A Look Back At 2017 And Leaping Into 2018!!!!

2017 will go down in the record books.  As what remains to be determined.  It had it’s highs and, for me, it had some unbelievable lows.  For those who know me “outside of the blog”, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  I’ve danced around on it several times on here this year.  For my faithful readers, you can probably figure it out.  Those “events” cast a shadow on this blog resulting in periods where I didn’t write anything.  Sometimes for weeks at a time.  Compare that to 2015 when I wrote a blog post every single day and very close to it in 2016!

I like to take a look back at the “best” of the blog at the end of each year.  Instead of just doing a top ten list or whatever of the top articles, I want to try something different.

January: Thom Labarbera, Brandywine Social Studies Teacher Passes Away 

This was probably one of the fastest articles I ever wrote.  I saw something on Facebook about this teacher passing so I thought I would make a post about it.  The fact it was the most-read article of the month shows a great deal about how loved this teacher was.

February: Delaware Racism: It Is Reality And It Isn’t Going Away

I wrote this in the wake of allegations that Delaware Military Academy’s basketball team was shouting racial stuff at a Red Clay basketball team during a game.  It was never proven definitively if it did happen, but it got a lot of us thinking.  It made me write about how widespread I believe racism is in Delaware.

March: Don’t Let Your Special Needs Child Fall Victim To “New” Federal And State Voucher/Choice Policies

This was actually a guest post by Steve Newton.  He posts some amazing and insightful words on Facebook.  When I read this, I immediately reached out to him and asked if I could publish it.  I would love to continue sharing Steve’s well-written words on here, but that is certainly up to him.

April: Silence Is Complicity: Human Sex Trafficking In Delaware And How I-95, Craigslist, Backpage & Kik Make It Thrive

The day I wrote this I attended a seminar on human sex trafficking up in Red Clay.  It struck a chord with me.  It should with everyone living in this state.  I went way out of my comfort zone with this article but I was happy to do it.  The Delaware General Assembly passed a couple of new laws about this type of thing not long after this article.  They would have passed them whether or not I wrote about it, but this post opened some eyes in Delaware.  Every time I look at my stats, I see this article continue to get hits just about every day.

May: Newark Charter School Doesn’t Want Wilmington Black Kids Or Wilmington Special Needs Kids Going To Their Private School

This was the most-read article of 2017.  It was based on a House Bill that aimed to get rid of the 5-mile radius that a few charter schools have as an enrollment preference.  Once Senator David Sokola got wind of it, he demanded the bill had something added to it.  Something that would only benefit one school in the entire state… Newark Charter School.  Eventually, Governor Carney vetoed the bill because of the NCS exclusion.  Most likely it was planned that way the entire time in Sokola’s mind.

June: Pray For New Mexico! Surfer Boy Is In Charge Now!

Give a former Delaware DOE employee the keys to the New Mexico Secretary of Education car and watch heads start shaking both in Delaware and New Mexico.  Once New Mexico teachers caught wind of this, they immediately wanted to know what Christopher Ruszkowski did for good old Delaware.  He recently pulled a priority schools fiasco in Albuquerque pissing off pretty much everyone.

July: The Hidden Secrets Behind Providence Creek Academy’s Bomb Threat & Audit Investigation

The jury isn’t out on this one.  It never got to that point but it should have.  Nothing happened because of this article which really pisses me off.  I’m hoping that changes one day.  If it doesn’t, it just goes to show how corrupt this state really is.

August: Massive Teacher Exodus At Providence Creek Leaves Parents Shaking Their Heads

Shortly before school started, many teachers had left PCA.  Parents from the school accused me of beating up their school and I had no clue what I was talking about.

September: Breaking News: Governor Carney Signs Cursive Bill! Take That Kate Gladstone!

In the Spring, the Delaware General Assembly passed a bill mandating cursive writing be a part of English/Language Arts curriculum for students in lower grades.  It was controversial.  Some of my biggest allies loathed and hated this bill.  I still think it is very important.  Governor Carney signed the bill in September and I was able to get the exclusive on it.

