Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome 2010!!

As I was thinking about what to write to summarize 2009, I also noticed it's the end of a decade! In some ways I've come a long way since January 1, 2000: graduating high school, going on a mission, getting two degrees; but in other ways it seems like I'm stuck in time. Oh well. I guess my next post will have to deal with the passing decade of the "'00's". On to 2010!

Like my previous post, it seems half the year was dominated by negative things while the latter half seemed to have enough positive things to give me a better feeling about the year and hopes heading into 2010. Much of what I mentioned in my heroes and villains list will be mentioned here as well.

I began the year worried sick about student teaching, which started at the end of January. In the end, I was able to pass and do well enough, though it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. There were too many days I had to completely force myself to go to school because I was completely unmotivated. It wasn't that I didn't like the students or being a teacher, but student teaching is all the stress of actual teaching, with the added stress of constant observation and feeling like you are being measured not by how good a teacher you are but how well you emulate the cooperating teacher and/or supervisor's methods. Added to that other coursework I was taking during student teaching as part of my master's degree and outside stresses, and I have concluded it was by the grace of God that I finished it. By the end I got more into a rhythm and as I said, I really enjoyed the students I worked with. But all in all, I'm glad it's OVER. It ended April 26. I'm glad I will never have to student teach again.

Left: Last day of student teaching at Southeast Middle School (April 24)
leading the 7th grade choir in warmups; Right: MAT poster presentations
with my good friends Mari and Erica (one of my 2009 Heroes!!) at the KSU
student center in May. I finished my poster amidst a mostly empty
house as this was just a few days before we moved.

2009 also began with our home being placed on the market by our mortgage company (GMAC who just got ANOTHER $3.8 billion in bailout assistance...GRRRRR) to avoid it going to foreclosure. So, while I was student teaching, when I was home, I occasionally had to deal with prospective buyers who wanted to tour the house. There were multiple times the real-estate company wanted us to leave a key for them. my home and everything in it to complete strangers. Riiiiiight. I had enough of a problem with it WHILE we were home. I think we had 3 or 4 in the three months it was on the market. We were told if it didn't sell in 90 days, then it would go into foreclosure and we'd be out sometime in the summer or early fall. As I blogged the day I found out, it was sold to our neighbors (who made my 2009 Villains list for this purchase!) for a fraction of what it was worth. Initially, GMAC wanted us out in like 2 weeks, but my dad was able to get us a month; and we needed every day of it.

Losing the house was more traumatic than I ever thought it would be. I secretly cried in the bathroom at my brother's apartment in Maryland the day I found out we were losing it. During the whole process I was rarely sad about it, but instead I was furious. I still find myself angry over the whole thing. Basically, the people affected most by everyone else's actions -- my mom, my sister, and myself -- had no say in anything and had the least amount of resources to do much else. It was frustrating to say the least. Thank goodness for family and friends who helped not only physically but mentally as well. Having a place that I considered mine ripped away from me was very difficult. I still find myself having dreams about being back there knowing it isn't ours but we still have stuff there and it's time to be gone and we still have so much to move. I haven't been back in our old neighborhood since we left May 14th and I don't know when or if I ever will go back. Something very personal and important was taken away from me and turned into something else.

Left: The house in happier days back in Spring '08; Right: The empty living
room one last time on May 14 right before we left

Having my graduation delayed until August was pretty rough too. I found out right as we were heading down the home stretch in moving and finishing student teaching. It was like my world was completely unraveling. I had already bought my robes and hood for commencement (which I never used) and had invited family to come. And then to find that everything that needed to be taken care of was little more than changing paperwork and could only be done by my absent-minded advisor (but of course the College of Ed claimed it was completely my fault) made it even worse. I finished my final project for my graduate class amidst a mostly empty house but still tons of stuff still needing to be packed and moved.

The good thing that came out of me not graduating was, of course, that Mom and I were able to attend Heather's graduation from medical school. That was a HUGE diversion from the stress we had just endured and was a welcome change of scenery even if it was just for a few days. My Spring Break trip down there was also a lot of fun and was a major highlight of the year. It came after several weeks of school and no major break (like 5 or 6 straight) so I was sooooo ready for it. I was able to make two more visits to Andy and Heather in '09, including a late-July trip to their new home in Nashville and a return trip with my sister Katie for Thanksgiving. Both trips were welcome breaks from the same-old-same-old here and a chance to relax.

