Language Arts department chair at Miami Lakes Educational Center. I teach English I, Journalism and AP Literature.
Adviser to the school newspaper -- The Harbinger -- www.mlecharbinger.com as well as the school yearbook, Alpha & Omega.
Election Day is exciting. It’s a ritual, trying to avoid eye contact and scurry past all of the politicians, campaign workers and people camped outside trying to convince people which way to vote.
There’s always an energy that almost emanates from the precinct. People stand in line – sometimes in long lines – confident, proud, and determined to contribute to the democratic experiment.
I am always nervous. I check for my license and voter’s registration several times before leaving the house. I carry an extra photo ID, extra pens, a hand-written list of how I plan to vote.
When I finally get to the voting booth, alone with my ballot, my heart races a little. I take a deep breath, absorb the gravity of the moment, and prepare to fill in my choices.
Politics has always been emotional: heated, partisan, negative; but, today’s political climate is so much worse, so much uglier, polarizing, violent.
That’s the backdrop of today’s vote: the weight I feel on my shoulders as I try to decide which candidate is best equipped to deal with our current reality, the pressure I feel trying navigate through the twelve confusing, complicated amendments, county and city referendums.
I have done my research. I read the newspaper, visited websites, thought through the options, talked them over.
And still, as i bubble in my choices, I’m nervous.
I finish, review my ballot, assuring that the bubbles are shaded in completely, that I’ve answered each question, that I selected the correct candidates. This too is, perhaps obsessive, trauma leftover from the “hanging chad” presidential election in 2000.
Then I feed my ballot into a machine — and wait.
I wonder, does everyone feel this kind of anxiety, excitement, pressure? If they do, they don’t talk about it.
Maybe it is just me, my own baggage – a first-generation American, the child of Cuban exiles that left everything behind in search of freedom and opportunity.
My father cherished his right to vote. It was a right that he never took for granted. My grandmother never learned to drive. After my grandfather passed away, she took a bus to the voting precinct.
There is something special about voting, especially when one has lived through the condemnation of free expression, the end of democratic elections, the criminalization of a free and independent press.
I don’t know if my own nervous energy, the pressure and sense of responsibility, is learned or whether – somehow – it is in my DNA, inherited from my family’s struggle.
That may be it. I vote because I can. And because I can, I must, not just for me, but in honor of everyone who could not.
The first day of school is just around the corner and with it, comes the first-day jitters. Children may be anxious – and excited – about the change: new classroom, new teachers, new friends and maybe even a new school. The change can be a little daunting.
But, it’s not just the kids who are nervous.
The first day can be pretty nerve-racking for parents too. The best way to combat these stressors is to prepare, not just for the first day, but to set the groundwork for a successful school year.
1. Dress up, coordinate and organize. Shopping for school supplies can be a fun way to help kids get organized and gain some independence and responsibility. Sit down together to create a lift of what they will need. Do they need a lunchbox? A new calculator? Then, set some ground rules, and allow kids to choose their own bookbag, pencil case, water bottle and some basic school supplies (pens, pencils, crayons, etc.). Color coordinating notebooks, folders and supplies might be fun and useful. Older kids who have several subjects and teachers, may find it helpful to coordinate what they need for each. Say, green folders for math and blue for reading. It may help to keep track of homework and assignments for each class.
2. Have a walkthrough. A lot of the stress over the first day is the unknown. Combat that by getting familiar with the environment. Visit the school. Have them see where their classroom is, where the cafeteria is, where they will be picked up and dropped off. Whether someone is driving them to school or they are boarding a school bus, have a practice run. Everyone feels more confident once they know where to go and what to expect.
3. Set goals and get familiar with the curriculum. What will kids learn this year? A lot of this information is online on the parent portal, the school’s website, and was likely provided at student orientation. Parents may not know what it’s like to be in school anymore. Not only has it been a while since they were students (and some of those math formulas may have slipped your mind since then), but the curriculum has changed a lot.
Helping kids with their homework, and working with them, is an effective way to show concern for what they learn at school and to get to know what their academic strengths and weaknesses are.
This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss goals with older children. What does a successful year look like? What will it take to balance school work with sports and/or extra-curricular activities? Again, this is about preparation.
4. Technology is not the enemy. Yes, kids are spending a lot of time online and that is not always a good thing. Too much screen time — whether that is watching television, playing video games, or engaging in social media – is not good for their health or emotional well-being. However, there are many free learning tools online, from apps to video tutorials, help kids find ways to enrich what they are learning at school.
5. Routines are good. Like a standard bed time and morning wake-up call, having a routine — that includes homework— helps kids organize their time efficiently. What will they do when they get home: take a nap, have a snack? Whatever it is, make it a habit. Set aside a designated place and time for homework every day, maybe the kitchen counter while dinner is prepared or a quiet space in the living room. Avoid distractions, like television and cell phones, during this time.