October: Caesar Rodney District Staff & Admins Watched Disabled Kid Get Beat Up And Did Nothing

Shortly after the whole Caesar Rodney mascot thing exploded in the news, bigger news came out about a disabled student getting beat up in the cafeteria.  Another student filmed the whole thing.  When I found out that district staff and administrators were in the cafeteria that day and didn’t do a damn thing to stop the fight, it really ticked me off!

November: Delaware Politics Explodes With Regulation 225

Probably the biggest education news of the year.  A regulation about transgender students turned Delaware upside down.  11,000 public comments later, the Regulation is getting a second look which will cause it to come roaring back in 2018.  Parental rights are at the heart of the regulation.  It will be interesting to follow, that’s for sure!

December: The Exceptional Delaware Hero Of The Year 2017: Laurie Howard

Like the January article, this post was about a beloved teacher who passed away.  This one hit home for me though.  Laurie was a friend of mine.  I wrote this less than 24 hours after she passed away.  There will never be another like Laurie Howard.  I was glad nothing else I wrote this month came close to beating this article.  A fitting tribute to an awesome woman!  Even Diane Ravitch picked up on it!

While I didn’t come close to the number of hits I received in 2016, I wrote less articles.  So altogether, most of those articles on average did better than articles that came out in 2016.  The top search terms that brought readers here included the following: Exceptional Delaware, Backpage, Craigslist, Trinity Carr, Susan Bunting, Thomas Edison Charter School and John Marino.  Some of the oddest ones were: Chakeria sex video, omegle, abc reading eggs where children, and how do I join the illuminati if I live in New Castle Delaware.

I imagine I will continue to write less in 2018.  Just like I did this year.  But I do plan on writing next year’s articles with more facts.  I know, I’ve said this before.  I’ve said I will reach out and get more info before I just throw it up on here.  I think I break this New Year’s resolution every single year.  Will this be the year?  We shall see.  But I do know I will branch out more from education into other areas.  I will experiment where I can.  I will also be writing more personal stuff.  Not everyone’s cup of tea.  But I do that for me more than anyone else.  I find writing to be very cathartic.  I may have a few other tricks up my sleeve, but that will have to wait.  I’m sure I will piss off people like I do every year.  Can’t please everyone!

But I do want to wish all of you a very Happy New Year!  Be safe tonight.  Chances are pretty good if you don’t read this tonight you are having fun somewhere.  Just be safe in your travels and tell those you love how much they mean to you!  As for me, I can’t wait for 2018!  2017 sucked in a lot of ways for me.  But like anything in life, you have to take the bad with the good.  I learned a lot this year.  And sometimes those growing pains (even for a 47-year old man) are very important.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring and the other 364 days in the year.  Bring it on!  The good, the bad, and the ugly.  I’m ready for it!

 

 

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What Is Exceptional Delaware? A Primer For New Readers And Some Changes For Old Readers

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Hello, and welcome to Exceptional Delaware.  My name is Kevin Ohlandt and I would like to introduce you to a blog about Delaware education.  For the confused among you right now, I often take for granted that folks reading this blog haven’t been around from the beginning.  In fact, most of you haven’t.  So I wanted to give a refresher for those just jumping on.

I started this blog a year and a half ago.  My original intention was to make this a blog solely about special education in Delaware.  I have a son with Tourette Syndrome and co-morbidities that accompany that primary disability.  Without going into a lot of details, he had some issues at a Delaware charter school.  He eventually changed schools, but during that journey I wasn’t satisfied with just resolving it like that.  I began to research special education in Delaware, and quickly found that the problems with special education in our state are symptomatic of a much larger disease.

I soon found myself writing his story on another great Delaware blog, Kilroy’s Delaware.  When I finished that, Kilroy suggested I start my own blog (probably so I could stop wasting space on his).  And thus, Exceptional Delaware was born.  It started out with most of the posts focusing on special education, but it quickly morphed into an almost bizarre cat and mouse game with the Delaware Department of Education.  As the months went by, I found out who all the big education players are in the state.  In a nutshell, it comes down to Governor Markell and the Rodel Foundation of Delaware.  Even bigger than that is the similar stories playing out across America.  Each state has a Markell and a Rodel.  Who do they all serve?  Wall Street.  Its called corporate education reform, and it is the single most destructive and devastating force to ever hit public education in our country.