Left: finishing off the extra frosting with Andy & Heather April 6...I would
find out the next day the house had been sold; Right: walking the streets of
Baltimore after Heather's graduation May 15.

Left: In front of the Parthenon in Nashville with Andy & Heather August 4;
Right: Thanksgiving at Andy & Heather's November 26.

Two of the biggest thrills for me this year were the shows I was able to be in: This is Kirtland! and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I knew coming into the year I wanted to do This is Kirtland! again, but Joseph, as I mentioned in a previous post, was something that just kind of fell into my lap. This is Kirtland! filled an important role as practices had just started not too long before we finished moving. Having rehearsal -- and later the performances -- was a wonderful distraction from what was going on here with moving and then unpacking and adjusting. Joseph proved to be a nice distraction, but not nearly as much mostly because I had already adjusted; it was more a help in dealing with not having a full-time job. But even then, both were things I enjoyed going to because I was doing what I love to do (perform) and I was around people in both casts that were easy to get along with and enjoyable to be around.

Left: Opening scene of This is Kirtland! as Sidney Rigdon;
Right: in my costume as Pharaoh with Amanda Davis (Narrator)
and Aaron Darr (Joseph) after the final performance of Joseph
December 20 at Weathervane Playhouse

Left: With Sarah Bailey (left), director of Joseph and Melanie YC Pepe,
producer of Joseph and director of the After School program for
Weathervane after the final show of Joseph December 20 after 2
shows and striking the set! WHEW!; Right: with the kids that played
my children in This is Kirtland! in front of the real Kirtland Temple July 24.

There were other wonderful events I was glad to be a part of this year, like my trip to Cleveland with Michelle to see Ohio State crush Toledo 38-0 at Cleveland Browns Stadium on September 19 (my first OSU game since 1996) and the amazing ward Christmas Sacrament program just a few days ago where I was able to sing O Holy Night and direct the choir. Of course I also enjoyed having some time to explore Kent history both reading and getting tons of pictures. Not only was the weather fantastic this summer, but I actually had the time to do something about it. I also really enjoyed getting to sub in Kent this Fall and work in the Akron Public Schools through Weathervane as part of the district's Akron After School enrichment program teaching theater games for an hour 5 times a week. Not only did I get to meet some great teachers and administrators at the school I worked at and at Weathervane, but I also made some good friends who were working in the After School program and in Joseph (love ya Marie, Robyn, and Melanie!).

Left: Michelle and me at Cleveland Browns Stadium for the
Ohio State-Toledo game September 19; Right: me with Marie Smith
at Friendly's after the final Joseph show December 20. Marie worked
in the crew of Joseph and was also a teacher in the After School
program with me. We had a lot of fun swapping stories from
our schools and after a show at a certain Applebees ;)

Of course one of the biggest thrills for me this year was getting to finally be an uncle. It will only be surpassed when I finally become a dad. I was excited for my nephew Nathan to be born, but getting to meet him this Christmas was so wonderful. It made Christmas, which at times was less than thrilling, a little less boring. Like I blogged last year, Christmas isn't as magical as it used to be for a variety of reasons, but having a baby in my arms for much of it made it a little more magical (especially at my Ridinger grandparents' house where we basically watch the younger cousins open presents) even though he slept through pretty much all of Christmas at both places! I'm hoping to be able to go visit Utah at the end of March.

Some various pics of me with Nate while he was here in Kent. The middle
picture is me trying out his Christmas present before I gave it to him :D

Left: How Nate and I spent most of Christmas at Derbys in the morning and
then at Ridingers (center) that afternoon!! Right: An update of me and
my sibs, December 31.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Personal Heroes and Villains of 2009

This has been quite a year for me. I had hoped to do another Christmas newsletter, but for one reason or another, I didn't get it done. Be it laziness, lack of motivation, or just being too busy, it just didn't happen again. Even then, I have been reflecting a lot about this year because I am truly happy to see it end. That's not to say some wonderful things didn't happen, but some pretty awful things did happen; things that have been more difficult to deal with than I ever thought possible. So I got to thinking about the people that really affected my year -- the good and the bad -- and why. Without further ado here is my personal list of 2009 Heroes and Villains.

