Santa And John

santaclaus

Once upon a holiday season, in the land of Delaware, there lived a man who would become Governor.  He was promised the throne eight years ago, but another man took his seat.  In this land, the people chose their Governor  every four years.  The man who would be Governor finally won the seat and 58.34% of the people rejoiced.  As he sat in his car one day after returning from his job in D.C., he looked out the window.  He saw the sun setting in the distance.

John was anxious to get things going in Delaware.  He had to officially wait until January 17th, 2017.  “Only 47 days,” John said to himself.  He had been so busy for so long.  Things wouldn’t slow down for him in the next four years, and hopefully the four after that.  His day was filled with phone calls, texts, and emails.  Everyone wanted a piece of Delaware.  He knew not everyone could get a piece.  He called his wife from the driveway and told her he was going to go for a walk to clear his head.  Always supportive, she knew John needed this and told him to take all the time he needed.  John drove to the nearby park.  As he walked out of his car, he put on his hat.  It was rare he could get away from his security detail but at the same time he didn’t want to be bothered.  John walked down the trail…

Meanwhile, 3,529.75 miles away, the jolly one was settling into his favorite chair.  The elves were busy preparing for the big day.  Santa was happy he had an extra day to prepare this year.  As a tradition, during these leap years, he would pick one day off each leap year to do whatever he wanted.  Mrs. Claus always forgot about it, but Santa didn’t.  Today was his day off!  Santa picked up his laptop and on his favorites bar was the website he enjoyed going to the most: Exceptional Delaware.  Ever since Santa learned about Common Core and opt out, he found himself checking back in to see what was happening with the children of Delaware and the rest of the country.  Santa was not happy when he found out what happened a few weeks after Christmas earlier this year.  The people of Delaware wanted the lawmakers to override Governor Jack’s veto of the opt out bill, but it got hung up in some silly rule business.  He knew exactly which of those lawmakers would be getting coal this year, led by their Speaker and the leaders below him.  Santa heard there was a new Governor in Delaware so he decided he would pay him a visit.  While he didn’t usually venture so far south during the busy month, it was his day off and he could do whatever he wanted.  At least the things Mrs. Claus wouldn’t have cause to file for divorce over.

As hard as he tried, John couldn’t stop thinking about his plans.  He didn’t count on the new President actually winning the election.  All his plans were contingent on the Hill winning.  But the Tower Man won and he had to plan around it.  The Tower Man was picking people who John couldn’t picture running things down in D.C.  His office was frantic over the mess.  John had to strategize very carefully how he moved forward with everything.  Not only did the Tower Man win, but the two bodies of Congress won a majority in the election as well.  John’s Delaware was still blue, but a shocking election there threatened to turn the Delaware Senate red too.  The state he was to lead had some peculiar problems in it and at the top of that list was the economy and education.  Governor Jack treated the two as if they were symbiotic with each other and made some poor choices along the way.  John knew if he was going to improve both he would have to find a way to draw everyone in.  It was a difficult maze and John knew he wouldn’t please everyone.  Governor Jack chose a particular route but John knew if he did the same it would not be good.

Santa knew John’s mind was heavy.  As his sleigh crossed the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, Santa could feel the weight on John’s shoulders.  Leadership always carries a heavy burden.  Santa knew that better than anyone.  Santa knew John ever since he was a little boy.  He always knew John would become a leader.  John didn’t have the same political sharpness so many politicians had but this also made him more relatable to the people.  He watched John’s humble beginnings in the town of Claymont.  Carney was one of those tough kids who excelled in football which helped him out at St. Mark’s High School and then Dartmouth College.  Santa remembers John’s awards.  As John was teaching freshmen football at the University of Delaware, he was also studying public administration.  From there, John began his political career working for the county he lived in and then for Governor Tom.  From there, John’s political ladder kept getting bigger and bigger.  He became the Lieutenant Governor for eight years and decided to run for Governor.  But the future “education” Governor Jack beat him in a close race.  Others told Jack to wait his turn, it was John’s turn, but Jack ignored them.  A couple of years later, John ran for Congress and won.  For six years, having to run every two years for a total of three Congressional terms, John worked in D.C. and learned how the game of politics really works.  But he never gave up on getting back to Delaware to win as Governor.  After Governor Jack was expected to end his tenure, many thought Vice-President Joe’s son Beau would run, but tragically Beau passed away after a long illness.  It was then that John decided he would run but wished it had been under better circumstances.

John walked down the path.  There was a crisp wind in the air but the moon was bright.  He used to walk down this path many times.  It hadn’t changed much over time and he remembered it like the back of his hand.  John tripped on a branch and fell to the ground.  As he looked up, he saw a bright light in the sky above him.  A voice cried out “John, we need to talk.”  John reached for his phone but he had left it in the car.  He thought to himself, “This is it, all alone in the woods with no one to help.”  He began to picture the headline in the News Journal the next day.  “Who are you?” John asked.  “Someone you haven’t thought about in a long time John.”  Santa gracefully landed the sleigh on the path in front of John.  His lights were still on so John couldn’t tell who it was.  “I do have security watching me right now.  They are watching you right now.  So I wouldn’t try anything  They will find you if anything happens to me.”  “No they won’t,” Santa said.  “Remember you let all of them have the night off and you so conveniently told each one there was coverage?”  John wondered how this guy would know that.  “It’s me, John.  Santa.”

