought to myself, "Hey, Lois. I am thinking of you, too."

I am thinking of you.

And I'm missing you.

I'm also needing your humor, especially at this time of the year when everything is frantic, challenging, and delivering itself in upside down ways.

I looked at this photo this morning and it is the first time that I noticed that there's a cinderblock in dirt underneath the landscaping of the Fairfield Stag. That seems rather disruptive to the pristine campus, and I'm wondering why it is there and why it never stood out before. I'm also laughing, because I can here you say, "That cinderblock was meant for my boss's head, but it missed. Lousy timing."  It is so nice to have your humor as a reminder for those of us still down here trying to fight for the good life, and trying to make sense of the grand landscape of reality.

Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if you were still with us to make us laugh, to tell us funny stories, to remind us that the challenges thrown our way are merely fodder for a good joke and a purposeful drink. I'm now in my house around the corner from yours and imagining how nice it would be to have you for dinner regularly and to share the world with you with all the changes that have occurred since you departed. Something tells me that you and Chitunga would really hit it off.

Pam had to turn a paper in yesterday, and I'm frantically trying to get my grades in while staying on top of grants, planning for summer, thinking about a weekend trip to Syracuse, and doing professional development in a local school. She and I saw each other a couple of times yesterday, traded a Lois hug, a couple of photos, and the fact that you were central to what we were thinking about all day long. We admitted how much we miss you. It still hurts that you're gone.

Every May 10th is a reminder of your leaving. I can't pass by sticks without looking for the I's, the L's and the Y's. They are forever  a reminder of the greatest story you wrote for us all: no matter how hard the struggle, there will always be love. Love triumphs all. Thank you for the incredible lesson. Thank you for being you.

Keep sending us the cardinal birds and we'll keep the humor as alive as we can while we have the fortunate opportunities to fill the world with laughter. ILY.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Keynote Speech Made By Shaun Mitchell (@_Mitchellaneous) @FairfieldU Teaching Celebration @cwpfairfield @writingproject

(Thank you, Shaun, for sharing your wisdom with our student teachers and soon-to-be graduates)
Student Teacher Celebration
Fairfield University
May 9th, 2016
(Shaun Mitchell, Central High School)

Shaun Mitchell, 2016 CT Teacher of the Year Finalist
2014 Theodore and Margaret Beard Excellence in
Teaching Award Recipient
Thank you, Dr. Crandall and thank you to the Fairfield University community for having me here today. But more importantly, congratulations to all you new and budding educators! What a beautiful time to become a teacher! We are on the edge of evolution in our profession. In the last seven years of my own career, I’ve seen teacher evaluation get coupled with test scores; I’ve seen the coming and going of a little thing called SBAC; I’ve seen the economic disparities between my suburban student teaching school versus my current urban school. I’ve seen all this and more - but instead of being discouraged at the state of education, I am all the more encouraged to get up every morning and fight the good fight in one of the most important arenas in our society: our schools.

To be here today, you all have gone through your student teaching and have seen firsthand the trials and tribulations of what it takes to be a teacher in the 21st century. It’s very different from when our parents were in school and it’s even changed from when we were in school. In 10 years from now it will be all the more altered. But then I’m reminded of the old saying: “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

By and large, students have remained the same at their core over time, regardless of the technology that has invaded our classrooms. They still depend on great teachers and adults to show them the joys of learning and living; they still are highly social creatures just as they’ve always been; and they still have stories to tell - maybe even more so now than in the past. Education practices, too, like the students, although it may seem as if they have changed radically in the last few years, have also remained the same at their core. Content is taught, learning is assessed, and relationships are formed. Whether you use Socratic seminars, or Paideia seminars, exit tickets, or Do-Nows none of it matters if you don’t build relationships with your students. That has always been the one constant in an ever-changing educational landscape.

On the note of building relationships with your students, instead of waxing poetic about my educational philosophies, I want to impart some take home value in this and give you some advice for your upcoming first years as educators. These are tips I wish I was told when I was in your position. They got me through my first years and led me to where I am today.