Grandma & Grandpa Derby: Of course most my family (particularly my immediate family) is always up there, but this year my Derby grandparents really saved the day. When we found out we could possibly lose our house last year they did not hesitate to offer us a place to stay. When the unthinkable finally happened in May of this year, they not only helped us move, but opened their home to us for virtually nothing. It hasn't been perfect as we have meshed two households and two largely different ways of doing things, but we've made it work. They have sacrificed so much just to make sure we have a place to live and continue our lives and that we have the resources to get on with our lives from here. Words cannot express how grateful I am for all they have done for us just this year, not to mention for pretty much every year of my life. I do not know where I would be right now without them!

Elwin & Diane Robison: Moving was not a pleasant experience, but it was made even more unpleasant by not having money to rent a moving van and the fact that we were moving out of the house we had lived in for 26 years. This is where the Robisons stepped in. Not only did they volunteer countless hours to help us pack, but they also donated the use of their van and trailer to help transport things from our old house to Derbys. And no, this is not the first time they've come to the rescue. They've always been there and I'm grateful especially for the help they were in moving. Diane was especially helpful in getting things organized and helping Mom decide what to keep and what to get rid of, not to mention a moral support.

Charlie Carey, Nate Jeppson, & Christopher Bowers: These were three members of our local ward (congregation) who helped load and unload the many vanloads we had to take from the house to Derbys over the month we moved. It was so comforting to know we had some support from our ward family at a time of great need. It also made moving go just a little bit quicker. Thanks for just being there!!!

Erica Woolf: Erica was one of my friends from the Master of Arts in Teaching program I completed this May at Kent State. We first met as members of the same cohort in the Summer 2008 semesters and had our classes together for Fall semester 2008 and Spring semester 2009. When she found out about what was going on with us needing to move, she almost immediately offered her truck to help. When I actually asked her if we could use it, she not only brought it, but helped us move even though she lived around an hour from Kent and had two young daughters to take care of. Not only did I enjoy her company (and her adorable daughters!), but having her truck that day was a great help in getting some of our larger furniture items out of the house quicker. I miss you Erica!!

The Aamodt Family: I have to list the Aamodt family because they helped without even really knowing it. I had just found out we would be losing the house when I was down visiting Andy & Heather in April when Grandpa Aamodt died. Being down there, I attended the funeral with Andy & Heather. The Aamodts welcomed me like an I was family (I had previously met them at Andy & Heather's wedding) and really helped me keep my mind off what I would be facing when I got back to Kent, even when they were dealing with the loss of a loved one. I saw them again about a month and a half later when Mom and I attended Heather's graduation from medical school in Baltimore. We literally walked away from our home of 26 years for the last time and went straight to Maryland. Again, the Aamodts (including Grandma Robison!!!!) treated us like family and helped Mom and I feel loved and wanted. Looking back, I am glad we decided to do that even though it made the last few days of moving a bit hectic. I can't say enough about how the Aamodts helped keep my mind off of what had just happened.

Basically, all my heroes were those who helped us in some way and showed us true examples of what it means to be Christlike. Thank you all for being such great people and living what you believe.


GMAC: GMAC was the mortgage company that is responsible for the loss of our house. True, my dad shares some of the blame for accepting such an insane mortgage, but in the end GMAC is the company approved it and who obviously felt that money was far more important than keeping people in their home. Not only did they do nothing to help us get an affordable mortgage, but they did a short-sale on our house, selling it for less that $5,000 more than we paid for it in 1983.