I soon found myself walking out of the bounds of this website and involving myself in Delaware politics.  I would write about education legislation and became very involved in an opt-out bill in Delaware called House Bill 50.  The bill passed our House and Senate but Governor Markell vetoed the bill last summer.  Our General Assembly may attempt to override the Governor’s veto when they return in January which will bring about a host of articles from this blog.

Delaware spends a third of its budget on education.  It is over a billion dollars.  For a small state, with less than a million people, that is fairly significant.  Most of these funds go to our school districts and charter schools, but a large sum of it does go to our Department of Education and their host of education vendors and their attempts to “fix” a broken education system.  I put fix in quotes because I do not believe it is as broken as these entities claim it is.  The way they do this is very simple.  It’s called a standardized test.  In Delaware, along with many other states, our test is called the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  If the test wasn’t long, complicated, intrusive, destructive, disruptive, money-wasting, and made to make students, teachers, and schools feel like failures I probably wouldn’t give it the time of the day.  But it is more than these, and more.  It is the central fulcrum behind the education pirates who swarm into states and give the illusion that our schools need help.  It is a never-ending cycle that demands constant watch.  When you mix politics with big business, it is a nightmare of epic proportions.

I often feel like students with disabilities suffer the most from this drive for “rigor” and for all students to be “college and career ready”.  I don’t mind students flexing their academic muscles when they are in high school.  I am all for every student doing the best they can.  But when false paintings of success are put on a canvas, before the work is even done, I find something very wrong with that.  We can’t teach children, at school or at home, if someone else is micro-managing based on false ideology.

All too often the schools that suffer the most from this insanity are the ones with high populations of low-income, poverty, minority, and special education students.  The public is waking up more and more everyday to this reality, but occasionally carrots are thrown their way to lull them into a false sense of calm and security.  These antics could be called “assessment inventory”, or the “Every Student Succeeds Act”, or an “education funding task force”.  What the corporate privateers don’t want you to know is they want schools to fail.  They want them to always feel like they need to be fixed.  They would not make money otherwise.  This charade is supported financially by huge foundations across America, with the biggest being the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.  These foundations and non-profits love their charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools, but they don’t operate the same way.  As long as they receive federal and state funding, they must behave like traditional public schools.  But all too often (not in every charter), some pick and choose who they want.  Since charters also receive local funding from the school districts students choice from, this can have a very debilitating financial effect on the local school district.  Nowhere is this more apparent than in Delaware’s Christina School District, up in Wilmington.

Traditional school districts have their own issues.  Large classroom sizes, less funding from the state, and what are known as referendums.  Referendums are an election in the school district.  They are needed when the costs to run the district go past the allocated budget.  The district needs more funds from its residents to continue.  If it passes, the school uses the extra funding from property assessments and makes the necessary adjustments.  If it fails, it is very bad for the school district.  Many feel that school districts in Delaware spend far too much on administrators within their districts.  For a small state, Delaware has 19 school districts, over 25 charter schools, and a fairly large amount of private schools.  The private schools have shed students since charter schools gained in popularity beginning twenty years ago in Delaware.

For large cities like Wilmington, the factors of numerous charter schools, failed referendums, charter schools siphoning the local school districts funding, some charters taking the “best and brightest”, and standardized testing that falsely labels schools with huge populations of at-risk students as failures, results in a perfect storm of chaos and disaster.  Add in unionized teachers, teacher prep programs like Teach For America and Relay Graduate School, school boards, along with the constantly interfering Department of Education, Governor, legislators, foundations, non-profits, and the corporate education vendors, and a picture forms.  This picture shows far too many hands in education and the ones that suffer the most are the children.

This is where I come in.  I write about it all in our state.  The DOE, the Governor, Rodel, the unelected State Board of Education, charter schools, school districts, legislators, education legislation, special education, bullying, charter school financial meltdowns, standardized testing, vendor contracts, transparency, and more.  For the most part it is the chase.  The constant and never-ending quest to get information out so the public can see it, while our DOE blithely implements agenda after agenda with no one the wiser.  It is exhausting and time-consuming.  Along the way, I will write satirical articles to keep my sanity.  Sometimes, as I did recently, I will write a human interest story about one particular person.  I will branch out to national stories.  Sometimes I just break away from it all and write about myself or something as far away from education as possible.