(1) Tip #1: relationships with your students are everything. It’s what got me through my first year of teaching. You see I grew up in a small New Jersey town very similar to Fairfield - in a word: suburban. When I was propelled into my first week of teaching at Central High School in Bridgeport I was a fish out of water. To say I was culture shocked is an understatement. On top of that, I was drowning in curricula I knew nothing about that I’d soon have to teach over the next year. I vividly remember calling my mom every night that week saying I was going to quit. I actually wrote 3 different versions of my resignation letter. Then in a moment of clarity, I remembered why I wanted to be a teacher in the first place. We all have our own reasons. Mine was to change lives the way my teachers changed mine - they turned an apathetic and scared little gay boy into a confident academic young man. They accomplished this by forming relationships with me. Trust and understanding: two crucial and reciprocated parts of the teacher-student relationship. Looking back to my own teachers for inspiration, I knew what I had to do that first year.

I started trusting my students. And I took time to understand my students. Like magic, something you can’t quite explain, I was teaching as a stranger in a strange land and I was surviving. My confidence grew along side my students that year. My lessons got better and more involved with each passing week. By May of my first year, I was a completely different person than I was 8 months prior. I’m the teacher I am today because of the relationships I formed with my students then as I do now. In that first year it was crucial for my career, and every year since, it has been mandatory. Take the time to understand your students. Curriculum be damned - it will always be there. And
it will be that much harder to teach if your students cannot have a relationship with you.
(Slide with my first classes ever.) These were the first students I ever taught. I will never forget them. They changed my life even more than I may have changed theirs. I took the time to understand them. Trust was created. And I’m happy to say that I still keep in touch with many of them today. Form those relationships and watch your classrooms blossom.

(2) Speaking of keeping up with former students, technology plays a big part in that. So my next piece of advice is to utilize technology as much as you are comfortable. The thing about technology and schools, is that both environments are in constant flux, so it can be daunting to keep up with it all. Technology comes with many different uses and with many different modes of delivery. There are some days I want to banish the creator of the smart phone to a remote planet you’d find in Star Wars. And then there are days when I wonder how my teachers lived without them in their classrooms. Between my phone, my laptop, my DVD player, and my desktop, technology is everywhere and I have to use it to keep up with my students who are being raised on it.

My student teacher, and your fellow classmate, Charlotte Pecquex used technology to build on a project I did with my students a few years ago. She took student voice to a new level when she recorded students’ writing around the idea of ‘struggle’ and edited them together using Garageband and iTunes, ultimately weaving a narrative of Bridgeport youth in their struggle to find the meaning of life. What a project! It was such an inspirational experience for me and the kids, just as much as it was for Charlotte. And without technology, a mere 10 years ago, this project wouldn't have been possible to make in a classroom.

In addition to Garageband, I want to share a few other technological aides that may make your teaching more efficient next year like making a classroom website. Classroom websites require a lot of work upfront, but the long term payoff is worth it for student achievement. Charlotte used Wix during her student teaching, while I took this year to convert to Google Classroom from Edmodo. With Google Classroom, I was able to host a virtual Oscars watching party for my Literature & Film class this year. We broke down the four walls of my classroom and it was awesome. School continued outside the traditional school setting.

Not forgetting parents, the Remind App for your phone has been an amazing tool for keeping an open line of communication with my students and their parents together.
Whether it be homework reminders, school announcements, or requesting a conference, this has changed with way I communicate with my students and their families. As the director of our school plays, I also can keep in touch with my cast and keep them updated with rehearsal changes. We all know communication is key.

My challenge to you for next year is to incorporate some kind of technology into your classroom. Whatever makes you comfortable. As with anything new, you’ll be putting yourself out of your comfort zone at first, but with a little practice, you’ll be a pro.

(3) And speaking of the pros, my last bit of advice for you all is to seek out mentors. Given that, mentors come in a variety of places within your professional and personal life. And they come in all shapes, sizes, ages, and genders. Everyone’s experience is valuable. Nothing makes this job easier than finding those few colleagues in your building you look up to for guidance, help, and the occasional venting session. These are the people at the base of your support group - your day-to-day colleagues. In a career that can differ from district to district and building to building, they are the only people who know what it’s like to work in your school. They get you. You get them. You both know what teaching and learning look like in your building. Make sure you seek them out and build the base of your support group.