6. Communicate. This is an opportunity to get to know who their friends are and what their interests are, but asking children about school also shows them that their parents value their education. Try to avoid general questions, like “How was your day?” These will most likely produce one-word answers (fine, okay, and good tend to be the general answers), especially as kids get older. Instead, try specific questions, like What did you read in class today? Did you enjoy the story? Why or why not?
7. Get to know teachers. Everyone is busy and it may be difficult to schedule a conference during school hours. Student orientation and open house nights are great opportunity to meet teachers, faculty and staff and to get a feel for what children are learning in school. But remember that you can always send an email if you have questions or concerns.
Teachers spend a lot of time with our kids and they are great allies. If there are concerns – some parents worry that their children may be too shy and introverted or the opposite, too chatty and off task – or if parents have questions on including enrichment opportunities at home, their teachers can help. And teachers can often spot problems or irregularities (missed homework assignments, change in demeanor or disposition) that can be indicative of a bigger problem.
8. Read, read, read. Parents usually read to their babies and toddlers, but that habit does not have to end in elementary school. Reading with a child is an invaluable way to spend quality time together on a daily basis. As children get older, and develop their own interests, help them foster that love of reading. Reading Harry Potter, for instance, as a family can be a great way to bond and promote the lifelong joy of reading.
9. Sleep is important for learning and for optimal health. Studies indicate that Americans are not getting enough sleep, especially children. This chronic sleepiness does not just make kids cranky; it can be bad for their health. Lack of sleep impairs the brain, making it difficult to focus, remember and learn. This is not only important on the first day, when many families are getting reacquainted with an early morning alarm, but throughout the year. There will be projects and homework assignments, kids are notorious procrastinators. Make sure that they are not sacrificing sleep to finish up school work.
School is stressful. It is where kids prepare for the future, where they experience some of their first triumphs and failures. Add to that all of the intellectual and physical changes that go along with adolescence and the result is a rollercoaster of emotions, for them and their families. Working together to face those challenges will help make those life transitions a little smoother.
The #MeToo Movement galvanized women. From Los Angeles to Shanghai, from Hollywood studios to board rooms and political office, women are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault. And it has inspired a huge wave of activism that shows no signs of slowing.
However, some analysts say that as much as this new wave of feminism has brought women together, it has also caused a rift.
“Millennial women,” it said “are more likely to have grown up in environment supportive of gender equality, with the expectation — not always fulfilled — that they’ll be attentively listened to in those circumstances.”
It was an interesting thought. Women, according to this piece, are not only fighting for a seat at the table, they expect it. It’s uplifting. It’s believing that we are at the actual precipice of change.
But, is it true?
Jade Hameister skied around the North Pole, across Greenland’s largest icecap, and then around South Pole. It took her 37 days to complete the 373-mile trek, while dragging a 220-pound sled across the rugged, frozen landscape of the Antarctic.
She is sixteen.
Hameister is the youngest person to ever complete the adventure referred to as ‘The Polar Hat Trick’.
That should be the story. She battled harsh winds and extreme temperature to accomplish a feat that few people – of any age – ever will. She demonstrated incredible resilience, determination, athleticism and tenacity.
But, the story reported in media outlets around the world was not about the high winds, the blizzards or the whiteouts that she faced; it was not about the journey or the training involved to achieve this feat.
No, the story was about her gender. Worse, it was about how she responded to sexist comments on Facebook . She posted a photo of herself and a message: “I skied back to the Pole again… to take this photo for all those men who commented ‘Make me a sandwich’ on my TEDX Talk.” Then added: “I made you a sandwich (ham & cheese), now ski 37 days and 600km to the South Pole and you can eat it.”
This was the story on CNN and Teen Vogue. A snarky response to internet trolls. That was the story that Samantha Power and the Twitter handle Bad Ass Woman Alert shared.
I don’t see a generational divide.
It feels good to taunt a Twitter troll. It’s fun to flaunt one’s success. But, for all the talk of gender equality, for all the social media activism – from #BeBossy to #StrongIsBeautiful to #AskHerMore and #LikeAGirl, social media movements have come and gone, usually to sell makeup or shampoo.
Generational divides exist. They always have. For generations, women have fought for the right to vote, to work, to be heard. Each new fight is built on past victories.
Are there differences of opinion? Differences in philosophy? Certainly. Just as there are differences between mothers and daughters, and even among friends. The bigger question is whether this new wave of feminism is here to stay, whether it will lead to lasting change, or whether it is relegated to the graveyard of forgotten hashtags.
I believe in the power of social media, in the power of movements to spread awareness. I admire the women sharing their #MeToo stories and demanding justice.