The Colliers: Many would argue our former neighbors were just taking advantage of an opportunity that presented itself. Indeed, they even stated they bought our house for practically nothing for the neighborhood's sake to prevent it from becoming a rental house for KSU students. Whatever their reason, they did buy the house which resulted in our being forced to leave. On top of that they had the audacity to claim I was trying to burn the place down when I removed the motion detector lights on our front porch we had installed and I left the exposed wires there in the ceiling (apparently they were touching when they saw them). Before this all happened, I had a good relationship with them. We occasionally talked and seemed to all be on the same page about neighborhood security after Mr. Collier's parents (his other neighbors) got robbed in the middle of the day last summer. But the way this unfolded tainted my view. They had a chance to really be heroes or at least appear more benevolent when we needed a miracle, but instead it felt like they swooped in behind our backs and took full advantage of us like they couldn't wait to rid the neighborhood of us. They claimed they bought our house with every last cent they had for their destitute son, yet as soon as we left suddenly had money to replace every major appliance and make extensive repairs and upgrades to the house. Did I expect them to buy the house and let us stay? No, but I would've walked away feeling better if they had at any time talked to us and let us know they even cared, like finding out if we even had a place to go. Had my mom not gone over and talked to them we would've moved and they would've never said a word.

Cutler Real Estate: I know, the real estate company was just doing their job, but I guess I still see them as accomplices in this whole thing. Basically, we were not on the same team; their goal conflicted with ours so I had no motivation to work with them. Clean the house? Don't mention any major problems? Oh and having our privacy constantly invaded was just wonderful. I just loved having complete strangers walk through our entire house so they could pass their judgments and take inventory of what we owned.

Nancy Miller
: Ms. Miller was one of the people I had difficulties communicating with last year whom I referred to as the "OGS Contact" in my post "My Angry and Accusatory side". While I already had a negative impression of her going in to 2009, it wasn't until April that she truly cemented her villain title. That was when I got a letter informing me that I wouldn't be graduating in May with my classmates. Why? It wasn't because I was missing any credits or hadn't taken the right classes; it was because my advisor hadn't changed my prospectus (list of planned classes) to include the substitutions we had agreed on and because a professor (who also happened to be that same advisor) hadn't changed my grade from an incomplete to a letter grade before the University's arbitrary deadline. In other words a simple matter of paperwork. So simple, in fact, that when it finally did get taken care of by my new advisor in May, it took all of one day for her to do it. Nancy Miller, though, is one of those people who seem to delight in putting students "in their place" as subjects and minions of the University. She has her little fiefdom and woe unto you if you dare question her royal highness. When I did come to her, she was not nice in any way and basically treated me like a total idiot, like somehow I was supposed to know everything about how the MAT program worked even though I had never been in graduate school before. Nancy Miller had a chance to be a hero by realizing that the spirit of the law (making sure students have all the necessary credits to graduate) was more important than the letter of the law (the arbitrary deadlines). All it would've taken was a few mouse-clicks and maybe a letter to someone who needed it. But no, exercising her power was far more important than showing any kind of sympathy or compassion, even as I dealt with one of the most difficult events of my life. And no, my negative experiences with Nancy Miller were not unique. Every other student I talked with who had to deal with had the same opinion I did of her. She was very pleasant and professional to her colleagues, but that pleasant nature vanished when she dealt with a lowly student. I hope one day she gets to see how her actions affected those she was supposed to be serving in the Office of Graduate Student SERVICES. See also my post "Wow can this year suck any more?!?"

Linda Walker
: Dr. Walker was the aforementioned advisor and the professor I first blogged about at the end of the Fall semester last year. I usually referred to her just as my professor and/or my advisor when I blogged (also see "Enduring to the end"). She was my professor for one class Fall 2008 and she was the director of Music Education for KSU. I ended up having to do an additional 10 reports as her way of being gracious and not giving me a D in that class because of my mix-up in not turning in the required reports when I thought I had (A 'D' would've essentially been a failing grade and prevented me from graduating without retaking the class). I did them and turned them in as agreed on and waited for the grade to be changed. Well, the deadline came and went and nothing was changed, which contributed to my not officially graduating until August, as I previously mentioned. She also nearly botched my student teaching when she assumed it was the College of Education's responsibility to find me a supervising teacher. Only after I raised the red flag did that get taken care of and not a moment too soon. Had I waited any longer I may have had to repeat student teaching for no fault of my own. Of course she never apologized for that. But that seemed to be the story of my time with her as my advisor. Not only did that nearly get botched, but most of the time I felt like she was clueless about what I was supposed to be doing. Granted, I was the first music student to go through the MAT in 10 years. I knew that, so was very understanding and patient at the beginning. But I could only have so much patience when that person wasn't doing what she needed to to help me get through the program and had such an obvious dislike and disdain for me by the Spring semester I started wondering if I'd ever graduate. And then to top it off, I make a small mistake not turning in an assignment and she acts like I'm the world's worst student. All she needed to do to be a hero was do her job and she failed miserably by not attending meetings (she admitted that to me) and letting her personal feelings influence how she did her job in relation to me. I wonder if her resignation as director of Music Education at the end of the Spring 2009 had anything to do with me, but all I can say is that resignation came a semester too late. The icing on the cake was she couldn't even find the time to send me an e-mail that she was no longer my advisor after I had sent her several about getting the Prosepectus problem taken care or. The MAT director was the person who let me know that. It's sad because I initially liked Dr. Walker after working with her in high school through choir. Even initially as my advisor we got things taken care of and problems solved, but the more we met and talked, the more things got worse, especially after the whole report fiasco. It's a scary thought when the person who has complete control over your graduation obviously doesn't like you.