John couldn’t believe his eyes.  As a child, he always believed.  But as children grew older, that magic disappeared.  John saw Santa everywhere this time of year.  He began seeing him in stores as early as October.  But it wasn’t the same as the man who just walked off a sleigh that came down in the middle of the woods.  John took that early childhood magic for granted, as every adult does.  John wondered what in the world Santa Claus wanted with him.  Did he visit all the new leaders?  “John,” Santa said, “We have to talk about the kids.  Come with me.”  John felt the world spin beneath him.  Santa’s words captured him.  They weren’t words demanding John obey him, but those of comfort and a calm John hadn’t felt for a long time.  John looked at his watch.  It was 6:30pm.

Santa and John got in the sleigh.  The reindeer, who John hadn’t noticed before, began running down the path.  John felt the sleigh lift up into the December night.  “John, did you read my letter last year?” Santa asked.  John read letters every day.  There were some days he couldn’t remember what he had for breakfast he was so busy.  John shook his head.  “Did you send it to me?” John asked.  He knew he probably had not seen it unless it was an issue of critical importance.  He was sure if one of his staffers opened it and saw a letter from Santa Claus it would go in the circular bin next to their desk.  “No, I let Exceptional Delaware put it up.  I thought everyone in Delaware reads it.”  That was a name John was familiar with the past six months.  The blogger.  “You mean the crazy education blogger from DoverThat guy wants to meet with me but I don’t know…” Santa abruptly interrupted John  “Watch yourself,” Santa warned.  “I have the utmost respect for the blogger.  He helped me out last year and he knows what he is talking about.”  John responded to Santa.  “But he tends to tick off a lot of people.  People I’m going to have to work with.  I was warned to stay away from him.”  Santa’s eyes widened.  “Oh really?  Would that have been Senator So-coal-A,” Santa carefully empathized.  “And all those other adults who don’t have the first clue about what education really is?  Let me tell you something John.  You will be a leader of Delaware.  Any state has a foundation from which it must build on.  That foundation is the kids.  Not the adults, and especially not the adults who try to make money and get power from kidsThere are those out there who will pretend to speak the truth.  You surround yourself with them.  But there are those who speak uncomfortable truths that people don’t always want to hear.  But they do so out of an innate need for change, in the hopes someone with the ability to hear will actually listen.”

John was familiar with what was going on in education.  He was told of the long-range plans and how education would be reformed so all kids can succeed.  The children would be trained to become the workforce of tomorrow.  As he began his campaign, he knew many people in Delaware were hurting.  When he ran for Governor the first time, the economy of the whole country was collapsing.  Even though Delaware recovered from this, not all of the citizens did.  Some never got the jobs back that made them more money.  The cities were becoming too violent again.  Drug use was up and children were getting shot in the street.  But still, Delaware did the one thing it knows how to do best- spend money.  John knew all that money wasn’t going to the right places.  He also knew that when he became the leader he would have to fix a lot of these problems.  Many of his advisors told him that education was going to fix all these problems.  Not now, but down the road.  But if he didn’t help follow the same paths Governor Jack made, nothing would ever get fixed.  This was happening all over the country.  There were critics, like the damn blogger, but they were just a whisper in the wind.  They didn’t see the big picture and how this was for the good of the state and the country.

Santa, where are we going?” John asked.  “To see the children John.”

Uhm, Santa.  We are flying into downtown Wilmington.  No offense sir, but I can’t be seen riding around in a sleigh with someone people don’t believe in along with eight reindeer.”  Santa pulled out a pouch from his pocket.  “Thanks for reminding me John, I almost forgot.”  Santa took out a handful of dust and blew it all around him and John.  “They won’t see us now.”  Santa parked the sleigh on top of the Community Education Building.  The duo went down through the building and to the streets below.  They walked over to the playground next to the building.

In a dark corner, an African-American boy was reading with a flashlight.  The boy was shivering as he turned a page.  “Why is this boy out here Santa?  Why doesn’t he go home?”  Santa sighed.  “This is his home John.  He lives on the streets.  During the really cold months he goes to a shelter with his aunt.  She is at work right now.”  John saw a grocery cart a few feet away from the boy.  Covering it was a blue tarp.  John could see some clothes in there and a few boxes.  As John looked away for a moment in horror, he saw a hypodermic needle on the ground.  The boy was reading a worn-out copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone with a flashlight between his yellow teeth.  He saw the boy lift a crumpled up bag out of his coat pocket.  The boy began eating the few crumbs left in the bag of potato chips.  Santa told John about how his father went to prison a few years ago.  He belonged to one of the gangs.  During a shoot-out in front of their apartment building, a bullet missed hitting the boy but instead lodged itself in his mother’s brain.  He told John this is the first thing the boy sees when he wakes up in the morning and the last thing he sees at night.  “Come on John, we have more stops to make tonight.”  John walked to the sleigh but kept looking back at the boy.