Adding onto your in-building colleagues, it’s also good to have a regional perspective of what education looks like. To help you there, seek out colleagues in other districts. This room is a good starting point - you all will be teaching in many different districts throughout the area and beyond. Gain the insight of what it looks like to teach elsewhere. You know through your student teaching seminar that everyone’s experience in the classroom is different and each experience is valuable learning for other educators - sometimes even more so than PD workshops.

Another place to find out-of-district colleagues is by seeking out professional organizations in your area. I was lucky enough to participate in one right here at
Fairfield University following my second year of teaching. The Connecticut Writing
Project brought Bryan Ripley Crandall into my life and since then my career was elevated to a level I didn’t know existed. Through CWP and the encouragement of Dr. Crandall I’ve had the opportunity to travel the country giving and developing workshops on literacy and writing - next up is Atlanta in November!; I’ve met with colleagues across the country to hear what teaching looks like in all 50 states; and most importantly, I’ve sharpened my teacher leader skills by working with teachers and students throughout Fairfield County. Without CWP, I wouldn't be Bridgeport’s Teacher of the Year and I certainly wouldn’t be on the Commissioner of Education’s advisory committee with my fellow Teacher of the Year finalists.

Professional education organizations bring together like-minded individuals to elevate and celebrate our profession. They develop the teacher leaders who are going to drive education into the 22nd Century. There are many organizations to fit the myriad of interests in education. Find the one that suits your needs and being making change on a larger scale.

And finally, I like to round out my mentors with people who have no idea what it’s like to be on the frontline of education. Perspective is relative. If we spend all our time in the classroom, it’s hard to see from the outside in. And that’s where our non-teacher friends come in. They may think we’re crazy for doing what we do, but secretly we know they’re crazy for not doing what we do because we know it’s the best job in the world.

No, teaching isn't always the glamorous depiction we see in the movies. And no matter how hard I try to be Michelle Pfiefer from Dangerous Minds, I know my students are real people with real needs and there are no cameras to catch my triumphant and vulnerable moments in the classroom. We do this because we know the future is dependent on the education of our youth. We do this because we know the future of education is dependent on getting and keeping good teachers in the classroom.

You will have hard days - it’s just the nature of the job. But for every bad day, there will be a million good reasons to keep your head up and get the job done. It’s also important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t take yourself too seriously. Yes, our profession is very serious - as we cannot underestimate the future. But you have a responsibility to feed and nourish your mind, body, and soul. Recognize your breaking points and have an exit strategy. Humor and laughter certainly help in that department. With humor in mind, I wanted to share these memes with you to start closing out our time together. Sometimes it feels like a thankless job especially when people tell me I’m lucky to have the summer off or that my day ends at 2:30. Or my personal favorite: when the government tells me my student’s test scores are a direct result of my teaching, not bearing in mind the variables that socioeconomic and socio-emotional factors add to the equation.

But then it happens out of nowhere. You get a letter from a student who you changed forever when you were just doing your job. Or you get an unexpected hug from a student because you noticed something about them nobody else did. Or you simply gain a students’ respect because you gave them respect first. And you swell up with emotion and remember why you got into this profession in the first place. I want you all to think of just one of the many reasons you became a teacher - just one. And when you’re having a bad day or you feel like you’re at the end of your rope, remember this one reason. Remember me telling you this. You are all remarkable people for wanting to dedicate your lives and careers to the betterment of our students and by default, the betterment our collective future. I want to thank you personally for being my colleagues, whom I hope to learn from in the future.


This really is the best job in the world. You are embarking on a journey that will last the remainder of your lifetime in ways that will surprise you and inspire you. I wish you all success in your careers and I hope you find as much joy in this job as I have. Graduating from Fairfield University I know you are well prepared, so go forth – armed with your knowledge and passion - and change lives. And on behalf of every life you will change, I simply say thank you. Thank you for your time.