Basically, the people who made my villains list are people who affected my life negatively but had the chance to be heroes had they made different choices. Instead they chose to follow their own emotions or what the world dictates should happen rather than choose compassion, benevolence, or understanding. Basically, they took the humanity out of our interactions. It was frustrating, sad, and disgusting all at the same time and I'm glad it's over and I don't have to deal with these people anymore. Dealing with the above has taught me a lot about what forgiveness really is and how hard it can be and how much I need to work in it! Time to move on to bigger and better things!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Go go go Joe!

It would be a major travesty if I didn't do a post about my appearance in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat before we end our run this Sunday. I was cast as Pharaoh what seems like an eternity ago back in September. Of course I knew it would be fun, but I don't think I ever thought it would be as enjoyable as it has been, though I certainly had hopes. Now, here we are with just three shows left this weekend and then it's done. Hard to believe!!

I don't think I realized until I went to the first cast meeting that this was a Young Actors Series production, meaning the cast was almost entirely made up of people mostly between 14 and 21. I guess my first clue was when I was introduced as one of the "grown-ups" at that first cast meeting. Oh well...I really wasn't sure what to expect at that point, though it was obvious my fellow cast members were well-experienced in theater and dance. My main expertise was in singing of course. It's not that I felt intimidated, but a lot less experienced, which was the opposite of what it was like for me in This is Kirtland! Yes, I hardly lack theater experience, but one show a year four of the last five years is nothing compared to what most of these kids do. Many of them are in one show after the other and sometimes they're starting a new show while another one is still in performance. We even have one cast member who is two shows at the same time.

I think I had a slight worry it wasn't going to be as fun as This is Kirtland! mostly because of my lack of familiarity with the show, theater, and the cast, not to mention the age difference between me and many cast members. Thankfully I had nothing to worry about. Not only has Weathervane proved to be an awesome theater to work with, but the cast has been just as enjoyable to be around as This is Kirtland! These cast members are good; they know they're good, but honestly I've never felt like they're diva/o's about it (for the most part). Yes, the high school/middle school drama has made appearances, particularly as the show has been in performance, but it's nice to be a stabilizing voice :).

The amazing thing to me is how this all came about. Really, I got to know some new people, both of whom work at Weathervane. Because of them I got involved with the Akron After-School Program (which was actually a lot of fun!) and this show. I wasn't even looking to do a show at all; I was pretty much looking forward to next Summer when This is Kirtland! comes back (which I WILL be at!). My friend John let me know they needed someone to audition for the role of Pharaoh and Jacob in Joseph. I had heard of the show, but had never seen it. So, I watched it with John and Jasen (my Weathervane connections) so I had somewhat of an idea of what it was like. I auditioned the next day and I could tell it went well (I sang part of "We Kiss in a Shadow" from King and I) and I came back for callbacks the next day and knew I did well. I mean, if I hadn't gotten the part I wouldn't have been heartbroken. Because of my age, I was only eligible for Jacob, Potiphar, or Pharaoh.

The part of Pharaoh has been so much fun (I also appear briefly in Act I as the head Ishmaelite). It's also been a challenge. Not only have I really had to do some acting, but I really had to study up on Elvis Presley's sound and dance moves. Pharaoh's character is pretty much the opposite of me (as is the head Ishmaelite), plus I've never been much of a dancer (not that I have become one), so moving my legs and hips like Elvis didn't exactly come naturally. But I'm happy with the progress I've made and have gotten lots of wonderful compliments from audience members, even the elder generation who actually saw Elvis perform!