Santa and John flew once more into the night.  It was very quiet between them.  They landed in a very wealthy neighborhood with mansions all around them.  John wasn’t sure if he had been on this street when he was campaigning.  Many houses were decked out in Christmas lights and he even saw Santas made up in lights.  “This is never what Christmas was supposed to be John,” as Santa looked down at his belly.  They got out of the sleigh and went into one of the houses.  A girl was on her computer playing the latest version of Minecraft.  Her mom asked her if she finished her homework.  “I sure did,” the girl said.  “You can check it on Schoology.”  “Did you finish all the stuff on iReady?” the mother asked.  “Yes Mom,” as the girl rolled her eyes.  She had just finished eating the steak and shrimp but she was still hungry.  “Can you turn the heat down Mom?” she yelled.  As her hand grabbed the ice cream bowl, Santa and John left.  As Sarah pulled the spoon to her mouth, she wondered if she had to be at the school in her cheerleader’s outfit by 9am tomorrow or 9:15.

They flew down to Georgetown.  John was last there on Return Day in November.  All the candidates who run for office, whether they win or not, participate in this event to “bury the hatchet”.  But they flew away from the town to a trailer park.  Inside, a Hispanic girl was kicking a ball around with her little brother.  A man came into the room.  “Hicerion sus deberes?” the man asked.  “No podríamos papá. No sabíamos lo que significaban las palabras,” the boy answered.  The man watched as his children did what they do after school almost every day.  Kicking around the same ball.  “Sorry Santa, my Spanish is very rusty.  What did they say?” John asked.  “The father asked if his children did their homework.  They couldn’t because they can’t read the words.  They don’t know English very well.  They know enough for very basic things, but not enough to learn what they need to know.  Their mother is still at the chicken farm working her shift.  One of them always has to be with the kids. They aren’t here legally.  The father is afraid all the time that his kids will be taken from him and he and his wife will have to go back to their country.  He doesn’t know English at all.” 

John felt his mind stir as they flew north.  He was very troubled by what he saw.  When he was campaigning, he tended to see the best of Delaware.  In the daylight or early evening when many of his “Meet and Chews” with people were attended by those who had the means and the desire to see him.  When he went to schools, he could tell the kids were on their best behavior because “an important man” was coming to visit.  He didn’t see people in their homes or on the streets the way he did tonight.  He felt uncomfortable, like he was seeing a side of the world he heard about but didn’t see first-hand.  “Santa, I should really be getting back.  It’s getting late and my wife is probably worrying about me.”  Santa laughed so hard the sleigh shook. Look at your watch John.  What time is it?”  John looked at his watch in bewilderment.  It was still 6:30pm.  No time had passed since he first got in the sleigh with Santa back on the trail.  “Let me guess, another bit of your magic?”  Santa smiled at John as they flew into a middle-class neighborhood in Dover.

The odd couple went into the house.  Inside, a boy was crying on the couch.  His parents were arguing in the kitchen.  “What do you mean he was suspended again?” the father asked.  “I got a call from school.  They said he was acting out in class again and when the teacher told him to stop he ran out of the room.  When another teacher found him, he pushed her away.  The Principal came down the hall and yelled at him to come with him.  David yelled back at him and Dr. Smith called two teachers to help bring him to the office,” the mother explained.  “I didn’t get the call until two hours later.  By the time I got there he was so upset.”  “Did they give him any work to do when he was in there for two hours?” the boy’s father asked.  “I don’t know.  But this is not what his IEP says.  They aren’t supposed to drag him down the hall and yell at him.  He isn’t learning anything there.  He’s depressed all the time.  He can’t learn in a class with thirty kids.”  John knelt down in front of the boy.  He saw such pain and sadness in the boy’s eyes.  “This boy has no friends John.  The things you had growing up, kids to play with and throw a football around, running around in the woods, even going to the amusement park, David can’t do those things.”  Santa explained how David was labeled as high-functioning Autism.  He could do the work, but only under certain conditions.  If there was a lot of activity in the classroom, people talking, moving around, David couldn’t handle that.  His brain couldn’t filter out all the stimuli.  Some days it worked, but for David, it was an endless litany of suspensions and leaving school early.  “Special education John.  If you don’t know what is going on with a child, and everyone is different, how can we put all kids in the same box?” Santa asked him.

John could see what Santa was doing.  He understood that not every kid is the same.  But if they didn’t try to help all the kids nothing would change.  The two flew to the building where John was destined to spend many of his days in the next four years.  Legislative Hall.  Where all the laws in Delaware happened.  John didn’t think there would be any kids there at 6:30pm, and he was right.  Inside, a meeting was taking place.  John knew about half the people at the large table in the House Majority Caucus room.  There were some from the Department of Education, a couple from the Rodel Foundation of Delaware, the usual Delaware State Education Association contingent, some Superintendents, a few teachers, Delaware PTA, some of the disability advocates, the lady from the Delaware Charter Schools Network, four legislators, and a couple of State Board members.  He knew them.  A few people sat in the chairs outside of the table.  A woman from the Delaware DOE was giving a presentation on the Every Student Succeeds Act.  Delaware had to come up with a state plan so all students can succeed.  She was talking about the Delaware School Success Framework and the measurements they wanted included in their state accountability system.  It was all about proficiency and growth.  Which John knew was based on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  All these adults, sitting there talking about kids and how they can make education better.  John knew a few of the people there had the best of intentions but this was what they do in Delaware.  They sit around a table and talk.  This was how things got done.  They even had a name for it, The Delaware Way.