This isn’t my blog.  This is Delaware’s blog.  One of many.  Stories are told all over The First State.  Some blogs take place on long Facebook threads.  Others are in our major media, such as the News Journal.  Media has transitioned over time into a blog-like state.  As newspapers and major media outlets are essentially run by advertisers and corporations, the unbiased feel of journalism has radically shifted from what it once was.  True journalism does exist, but all too often the sides can become blurry and tainted.  I don’t blame the newspapers and major media outlets for this.  It is evolution and survival.  This is not to say that journalism as we once knew it is dead, but it has changed.  There are still great old-fashioned journalists out there who refuse to let themselves sway from the core journalistic principles.  But in our 21st Century society, with news available the second you click something, the need for urgency has taken away from the need for unbiased clarity.

After writing at least one article a day for the past consecutive 488 days, 2,112 posts (some of which are what are called “reblogs” from other great WordPress blogs) over the past year and a half, which have received over 525,000 views, over 426,000 which were in 2015 alone, a ton of board meetings, task force meetings, legislative sessions, committee meetings, rallies, phone calls, emails, Facebook posts, tweets, research, and yes, some fun thrown in here and there, I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot on this little blog.  I never dreamed I would reach over half a million hits in this short a timeframe.  I don’t get paid for this, so it is truly a volunteer function.  I think any blogger likes to know they are being read, it is human nature.  But even more satisfying is when someone tells me “Hey, that article you did, it helped me,”  or “I was able to help my child because of what you wrote”.  That means more to me than any number.  A lot of this is never seen on here, and takes place offline.  I like that people feel they can come to me for advice about what to do.  I will flat-out tell them if I can’t help them, but I will also let them know where they can go.  Sometimes it is right back to the DOE believe it or not.

I don’t hate the DOE, or the State Board, or Rodel, or even the Governor.  I don’t hate any legislators.  I believe all humans operate on something called “tainted decency”.  We may have the best intentions or motivations, but something along the way leads to something vastly different.  For many involved in education, it is their job or business.  Their livelihood depends on the success and failure of their allotted tasks.  Intention and motivation take on a very different meaning when you have to answer to a superior.  And for some, that bait called wealth is a very dangerous and alluring call to action.  But it isn’t always the right action.  It’s called life, and I’ve gotten things wrong on here.  I’ve piped off without thinking, gotten angry, and even hurt my own reputation.  I’ve gotten mad at friends.  I know it, and at the end of the day, lying in bed with nothing but myself and my thoughts in that transition period between awake and asleep, I feel it.  There are things I regret doing during this journey.  Things I’ve said I just can’t take back.  It is very easy to tell yourself you are in the right, but if it comes at the expense of hurting another without knowing all the facts or justification (as in helping to protect the kids or parents), it can hurt.  I’ve been told I am cocky, arrogant, and ignorant.  On the flip side, which is even more dangerous in my opinion, I’ve been told I am a “savior for education”.  That frightens me more than anything.  I am no savior and I am no saint!  I’m just a dad writing.

With that being said, and I’ve said this before but not fully implemented this goal, I am going to make a concerted effort to be more careful about what I say and be less opinionated.  I’m also going to try to reach out to other parties instead of just doing the blitzkrieg article and ask questions later.  I may not agree with another person, and lets face it, many folks will outright lie when you catch them in wrongdoing, but I at least need to give the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.  The caveat to this is if children or anyone is in imminent danger.  I have received information like this, acted on it, and never written about it.  I have no idea what the end results were, but I did my part.

I have one story I’ve been working on for a very long time, and I received information on it the other day that could draw it towards a conclusion, but I don’t even know if it is a story I can or even want to finish.  You see, last spring and summer someone reached out to me.  I still don’t know what their motivations were half the time, but it was meant to be in confidence.  Longtime readers know exactly who this person is.  When an issue became very blurry, I performed a very public outing of this person on here and betrayed the single most important journalistic and blogger credo: never out a source.  I let personal feelings, stemming from the fact that I felt like I was fooled and played with, cloud my judgment.  I justified it even when some were saying I was totally wrong.  I don’t agree with about 90% of what this person has to say.  I don’t like how they operate or how they go about their job.  I feel they interfere and manipulate others.  I have information that could, probably, bury this person.  And many would cheer if I did so.  But I couldn’t live with myself if I did it.  Not that way.  Not like that.  So to this person, and I hope you are reading this, I am sorry for what I did.  I still think you have some issues, and I would keep yourself in check, but your fall will not come from that.  And you can consider that chapter closed.