But, do I believe that this is the beginning of actual change? We’ll see.
There’s been a lot of Publix love shared on social media, especially throughout the last week, and for good reason. Everyone in South Florida knows their sloshy, “where shopping is a pleasure.” And it is. The stores are clean. They have great quality products and excellent customer service.
What’s not to love?
But there is more to it. Publix works hard to be more than a grocery store; they’ve worked to be a part of the community. All stores have membership rewards. Customers get coupons and stores collect valuable data that they use to market their products. But Publix works to make even that feel like a personalized experience. When I joined the Baby Club, I didn’t just receive age-appropriate discounts, they sent me a pediatric encyclopedia.
When Hurricane Irma started barreling towards South Florida, Publix opened until the very last moment and many of their stores, including the one in my neighborhood, opened the following day. They emailed customers before the storm and immediately afterwards. They posted a message to the community on social media and took a full-page ad in my local newspaper. Yesterday, they announced that they opened one of the stores in Key West, because the community was counting on them.
We are in this together. That’s Publix’s message. I’ve thought a lot about that over the last few days, and not just because it is my favorite grocery store (which it is), but because it is one of those times when being good also makes good business sense.
Why do people love Publix? They love Publix because the store makes them feel good. Yes, this is good marketing, but it is also good people skills. And making people feel valued, that translates into loyalty.
Becoming a parent is to experience life, the daily trials and mundane tribulations, with new poignancy.
Childhood, a time when every turn in the road leads to a new adventure.
It is to experience past, present and future simultaneously, to somehow find a little sadness and a bit of nostalgia at every joyous milestone and a little fear even in victories. There is certainly a new, heightened awareness of the ephemerality of life. And with that, the urgent need to hold on, to document, to each adventure, each passing moment.
Today, my journalism students celebrated their newspaper’s tenth anniversary. Donald Trump, the president-elect, is on the cover. It is the third presidential election that The Harbinger covers.
The senior editors surprised their staff, and me, with a small celebration — there’s never much time in a newsroom, even a student newsroom, for self-congratulation — and they praised the students on a job well done.
“Remember that you are a part of something special and that you are leaving your mark on this publication, on this room and on this school,” they said.
One of them turned to me and asked, “so how does it feel to have steered a publication for 10 years?” And I wasn’t sure how to answer.
I had a flurry of emotions and ten years worth of memories: an amalgam of faces, conflicts, stories, deadlines, layouts. There were breaking stories and broken hearts, celebrations and disappointments, tears and laughter.
It’s high school, and every staff grapples with telling their story, with the desire to leave their mark.
And they do. Each staff builds on the progress of the one before it. And in this way, they are each a part of an even bigger story.
There are 22 student journalists working out of our newsroom. They are reporting, writing, tweeting, blogging, streaming video, documenting the year. While The Harbinger alumni, scattered across the world, continue to learn, grow and succeed.
So, how do I feel? I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of their story.
Cubans came to Miami and started building new homes, new lives, and — eventually — the home of their memories. Little Havana, Florida. Photo by Amanda Delgado
I was born and raised in Miami, a place unlike any other, a city in the United States but somehow worlds apart from it. I grew up between English and Spanish, a bridge between my families’ suffering, loss and tragedy and a new life in a new world. Like many others, I inherited my family’s pain. Their sense of loss, their forever exile, is something I grew up knowing and feeling as though it were my own.
My parents’ Cuba, their parents and grandparents’ Cuba, became a place alive only in woeful memories or impassioned political arguments. It became an archetype, a place that lived in our collective unconscious, a place we knew and felt and understood because of the hurt and loss embedded deep into the core of our existence.
I wonder how to explain that, how to explain their sense of loss. I wonder too, how to explain to him my sense of loss, a sense of exile and estrangement from a place I never knew.
How do I preserve their history, their stories when even I grapple to make sense of it all? Especially as those stories become a little cloudy.
My father is gone. So are my grandparents. My mother doesn’t discuss her life there much. Some of those memories buried deep in her unconscious, the trauma too much for her to bear.
There aren’t family photos or ancestral artifacts to tell the stories of what life was like before, during and after the revolution. All those things stayed behind as families fled.
Histories were lost.
And now I rack my brain, trying to remember the good and bad, the laughter and the tears, and I try to imagine how I will share them with my son. Will I remember them? Will I do them justice? And what will he make of it all. What will he think? Will they form part of his identity? Will he listen patiently? Dismissively? Will he be curious? Will he feel Cuban? American? Both? Neither? Will he also yearn for a place that exists only in hearts and minds of a generation that is fading away?
If I lived between worlds, between languages and cultures, somehow — like the city in which I live — both American and not, what does that make him?