You don’t get it!” John cried out.  “We can’t keep testing these kids.  They aren’t the same.  We can’t keep doing this.  Their lives mean so much more than these tests.”  Santa looked at John.  “They can’t hear you.  Even if they could, too many of them wouldn’t listen.  They think they know what is best.  They forget what it was like when they were kids.  Even that man over there.”  Santa pointed to a man from Wilmington.  “He kept fighting for the kids in Wilmington and how the teachers need to be better,” Santa explained.  “The man believed what he said but he didn’t realize how much these children don’t have outside of school.  The man didn’t understand that you can’t just wave a magic wand and make teachers better.  And the best teachers, they were the ones already in those classrooms in Wilmington.  They were the ones who came to school every day, knowing the problems these kids brought to the classroom.  The look of hunger in their eyes as they wore the same clothes for the third day in a row.  They dedicated their lives to helping these kids in the hardest classrooms in the state.  In return, they were shamed by many of the people in this room.  The little boy we saw on the playground tonight?  He goes to the poorest school in the state.  Most of the people in this room have never walked into his school.  They don’t understand what he needs.  That legislator over there?  She sponsored a bill so special education would get better in the state.  In their eyes, it did.  Students went from 21% proficiency on the ELA part of Smarter Balanced to 23%.  To them, that is growth.  The Superintendent over there?  She runs the district where the two kids from Georgetown go to school.  She has a lot of students who can’t speak or read English.  She hasn’t said one word tonight about how to help them.  See the man over there?  He runs a charter school in Newark.  They just settled on a lawsuit against the Christina School District.  In return they will get more money in the future.  Remember the girl in the mansion?  She goes to that charter school.  That money will be taken from the homeless boy’s school.  He will get less than he has today at school.  The man over there?  He sits on the board at the Rodel Foundation.  He sees opportunity.  He sees how the business leaders in the state can profit from all this.  He is hoping they will start talking about more career pathway programs in our high schools.  He knows that some will go to the coding school he sits on the board of.  He talks with other business leaders and the graduates of that program do internships at their companies.  Sometimes they get jobs.  While they are learning, these coding students are building the network of tomorrow.  They develop algorithms that will go into the education technology in all the schools.  All that data, all that blessed data.  They store it all.  They keep everything, these futurists and visionaries.  They have the money and influence to make sure what they want becomes policy and law.  It is the way the modern world works John.  Perhaps they know, and don’t care, that what they are setting up now will only make those children who struggle the most even further apart from any true opportunity to succeed.  And them, over there, they work for the Department of Education.  They are the middlemen between the schools and the business community.  They make sure the business community gets what they want in the schools.  They do this through regulations and conversations you will never hear about.  That woman there, she runs the accountability section of the Department.  Her job is to make sure all children in certain grades take the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  When she sees the results come in, she doesn’t see the faces of the children who took the test.  She sees numbers.  Results.  Scores.  Her job is to understand why all the children we saw tonight got a 1 on the test last Spring except for the girl in the mansion who got a 4.  She doesn’t see David’s disability.  Or the two siblings who can’t read the instructions for the test in English much less understand the context of a passage  in Spanish about the stock market.  She doesn’t know that the African-American boy in Wilmington has slept in 124 different beds in the past year alone and the other 241 nights were outside with blankets.  But she actually thinks they can close the achievement gaps and these children will grow into prosperity.  How does she know this?  It’s what her bosses tell her every single day.  She hears the lie so much she believes it.

John and Santa left the building.  As the two flew north, they talked about what John had to do.  What he needed to change.  They talked about the blogger and the parents, teachers, legislators, advocates, and citizens who thought like Santa did.  “Those are the ones you really need to talk to John.  I’m sure you have heard from many of the people who were in that meeting tonight.  If you haven’t, I have no doubt your advisors have.”  John knew this to be true.  “You need to understand the other side of the coin John, where the real world lives.  These aren’t pleasant realities you saw tonight.  For those fighting for the kids, even opting out of the test isn’t as easy as it once was.  They are fighting for these kids, their kids.  And their grandchildren.  They are fighting for their jobs.  They see beyond the results and the growth.  They see what needs to change but no one listens.  No one who can really make a difference.  Some do, but not enough to make the changes.  When they do speak, they are shunned by their peers.  Given less importance.  It isn’t right John.  What the people in that room wanted, it won’t change anything.  It will only cause more damage.  You can’t incorporate education.  These are children.  You need to change all this.”

John walked out of the sleigh.  He thanked Santa for showing him so much of the Delaware he didn’t see before.  The two shook hands.  “Santa, I don’t know if I can change all of this by myself.  You know if I try I will make enemies.  Those enemies won’t make my job any easier.”  Santa put his hand on John’s shoulder.  “That is what all leaders who understand what is right and just have to face.  Some succeed and some fail.  Some do it alone and some have support.  All I can say is this John-  remember what you saw tonight.  Every single time you make a decision.  Remember the children’s faces before you see the adults.  You know in your heart who is really in this for the kids and who isn’t.  When you hear that voice in your head, questioning what the true motives are, listen to that.  Let that be your shield against your enemies John.”  John hugged Santa.  “Merry Christmas Santa.”  “And to you as well Governor Carney.”  Santa walked toward his sleigh and turned around. “John, find those who speak the uncomfortable truths.”

John looked down at his watch.  It was 6:31pm.  Santa was gone.