Does this mean I am now a Common Core Smarter Balanced Charter School Takeover of Public Education Rodel & Markell loving DOE sympathizer kind of guy?  Hell no.  None of my feelings have changed on any of it.  I will continue to write and do massive amounts of research and not get paid a penny for it.  Folks will see me, and wonder what I’m going to write.  But the feuding and animosity and vitriol coming out of me, I just can’t keep doing it like that.  It’s not good for me and it certainly isn’t good for anyone I profess to help if that is the end result.  No more email lightning strike articles.  No more outing (it was only the one person).  No more screaming at Mark Murphy and the DOE or State Senators during public comment (see many articles from April to July).  I want folks to feel they can come to me if they want to clarify something and possibly respond to me if I touch base with them or seek information on something.  Threatening and posturing, while it may have short-term benefits, does not solve problems.

If anything, I want to write more about the good out there.  Like my recent article on Braeden Mannering, a truly awesome kid with a big heart.  I have literally heard teachers tell me they had to stop reading me for a while because of all the doom and gloom I was sending their way.  I would like to believe that for every harbinger of doom article, there can be an equally positive and uplifting story.  I just have to find them and I am reaching out right here and now for others to let me know about these stories.

When it comes to education, there is no way any one person can cover everything.  It is massive in scope and reaches into all facets of society.  I find out new things every single day I didn’t know before.  It will never end, and it will never be perfect.  I’m just one writer in a long history of past, present and future writers doing their part to chronicle the events and confusion and shed some light.  If I can help others along the way, it is all worth it.

TheHeartOfTheAndes

Smiley The Terrible

One friend.  Just one.  Sometimes that’s all we need.  Just one, in a lifetime of people that pass through.

In 1981, I moved from Roanoke, VA to South Salem, NY.  Entering 6th grade, I was scared and nervous.  I was an okay student, but I had some minor disabilities in the form of attention deficit with a touch of hyperactivity.  When we moved that May, our new house wasn’t finished yet, but we sold the prior house so we had to rent a home for about three months.  For a month and a half, I went to an elementary school in Chappaqua, NY.  For about three weeks in July, we moved in with my Aunt and Uncle in Brookfield, CT, on the shores of Candlewood Lake.  Finally, in the beginning of August we moved to our new home in a small residential neighborhood in the bottom southwest corner of NY state.  If you walked through the woods about 1/2 a mile, you would be in Connecticut.

Within days of moving in, I met the Eds.  Two boys, my age and in the same grade, both named Ed.  All three of us had a love of comic books, so the first day we met, we were trading comics left and right.  Both of them played soccer, but I wasn’t interested in the game having done horrible a year prior.

I had a very difficult time making friends at my new school.  I had a southern accent, and it quickly became apparent I was a little different.  As well, I stupidly asked a question in 6th grade math when talking about rocks.  “Are rocks alive?” branded me for a few months as the village idiot.  And a month into school, when we could run for town positions, I decided to run for town clerk.  I had to give a speech at an assembly, and after uttering the words “My name is Kevin Ohlandt, and I’m running for town clerk”, most of the school was heard repeating these words when I would walk by.  My reaction was fierce!  I started talking back to those who taunted and teased me, and threats of “kicking my ass” soon followed.  It became a vicious cycle of taunt & tease, react, threats, and then me backing down and often crying or running away from the situation.

The two Eds though, they never joined the crowd.  After school, I would often hang out with them, usually exploring the vast amount of woods behind our houses.  Sometimes a bunch of neighborhood kids would play football or baseball, or in the summer, very large games of Flashlight Tag at night.  We would ride our bikes, go to new houses being built, or throw rocks on a frozen pond in the winter.  Eddie and I would walk to the bus stop almost every day.