Anyway, we've had a great run...hard for me to believe it's almost over! I've learned a lot, had tons of fun, and made a bunch of new friends. I'm really sad to see it end, but at least I know how much I love doing Theater and being on stage. Not that I didn't already know that, but now I know that even more and am hoping to do another show before This is Kirtland! comes up again. If only I could do what I enjoy most AND make some type of living from it!! Sigh...that's for another time I guess. :) Go go go JOE!!! Thank you to all the awesome cast and crew are all amazing and I hope to see you all in shows again!!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Roosevelt named a "Best High School" by US News

After the bad news a few weeks ago, it was definitely nice to pick up the newspaper and see this on the front page of the December 12 Record-Courier:

Yes, Roosevelt was named in the US News & World Report 2010 "America's Best High Schools" issue. Like with any ranking system for something so large (21,786 high schools analyzed), when looking over it, one must look at the methodology behind the study. Why is it one of the best? Based on what? For instance, Newsweek released their own "Best High Schools" list a few months ago and Roosevelt was nowhere to be found. Why? Because Newsweek's study focused on AP scores and how many students took AP classes at a given school. As a result, what I call the typical "heavyweights" -- the local high schools that typically do well on standardized tests and are in communities with higher median incomes -- were well represented in that ranking. These are places like Shaker Heights, Chagrin Falls, Solon, Hudson, etc. They are usually regarded quite highly educationally and for good reason: they have excellent facilities, more educational opportunities and resources, and many, if not most, of the students come from wealthier and highly educated backgrounds and largely stable families. In other words, it is more likely for these schools to not only have a larger percentage of students who take AP (Advanced Placement) classes, but do well on the tests associated with them. In the US News study, however, none of the traditional "heavyweights" made the list at all as it focused on other factors such as looking at the performance of students classified as "economically disadvantaged" and minorities. Roosevelt was one of only 8 schools in the region to make the entire list, and one of only 46 to be listed in the entire state. Roosevelt's ranking was a "Bronze Medal", the third highest ranking after the Gold Medal (top 100) and Silver Medal (461 schools). 1,189 schools in 48 states and Washington, DC were rated as "Bronze Medal" schools. What that means is that of the three major criteria used, Roosevelt did well in two. The other criterion, in this case, was either too low or not measured. Basically, Roosevelt did well when the magazine analyzed it's state proficiency test scores for low-income and minority students. Roosevelt is a somewhat diverse school, but is still predominantly white (87% from US News, 82% from the state of Ohio). To see the entire methodology explanation for this study, click here. The third criterion was based on AP scores and percentage of students who take AP or similar college-level classes (I personally think AP classes are harder than typical college classes). Roosevelt has eight AP classes available and usually does well on AP tests, but I would imagine the percentage of seniors who take them may have been what hurt there. It's not abnormally low, but compared to the schools that made the top 100, it probably isn't all that impressive. There are, of course, a lot of factors as to why certain students take AP classes and how well they do, many of which have little to do with the school itself.

One statistic that stood out to me was 84% of Roosevelt students classified as "economically disadvantaged." I'd first like to know what US News means by "economically disadvantaged" since that just seems a little high to me. Granted, there are a lot of students here who are poor, but there are also quite a few who are either middle class and even upper middle class. It's really quite a mix in Kent not only with race and ethnicity, but also financial status. The state, for instance, had only 26% of Roosevelt's students classified as "economically disadvantaged" according to the most recent state report card (it also had slightly different racial percentages, but not that much different). Obviously, there are two very different definitions and thresholds being used here.