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Reasons America & Delaware Are Still Great 2016 Edition

Many people in America today are facing an impossible choice.  We call this Election Day.  I am choosing to spend the day looking at all that is good about America and more specifically the state I live in, Delaware.  No matter what happens today, we can’t let anyone take away the spirit of what makes us Americans.  We have liberties we often take for granted.  Beyond the politics of it all, we all should want the best for each other, especially the children.  We have so much talent in this country.  Each mind is a unique and wonderful creation of beauty and grace. In Delaware, we have people doing things no one hears about, every single day. We have children who have so many gifts. We have stories of hope and inspiration. As a friend of mine said on Facebook the other day, we are more than this election.

***UPDATED***Delaware Approves $20.7 Million So Markell & Sokola Can Have Safe Bike Rides But Ignore Special Education Funding Bill?

markellcyclingThis is the heart of what is wrong with Delaware.  In an article by Bike Delaware, the group brags about how the General Assembly approved $20.7 million for bike trail improvements in Delaware.  Meanwhile, students considered to be basic special education in Kindergarten to 3rd grade, go for a sixth year without special education funding from the state.  Pork indeed!  Now before bicycling enthusiasts come at me, I fully support bicycle safety and awareness.  While I don’t ride a bicycle these days, I think it is important for further safety for the sport.  But not at the expense of children in public schools!  And we can say this is part of the capital budget, not the operating budget.  But money shifts around ALL the time at Legislative Hall.

We are especially grateful for the leadership of State Senator Dave Sokola, the co-chair of the committee that wrote the capital budget, and Governor Jack Markell. It’s not a coincidence that Senator Sokola biked to work yesterday (about 60 miles) and Governor Markell biked to work today (also about 60 miles).

I have no doubt it isn’t a coincidence!  And by mentioning how Sokola is the co-chair of the committee that writes the capital budget, you might as well throw out the words “conflict of interest”.  Are we really saying, as a state, that despite all the arguments about education funding and how we will “commit to doing better next year” that our General Assembly approved $20.7 million in taxpayer funds for what amounts to a select special interest for a hobby?  But the legislators who question this kind of nonsense are considered “unpatriotic” by people like State Rep. Melanie Smith…

This is a disgrace.  How much longer will high-needs students continue to go without while fat-cats like Senator David Sokola and Governor Jack Markell can bike to Legislative Hall?  While I was not always supportive of the WEIC plan, I think that was much more worthy than bike trails.  We have schools that desperately need restoration and improvements, but paths for cyclists are more important?  What the hell is wrong with this state and when will our legislators finally step up and say no as a collective body to this insanity?  We have homeless people, increasing violence in our cities, and jobs that don’t pay as much as they used to.  We have police that aren’t getting the funds they need to effectively do their jobs.  But this is okay?

House Bill 30 would have guaranteed funding for students in Kindergarten to 3rd Grade with the designation of basic special education.  Based on a unit-count system, these children get no state funding in these grades.  It is one of the most transparent and visible flaws in Delaware education funding.  But I suppose it is okay to ignore the needs of the most vulnerable of children so people like Jack Markell and David Sokola, whose very agendas and laws have further demeaned these children multiple times, can get more out of their bicycle hobby.  What a joke!

What kind of Governor bikes sixty miles to work?  What if something happens to him?  Is that in the best interest of the state to have your Governor biking to work on a hot day?  Do his bodyguards have to bike with him?  Do they get extra duty hazard pay for that?  Since we don’t have a Lieutenant Governor and something happened to Jack while bike-riding, who steps up then? Schwartzkopf?  Good lord!

I can think of many different ways we could have allocated these funds in a “tough budget year”.  The Delaware Joint Finance Committee and the folks on the Bond Committee need to open their eyes and see what they are doing to this state.  Meanwhile, cyclists across the state rejoice!  While students suffer…

Updated, 7/5/16, 2:35pm: On Bike Delaware’s Facebook page, the group responded to comments made on there about this article with the following:

80% of this money comes from the federal government for transportation system (capital) investments. The federal government does not permit this money to be spent on schools (or anything not related to transportation). It’s deeply unfair to criticize Governor Markell and Senator Sokola for failing to spend these federal transportation dollars on schools. Neither Governor Markell or Senator Sokola have any authority to re-program this money this way. (They can spend it on walking and cycling projects rather than new roads but they can’t spend it on schools or libraries or hospitals or anything not related to transportation.)

To which I responded:

Be that as it may, it is just more pork. Even more distressing this comes at a federal level when IDEA Special Education funding at a federal level is at 37.5% of what it should be when the law was reauthorized in 2004. While that has absolutely nothing to do with Bike Delaware, it is symptomatic of a disease in our country where those who already have so much more than others get more while those who don’t have those luxuries lose out. I’m pretty sure an argument could be made somewhere that Delaware’s transportation grants from the Feds could be used to get rid of the Neighborhood Schools Act which has further segregated our schools, especially in Wilmington. Funding is twisted all the time in our state, this should not be an exception. Once again, though, I do want to reiterate this is not a slam against those who enjoy biking, but rather what I consider to be a misuse of funds during a time when others desperately need funding for more apparent reasons.  With your permission, may I update my article with your comment?

And their response:

Please do. To repeat, it’s not within either Governor Markell’s or Senator Sokola’s discretion to spend these federal transportation dollars on anything other than transportation projects. All they have done is take about ~5% of those FY17 dollars and dedicated them for improving the state for people walking and cycling. And, given that Delaware is the deadliest state in America for pedestrians, it’s not out-of-line for the state to be making improvements that make it safer for people to walk and bicycle. Not to mention, that 2/3rds of Delawareans are overweight or obese and making it safe for people to be more physically active is a critical public health priority. And, if you are an environmentalist, every bike trip that replaces a car trip means less air pollution….These are urgent public policy priorities that have absolutely nothing to do with anybody’s “hobby.”