As sixth grade led to junior high school, things got progressively worse for me.  Instead of battling one school, it was now four rolled into one.  More enemies.  Fights happened, usually with my “ass getting kicked”, but I still reacted without thinking.  Before too long, I was the one starting things.  But through it all, every day, I would sit at lunch eating with the two Eds and some other kids.  After school, more of the same.

During 7th and 8th grade, with my obnoxious big mouth and instigating tactics, I was often told to sit at the front of the bus.  Usually one of the Eds would sit with me.  He was called Eddie by most.  Eddie was the tallest of the three of us.  He was a gentle soul, always smiling.  He could be quiet and reserved at times, but for the most part we would talk and joke around.  I nicknamed him Smiley the Terrible.  I can’t for the life of me remember the context of the nickname, but terrible is the last adjective I would ever use to think of Eddie.

In 9th grade, still in Junior High School in our district, Eddie would share stories he wrote.  For a 14-15 year old, he wrote some very intelligent, well thought-out stories.  It was better than a lot of the stuff I had to read at school!  His imagination knew no bounds, even getting into some physics stuff before our time.

Things started to change when we entered high school.  Our interests changed.  The two Eds were heavily involved in soccer or other sports, and our four years of shared CCD classes ended after we were all confirmed.  I was still into comic books, even working at a comic book store over the border in Connecticut on Saturdays.  As friends tend to do at different points in our lives, we drifted apart.  I was very involved in youth groups and church activities, but that was in Connecticut.  We still talked, all three of us, but the conversations were more about what was going on or what girls we liked.

When I was in 11th grade, in 1987, I participated in a large church retreat called Emmaus.  For first-time participants, we were called candidates.  Emmaus was essentially an unconditional love fest retreat from Friday evening to Sunday evening.  Prior attendees, both teenagers and adults, would work the retreat.  As part of Emmaus, parents were encouraged to reach out to their teenager’s friends to write letters  to the candidates.  I received letters from the two Eds.  Eddie wrote the following:

Many people used to ask me why I was your friend.  “Why not?” was my usual response.  Perhaps they understood, perhaps they didn’t.

Eddie went on to write about some other things, but he concluded with this:

I’m glad you are my friend just because you are.

I received many letters from friends and family that weekend, but this was one of the ones that touched me the most.  No matter what, even if I embarrassed him with my actions, Eddie was committed to being my friend.  I had other friends, but it’s rare to have a friend that goes back years as a kid with disabilities.

Towards the end of our Senior year, Eddie and I talked a bit more.  Perhaps it was nostalgia creeping in as we prepared to embark on the next chapter of our sheltered lives, or maybe we found common ground.  Whatever it was, it culminated at a party at my house a month after graduation.  My parents were away, and my two older brothers and I had a huge party.  The two Eds came, and I remember the three of us talking in my backyard.  We made a toast to the past and to the future.  To my recollection, it was the last time all three of us were together.

After a year of trying to “find myself”, I moved to Pennsylvania with my parents and attended community college.  The first few years there were very rough for me.  Transition and I have never been good friends.  In the Fall of 1992 I would transfer to Cabrini College in Radnor, PA as a junior.  The summer before, I had the coolest job ever.  I was an editor for a magazine called Comics Values Monthly.  The owner of the comic book store I worked for back in 1985 started this magazine a year later after he closed the shop.  I continued to work for him throughout high school.  In 1991, his magazine was really taking off, and I offered to help.  Once a month, I would go up to Connecticut and New York during weekends and submit freelance work I did for the magazine throughout the month.  I went over to Eddie’s house one night during the summer, and we chatted a bit.  He was attending Washington College in Chestertown, MD.

On October 16th, 1992, a friend was driving me to a party.  A wicked storm came in, thunder and lightning all over the place.  As we were driving, I felt something.  I knew something happened.  My heart felt a sudden emptiness, a vacancy.  I didn’t know what it was, and it scared the hell out of me.  All I knew was that someone, somewhere, that I was once close to died.  I knew it in my conscious mind and I was sad.  By the time we got to the party, I put it out of my mind and had the kind of fun you can only have in college!