Monday, May 9, 2016

I Am Allowed To Hate Mondays, Only Because I Allowed Saturday and Sunday To Offer Me Distracting Alternatives

I messed up. That is, I messed up because I didn't work 16 hours of my days while away, but only 12. Therefore I experienced 4 hours of relaxation and chill-time, which equated to fun, which can be associated with the fact that I didn't accomplish all the grading that had to be done.

This, of course, equals to Monday guilt and a panic that I am not going to get to everything I need to accomplish today.

Therefore, "Look at the bright side...At least Mondays only happen once a week!" My flaw was I tasted a slight bit of normalcy through a few hours of relaxation. In other words, I let myself chill-out with slight down time, which included finally seeing the last Mockingjay movie on-demand, hosting a Derby party, and then doing a quick dinner at Pam's, where Chitunga decided he wanted to stay more hours than I anticipated.

So, I had to throw in the towel.

And I need to grade. Boy, do I need to grade. I also must put together two massive presentations and to organize numerous items for the summer.

But it's Monday and I'm in panic mode. This, too, shall pass. I simply need to get through the day and I have coffee. Coffee is a survival technique.

Breathe. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

I Think I Won With Grading, But I Definitely Lost With Horses (Although I Came in Second). #MoreMintJulepsPlease

Leo didn't win either, but he did come in his purple shirt and he wore his purple wrestling mask as we sipped on happy hour cocktails awaiting the Kentucky Derby to run fro the roses. As usual, it was a lot of hype for a fast race, and it's never as much fun as when you have the winning horse, which no one but Derrick and Kaitlyn had. They got the pot.

We simply had the drinks.

And it rained. It rained all day, and even when it finally subsided and I wiped down all the outside furniture, it decided it wanted to rain even more. It needed to be an indoor party, which it was, with gifts for Pammy and a dog who was overwhelmed by the crowd of people. Next year I should charge admission, so that if my horse doesn't win, I still come out a winner in the end.

I have to give a special shout-out to Sharon, though, because she had the foresight to make the syrup for the Juleps. I forgot, and didn't really want them anyway, but they ended up being a huge hit, even though my bourbon supply was drained.

So, it wasn't bad for a spur-of-the-moment, intimate birthday party for Pam with just a couple of people and I'm sort of glad I didn't open up the house to the masses like last year (with all the rain, it would have become real ugly fast).

Yep. Another Derby is over. Fastest 2 minutes of the year, with another 365 days to go.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Technically Its Derby Day, but Yesterday Was My Twin's Birthday @pamelaMarieKell, So The Party Is All About Her

Since leaving Kentucky, it's been my tradition to host a Derby party, simply as a day to enjoy spring and to have an excuse (a much needed excuse) to relax for a little while. Last year, my Derby party - it was pointed out to be - is actually the day after Pamela Kelly's birthday AND the day before mother's day. So, this year, rather than having a Derby party, I am opening my house to friends to have a mint julep before we go out to celebrate Pam's existence on earth.

It's a good existence to celebrate: laughter, love, joy, humor, spontaneity, wisdom, family, foolishness, faith, and togetherness - all qualities that Pam exemplifies to all who know her.

And I've set a goal of finishing one class's papers so I can actually relax when I open my house for the race and a few rounds of birthday songs. I'm also excited about this transition, so I don't have to cook, but there will be a restaurant to find as soon as the two-minute horse race is complete.

Aw, shucks. I hope there's enough people that come with her so that we can throw in cash for the race and actually have a winner. I'll have to work on that, as the crowd will be the loyal, good-times folk that have become a foundation of support for me in Connecticut.

Let there be sun. We have not experienced enough sun in the last week and I'm ready to sit out back before the trumpets sound.

Happy Birthday, Pam - one day late. You are my twin sister separated at birth and a few years older who brings about sanity in an insane world, simply because you're willing to act goofy and be dorky like me. Music. Dance. Sharing strategies for this life thing. And hope.

I love to believe in hope.