I appreciate Bike Delaware’s response, but like I said, this is a matter of what side you agree on.  Regardless of where the funds generate from, we live in a country where those who have the luxury and time to bike over bridges along the C&D Canal in Delaware have that ability.  But I fail to see how these bike trails, while I’m sure are utilized by some who are less fortunate, will solve obesity problems and pedestrian deaths.  In my opinion, I think pet projects like this are pushed by people like Markell and Sokola so they can enjoy them, not the people who probably aren’t even aware things like this exist because they are too busy looking for work, or already work several jobs, just to put food on the table.  And it goes all the way up to a federal level and funds are locked in for specific purposes like this so they can only be used for pet projects by legislators and Governors.

*the above picture is from DelDOT

Exceptional Delaware’s 2015 Hero Of The Year: Braeden Mannering

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That family is awesome!

Christina Board of Education member John Young, when asked to describe Braeden Mannering, said the above.

I don’t usually write about individual students on here.  But Braeden Mannering is an exception, because he is a very awesome kid!  Braeden and his mom, Christy Mannering, run a foundation called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  Their mission is to provide healthy food for those who can’t afford it.  From the 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags website:

Our mission is to provide healthy snacks to homeless and low-income individuals. Every bag includes a letter from Braeden, contact information for additional services who can provide further assistance. Three healthy snacks (each one is below 180 calories) and a bottle of water.  Our belief is that every person regardless of their financial situation deserves to have access to healthy food. This helps to balance the paradox between obesity and food insecurity.

I first heard about Braeden earlier this year.  All I knew was that he had a business of some sort to feed the homeless.  I had no idea he went to the White House a couple times, met Michele Obama, has won numerous awards, and very recently began appearing in the 2016 Scholastic Almanac For Kids.  His website tells his journey better than I ever could.  So how does a 12 year old boy who attends Gauger-Cobbs Middle School become a Delaware celebrity?

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According to an article in CNN earlier this year, Braeden won a contest for the 2013 Healthy Lunchtime Challenge.  His “Tortilla Bowl Deluxe” allowed him to become the winner for Delaware.  After an award dinner at The White House, Braeden made a decision that would change his life.  After seeing a homeless man begging for money in Washington D.C., Braeden came up with an idea.

During the trip home from the White House, Braeden asked his mom if he could give his souvenir money to a group of homeless people. A few days later, he came up with another creative way to pay it forward.

“Braeden was rummaging in the kitchen and emerged with a brown paper bag,” his mom, Christy Mannering, said. “Inside was a water bottle, potato chips, fruit snacks and granola bars. He asked me if we could go back and give it to one of the homeless people.”

Two and a half years later, Braeden is still giving nutritional meals to the less fortunate and the homeless.  Braeden and his mom turned it into a non-profit business called 3B: Brae’s Brown Bags.  As of a week ago, 3B handed out 4,500 brown bags to those who struggle the most in our state.  Brae has been to numerous schools around the state, and even to some other states as well.

I talked to Christy Mannering and asked for her permission to write this article.  She happily accepted.  She described Braeden for me.

Brae has an old soul and a huge heart. He is often asked if he thinks he will be “doing 3B forever” and his answer never changes. He says he hopes he doesn’t have to, because he wants hunger not to be a problem anymore, but that he will keep going as long as it is needed.

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Family friend Laura Nash agrees with Christy’s assessment of Braeden:

3B is Huge!  He is truly an amazing kid with a big heart.

A year ago, Braeden won a competition called #MazdaDrive4Good.  The sponsors of the contest, NBC Universal and Mazda, donated $30,000 to 3B Brae’s Brown Bags.  As a result, actress Minnie Driver and a film crew came to Braeden’s home in Bear and presented the check and Christmas decorations for Braeden and his family.  He appeared on the Today Show on NBC, his family was invited to the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan, and he was even interviewed by Al Roker!

Braeden described this adventure on his own blog, in an article called Were You Watching NBC Last Week?

You know my Mom told Mr. Adam that one of the best things about all of 3B has been seeing it spread and help others. She says when you throw a pebble into the water the ripples can spread out all the way across a pond, she is humbled to see the ripple effect that 3B is causing and she’s so proud to know that I’m the pebble.

This fall, the pebble spread and Braeden and his mother created the 3B Ripples Student Chapter.  The first Delaware school to join was Kirk Middle School.  The mentor for the project, teacher Jackie Kook, had this to say about Braeden:

Braeden is an inspiration in that he allows others to realize that, no matter our ages or abilities, we can band together to help those in need.  The outreach of his initial brown bag has been tremendous, and we at Kirk Middle School are proud to continue his work and show our community that Kirk Cougars Care!

Braeden doesn’t believe it is his job alone to help those in need.  His outreach to students across the state is something I can only look upon with awe.  He is building community awareness in ways many adults are unable to do.  To speak in front of an audience is a talent learned over time, but this seems to be a natural gift for Braeden.