The next day, I felt a need to go home.  I was at Cabrini for a month and a half, and it was a whirlwind of studies, partying, working on the school newspaper, and working for the magazine.  I needed a break.  My parents had gone away that weekend, so I had the house to myself.  Early that Sunday morning, I received a phone call.  It was the other Ed’s mother.  I will never forget the words.  “I hate to tell you this, Eddie died Friday night.”

Eddie became involved in theater at Washington College.  While working on lighting for an upcoming play, he was electrocuted.  He died instantly.  The horrible loss I felt that Friday evening, over 100 miles away from Chestertown, MD, was Eddie passing away.  I found out later it was the exact same time of his death.

The next few days were a blur.  The following Wednesday was Eddie’s funeral.  I was unable to attend the wake the night before.  In Pennsylvania, it was raining non-stop.  I left very early, at 5:30am in the morning.  As I drove along the Delaware River on the New Jersey side, I put a tape on of U2’s Unforgettable Fire.  The title track of the album was playing and I felt Eddie’s loss more than I had at any other moment.  After the song finished, I put on a tape by a singer called Michael W. Smith.  He is a Christian singer who had some moderate mainstream success in the early 1990s.  He had just come out with a new album, and one of the songs was called “Friends”.  Another singer released this song years prior, and the first time I heard it was on my Emmaus weekend back in 1987.  As the song played driving up to Eddie’s funeral, I thought of his letter and the words he wrote.

Packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of you.  Can’t believe the hopes He’s granted, means a chapter in your life is through.  But we’ll keep you close as always.  It won’t even seem you’ve gone.  Cause our hearts, in big and small ways, will keep the love that keeps us strong.  And friends are friends forever, if the Lord’s the Lord of them.  And a friend will not say never, and the welcome will not end.  Though it’s hard to let you go, in the Father’s hands we know, that a lifetime’s not too long to live as friends.”

While the words gave me comfort, I was also angry.  How could God strike someone down in the prime of his youth.  22 years old.  He had a whole lifetime ahead of him.  I regretted losing touch with him over the years.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but he inspired me to write.  He got me to take a journalism class in high school, and his many stories spurred my own creativity.  But somewhere along the way, the focus shifted between us.  When I was in high school, I was very involved in theater, whether it was bit parts in plays, or helping to be stage manager during our high school’s variety shows.  This extended into community college for many years as well.  Even after college, I still got parts at my old community college.  But this evolved into writing.  Eddie went from writing to theater.  He was one of those guys who really didn’t have a hateful bone in his body.

As I was writing this, I decided to Google Eddie and Washington College.  I knew he had been electrocuted while working on lighting.  But I didn’t realize he was working on a particular chandelier in the auditorium as part of his drama thesis.  Something about this gnawed at me.  Being the packrat I am, I tend to keep everything.  When I pulled out Eddie’s old Emmaus letter, I remembered he wrote me a letter when he was at Washington College.  There was something about a light in the letter.  I pulled it out of the dusty bin, and read it…

There’s a neat light in the theater that I was shown my freshman year here, it’s kinda like a night light, but it isn’t.  It’s really peaceful though and if you ever get a chance to get down here, I’ll show you it.

I wish I would have taken him up on his offer.  It’s been 23 years since Eddie died.  Whenever I used to go up to our old town, I would always make it a point to visit him at his grave.  In the year after he passed, sometimes I would spend hours there, talking to him, or just thinking, or praying.  I haven’t been up in that area in a long, long time.  The last time I was there, I was married and had my son for quite a while.  Gone were the days of my youth.  This was before I knew of my son’s disabilities and the battles ahead.  Before a blog even entered my mind.  I was just a dad, struggling with myself during those transition years.

A couple years after I moved to Delaware, I played hookie from work one day.  I went for a long drive, not sure where I was going.  I just went where my car took me.  I found myself in Maryland, in a place called Chestertown.  I drove past an old college, but I didn’t make the connection.  This was where Eddie breathed his last.  Even after I left this town and the beautiful river that went into the Chesapeake Bay, I didn’t know.  It wasn’t until years later when Facebook took off and I reconnected with old friends, that I found out.  Someone said Washington College when talking about Eddie, and my answer about why I found myself at Washington College was answered.  I suppose my subconscious knew.