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Braeden’s story is amazing.  I agree with his mother that he is an old soul.  But he is also a new soul.  He is a pre-teen, not even in high school yet, who has a passion for those less fortunate.  It is enough to make a huge difference.  Braeden is a unique soul in Delaware.  He gives and gives and expects nothing in return.  The fact that he can help those who have less is a comfort for him.  I can only imagine feelings of that sort are a part of Braeden’s family dynamic.  In addition to running the business with Brae, his mother was also one of the key figures in the Christina School District referendums earlier this year.  Even though the referendum didn’t pass, Christy gave countless hours of her time to help the struggling district.  Her husband and Brae’s step-father, Brian, serves on the Christina Citizens Budget Oversight Committee and writes for Delaware Liberal and his own blog, Those In Favor.  I met both of them this year, and they are very compassionate people.  While I have not met Braeden yet, I see the values he holds so dear in Brian and Christy as well.

Braeden was invited back to the White House in 2014 for the Annual Kids Dinner.  He was a speaker and he actually introduced Michelle Obama to the crowd.

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But something that stood out for Braeden even more than meeting the First Lady and President Obama, was an honor he received on May 1st, 2014.  Delaware Senator Bryan Townsend sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution #48.  This legislation recognized the boy who knows more about giving than receiving.

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I remember back in 1989, Phil Collins released a song called “Another Day In Paradise”.  It was a song about the homeless, and the words really impacted me.  I went into Philadelphia with family the day after Thanksgiving that year and it was freezing out.  I saw the homeless, shivering along buildings and laying on vents.  Grocery carts were their best friend on a holiday weekend.  It saddened me that there are those who don’t have homes for whatever reason, especially during the holidays.  I always wanted to do something about it, but the everyday trappings of a non-homeless life pushed it out of my mind.

One of the Delaware blogs I follow religiously is Homeless1 in Wilmington.  The author of the blog, a former homeless person, helps the homeless in Delaware as much as he possibly can.  It is an excellent blog, and you can find it on my sidebar.  When I read the articles on there, it brings me back to that 19 year old me who wants to do more, but doesn’t know how.  I live in Dover, and the homeless are here too.  I see them from time to time when I am driving in Dover, and I always say a prayer in my mind that they find themselves out of whatever circumstances they are in.  And then I see a bright light in Braeden Mannering, and my feelings of helplessness lift away.  Because I know that one 12 year old boy, who could be doing many other things with his life, has made it his mission to end hunger.  I’ve been reading Brae’s website for the past week, and I am overwhelmed at his unconditional love for those who are hungry, or don’t have a home.  Homeless1 said it best:

there is no such thing as a small effort in fighting homelessness. every effort has an impact. every person involved in advocacy, outreach or street ministry has an impact. the type of impact we have is a direct result of how honest we are with the homeless, with the public in general and with ourselves. every effort matters. every statement matters. every truth, or untruth matters. they both have far reaching effects whether or not we realize it. we need to become conscious of that fact.

Braeden’s impact on Delaware is huge.  Braeden sees the simplest truth of them all: helping others is the right thing to do.  Thank you Braeden Mannering for renewing my faith in humanity this holiday season.  You are the Exceptional Delaware Hero of 2015!  I write about education all the time, but I am still always learning.  As a state, we talk about improving education for low-income and poverty students all the time.  But if we can’t eliminate hunger and homelessness for all the citizens of our state, we will constantly be fighting a losing battle.  We can change the conditions of a classroom all we want, but for some students it is not what they need the most.  We can give grants to schools and open up wellness centers, but as long as one child comes to school hungry we are not doing everything we can for Delaware students.  I salute Braeden Mannering for teaching us all that if we allow our hearts to open up, change can be a very powerful force.  I may be late to catch up on Braeden Mannering, but he is definitely someone who gives with an open heart, one brown bag at a time…

As I was putting the finishing touches on this article, an article by Zoe Read with WHYY/Newsworks showed up on my Facebook feed.  Called The face of Delaware’s homeless children, the timing was uncanny.  This is what Braeden is all about.  Helping these children.

To see a recap of Braeden’s journey in 2015, please watch the below video:

My Favorite Blog in Delaware

Most would assume it is Kilroy’s Delaware, but they would be wrong.  It isn’t even a blog about education.  It is the most brutally honest words I’ve ever read.  It is the truth far too many want to ignore or pretend it will just go away.  To truly understand the plight of the homeless in Delaware, you have to read Homeless In Wilmington.

The author used to be homeless, and this is all he writes about.  He understands their perspective and shares it with us all.  His cry should be a cry we all feel.  I want to share one of his more recent posts.

I Wept For You Today

July 14th, 2015

i wept for you today. when i saw the group of you standing in the rain, waiting for the doors to open so you could go inside in the early morning darkness. when i saw the number of you and the blank expressions on your face as you waited, i wept.

when i passed the mother with her young child in a stroller, i wept. my heart went out to her as she passed me on the sidewalk and i glanced at the young child. my eyes went back to the mother who looked at me and half smiled, hiding the pain, the anxiety and the weariness that only a mother could know as she tries to keep her child at her side. i thought of where she slept last nite and the fear that must have crept around her as the darkness sank in and she was alone in the abandoned building that i know she sleeps in. i thought of the relief that the early sunrise must have brought her, only to be quickly replaced by the burden that the same sunrise brings.

i passed the elderly gentleman with mental illness wandering down market street. as i passed he paused and began to speak as he always does when i see him. his greeting was familiar but his conversation after that was sprinkled with reality and the bizarre ramblings of dementia and paranoia that fills his world. i looked more intently at him this morning as i listened to him speak in the world that he is trapped inside. when i began to move on and glanced back i thought of him and the many times i’ve seen him wandering the streets of my city going to a destination that only he is aware of. in the rain, the snow, the darkness and the heat of the summer he shuffles down the same streets every day, content in the world that only he knows. as i looked ahead again, i wept because i know he will not make it thru another winter on the streets.

i passed the single young woman whom i see often in my travels among the homeless. when i first saw her she was pretty, young and physically fit. this morning she was a shell of herself and her eyes seemed to be dimming with each meeting. her once physically fit body was now thin, worn and bore the marks that heroin addicts wear. she was weathered and street hard. when i thought of the moment that the needle will enter her arm and as surely as i was standing before her today, it will take her life…i wept.

i learned of a young woman’s death this morning that i haven’t seen in awhile. i inquired about her to her once boyfriend who had just relapsed and was beginning again to attempt to kick the drugs that have had a reign over him since the first day i met him. his response that she died 7 months ago hit me particularly hard this morning when he told me she overdosed. i wept as i thought of the last time i saw her, drug free, eyes clear and a bright smile. i wept for a life cut short in what should have been her prime. 

every time i passed a homeless person today and saw the backpack on their back or duffel bag at their side i wept for them.  i wept because i know the struggle, the weariness and the anxiety that comes with that backpack and worn sneakers. i know the look on their face and the feelings inside them despite the smile on their face. i wept for them because i know the inner sadness and feeling of being alone that eventually comes to them whether it be late at nite, early in the morning or all during the day. i wept for them because i know that the chances of ending their homelessness soon is small and that their struggle is ongoing. i know the heavy burden they bear. i wept as i passed the ones that were drunk, high or somewhere in between.  i know they carry a death sentence with them and every time they smoke, drink or stick a needle in their arm they are quickening that sentence and shortening that green mile.

at the end of the day when i saw the homeless finally at their destination, i wept, i know that they will sleep on a bed that isn’t theirs, in a building that houses sadness and desperation. i know they will sleep tonite and wake to the thought that soon another day of walking the streets of my city will begin. another day of surviving and living with the thought that tomorrow will bring another day…just like today. 

i wept for my city today as i wondered how it could allow this day after day after day and year after year. i cried as i wondered how my city could allow men, women and children to be homeless, alone and often hungry and fearful for their own survival. i wept when i thought of you allowing this to begin, grow and continue in your community being fully aware that the homeless are among you.

i wept for all of you today, but you did not know it. i shed not one tear down my cheek and i did not wipe my eyes as the pain of your homelessness sifted thru me. as you keep your pain inside of you, so i kept the tears inside of me as assuredly as the woman at your place of employment keeps her homelessness inside of her. i kept it inside of me just as sure as the homeless child who shares your son or daughter’s classroom keeps their secret inside. i kept my tears inside of me just as intently as the elderly woman you pass on the sidewalk as you scurry to work or lunch or on your way home keeps her fear and pain inside. 

i wept for you today…all of you…in my soul. i wept for my city.

see you around town

Many of the homeless children go to school with our kids.  You may not even know it.  When my son is hungry, I give him food.  When he is cold, I give him a blanket.  But these children don’t have the luxury over going to the latest Disney movie when it comes out.  For them, the only game they play is the constant “when will it end”.

I live in Dover, and there are homeless here as well.  Every once in a while you will hear about one of them freezing to death in the winter.  One day I was walking on a path near Silver Lake, near the park, and I found what appeared to be a small homeless town, with tents and grocery carts.  Nobody was there, but it was obvious I have it much better than these people.  Most of us do.

The homeless are people, just like us.  Circumstances brought them to their current situation, but they bleed the same blood, and feel the same pains we all do.  But they feel it every day.

Some of these homeless children are the ones we so desperately want to fix at school.  The ones that can perform the same as their peers with the right amount of rigor.  As if this can cure their current plight.  If our Governor and DOE truly want to “fix” these children, no amount of high-stakes standardized tests is ever going to change their reality.

As campaign season kicks in during the next few months, and the rich gladly pay $100 a plate at a dinner, remember what those funds could really do to those who need it more than any person running for public office.  Maybe buy some sleeping bags.  My favorite blogger is stockpiling them now for those who will need them.

If Tomorrow Never Comes

I really hope Governor Jack Markell reads the blog Homeless1 in Wilmington.  No one, and I mean not one single soul, should complain about anything while these situations occur:

children just like the ones pictured here die every nite without a home. children just like these sleep in cars, abandoned buildings or other places where no child should have to lay their head. if you think these children aren’t aware or that they don’t feel the fear or have the knowledge that they have no home or may not have food tomorrow….you are wrong. no child should experience those feelings or emotions or even have a second thought about tomorrows meals. no child, not one single one, should ever die in a mission, a shelter or on the street. none…not one single one. we as a country should be ashamed and embarrassed that this happens, not infrequently, but every single nite in our own country. 

So while all the big corporate folks talk about how to make education better, and how to make our charter schools better, why don’t we fix this problem first.  Cause none of it will ever matter if you have homeless children going to school.

For more on this post, please go to: http://wilmingtonhomeless.weebly.com/homeless-blog/if-tomorrow-never-comes

And check out the full blog at: http://wilmingtonhomeless.weebly.com/homeless-blog?wref=bif