I think about Eddie from time to time.  If I hear mention of Chestertown or Washington College, his smiling face appears in my mind.  Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about how her daughter goes to Washington College, and I started thinking about Eddie again.  I wanted to write about him, and honor my friend.  My friend who was there for me when so many others weren’t.  When peers were saying why and he didn’t care.  Everyone needs a friend like that.  Everyone needs that one person they can turn to, no matter how bad it is, and just knowing they care makes all the difference.

Sometimes I wonder about how I find the things I do with this blog.  How I find the strength to keep going, to put something up on here every day.  The little things, like looking for an answer to a question, never finding it, but the seeking opens up a door to something else.  I’ve written before about how another person in my life gave me inspiration when I first started this journey.  We have no idea how much the departed can impact us, how they push us in certain directions if we are open to it.  If we listen.  Sometimes, when I write, I go back and read it months later and wonder where I got those words.  I like to think Eddie, and others gone before and since, are guiding me under the watchful eye of God, who I have never given enough credit for the wonderful things in my life: my wife, my son, my friends, my family.  The sunset that stretches across the sky at night on my way home from work.  The moments of absolute stillness when you feel like you are one with the world.  The nights when you are alone with nothing but the stars and you get lost in the vastness of it all.  That’s all God.  Something I need to remember.

It was so long ago, when my friend was in my life.  But he is still here, in my heart and even in my words.  He reminds me that God is still a part of my life, even when I don’t think He is there.  Part of the reason I stand up for children with disabilities is because long ago, Eddie stood up for me.  Eddie may be gone from this world, but he still burns brightly in my mind.  A light that he found, an unforgettable fire.

Flashback: September, 1986.  The three of us go to a movie in New Canaan, CT.  It’s a movie about a group of friends who have a moment in their lives when they have to make a journey to find a dead body.  But like most things in life, it doesn’t go the way they planned.

I never had any friends like the ones I had when I was twelve.  Jesus, does anyone?

I cry every time I see the end of Stand By Me now.  Every single time.  I think of Eddie, and what he meant to me, and still does.  Thank you Stephen King, for writing those words in your original short story called “The Body”, adapted into Stand By Me.  Just seventeen words to encapsulate a time when one person made a difference.

Happy Birthday To The Inspiration Behind Exceptional Delaware

Before Markell and Herdman started plotting together, before Common Core was a gleam in Arne Duncan’s eye, before the words Race To The Top meant gouging schools in America with corporate education reform, a baby was born.  Eleven years ago today to be precise.  Out in Southern California, he entered this crazy world.  It was a beautiful day, very warm and in the 80s, not a cloud in the sky.

After some complications, my son was born.  My wife had some complications as well, so I went with the nurse to the incubator.  Before my son was placed in there, I reached out my hand to his and he squeezed my finger.  Not even 10 minutes old, and I bonded with him forever at that moment.  It was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Here we are, eleven years later.  He came into this world on a warm and sunny day, and he turned eleven waking up to snow.  There have been many challenges along the way, and there will be more.  But there are also those moments of joy that you can never put into words.  Things only a parent can truly know.

His journey through life is his own, I’m just a guide for a certain amount of time.  He has other guides, like his mom, and others.  His story has become my story, and everything I do on here, every word I write, it is to help him, and others like him.  The battles I fight, the secrets uncovered, it is all to expose and to change.  If I, along with others, ever do win these battles, the biggest challenge will be what comes next.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so something must take it’s place.  I pray that worthy voices will very carefully replace the abomination education has become.  For my son, and the students in all of our schools.

I have to believe something better is on the way.  I have hope.  It can’t be this bleak all the time.  In the meantime, I will continue to write, for my inspiration and my moments of joy, happiness, sadness, anger, confusion, curiosity and insight.  Happy Birthday bud!  I love you!

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Back In The World

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This blog has been very heavy lately, and today I need to take a break. One of my favorite singers, David Gray, released a new album last month. His first single, “Back In The World”, has become my theme song for the summer. In an interview with USA Today earlier this year, Gray said the song is about dying and becoming reborn. This is how I have felt with life in the past year. So much happened in my world between 2013 and the earlier part of 2014. When I started writing for Kilroy’s, I was in a place where I knew I needed to write. Writing for me has been cathartic and healing. But sometimes you do need a break to recharge and refocus.