That said, I've always felt Kent City Schools overall has done a good job in closing the gap between the students who come to school with a strong educational background and those who do not for whatever reasons. The state report cards always have Roosevelt doing as well as any of the other high schools in the area that come from districts rated "Excellent." Because of test scores at the elementary schools, Kent is rated "Effective," again because they typically have to play "catch up" for so many students. Holden Elementary School, for example, has 62% of its students classified as "economically disadvantaged" by the state and many come from very poor and unstable families. And yet, by high school, Kent students are right up there on the state test scores with students at other high schools who come largely from more stable and in many cases wealthier families. About 10 years ago, the Cincinnati Enquirer did a study and ranked Kent best in the state when actual test scores were compared with expected test scores, based on socioeconomic status. While a person's financial status doesn't guarantee a specific educational outcome, we do know it has a significant influence on a large amount of people. In other words, it is more likely for a student who comes from a poor, unstable home to not do well in school than it is for someone who comes from a better-off and stable home. And there are *always* exceptions, for sure, both good and bad. And no, standardized test scores are by no means a "tell-all" stat, nor are the state report cards. They tell just part of what is going on at a school.

Even then, it is still exciting for an outside group, particularly one at the national level, to recognize your school for anything positive like this. As an alum and community member and now as an employee, I'm very proud of my alma mater! Go Kent!

See also:
Oh, and seeing the following on the top of the same front page and in the sports section didn't hurt either. :) It's an appropriate title given the fact that in sports this year, Roosevelt has won every meeting between the two schools in every sport except the one-point overtime loss in football.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hate crimes

It's been a rough few weeks here in the Tree City dealing with some pretty horrific news. A few days ago, a 23 year old Kent State student was attacked in downtown Kent, apparently for no specific reason, and beaten severely enough to put him in a coma. He died a few days later. The suspects arrested were not from Kent (both are from Akron and one was a student at the University of Akron), but a few days later there were reports of armed robberies on the KSU campus. While I'm disturbed by this to say the least, the issue that jumped out at me and several other readers has to do with race. The KSU student attacked was white, while the two men charged with the initial assault are, you guessed it, black. The same was true with the robberies on campus: white victims, black assailants (those 4 men were all young, ages 17-18, and three of them are KSU students). What I've seen in the article comments got me thinking as a lot of people are calling for these to be labeled "hate crimes". There is truth to the fact that if this were the other way around (white assailants and black victims) racism would most certainly be called in as a factor. No doubt about it. Why it doesn't happen when the victim is white is beyond me. Of course the investigation is ongoing and we still have to learn what the real motive was behind this horrible crime. Was it racially motivated? I honestly don't know. My gut feeling tells me it isn't; that it was more random. But what's really been on my mind is the whole "hate crime" thing.

Hate crimes are basically something done solely as a result of someone's race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation. Just recently, a bill was made law that extended "protection" to people based on their sexual orientation. But honestly, do we even need hate crime legislation? I honestly don't believe we do. In the end, a crime is a crime and should be punished accordingly regardless of the motive. Whether someone was killed because of their race or because they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time is irrelevant; all that matters is that they were killed senselessly. Hate crime legislation is just a way for us to pat ourselves on the back and feel like we're protecting the little guy. It's also a way for politicians to pander to specific groups to appear to champion their cause. In the end, however, it doesn't protect the little guy any more than already existing laws that govern crime. Why should someone get a lesser punishment for murder because it wasn't racially motivated? I mean, really, the only place it should come up would be in arguing self defense. But beyond that, motive shouldn't affect how a criminal is punished. It's either a crime or it isn't; it's not more of a crime because it was motivated by hatred for something like race or gender. And why is hatred of someone because of their race, age, gender, etc. so bad, but simply hating someone because you hate them is "less" of a crime? Sorry, cold-blooded murder regardless of motive is still cold-blooded murder and should be dealt with accordingly.

Hate crime legislation has also been shown to not be a deterrent in preventing the very thing they are designed to. Why? Because the people who commit hate crimes are criminals; they don't care about the punishment, otherwise they wouldn't commit the crime in the first place. This comes from the super-liberal website, published 9 August 2009:

In 1999, some 21 states and the District of Columbia had hate-crimes laws on the books. Today, 45 states have enacted hate-crime laws in some form or other. Yet the trend has not been a lowering of hate crimes. In 2006, 7,722 hate-crime incidents were reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2006--an 8 percent increase from 2005.

The data: 2,640 were anti-Black (up from 2,630 in 2005); 967 were anti-Jewish (up from 848 in 2005); 890 were anti-white (up from 828 in 2005); 747 were anti-male homosexual (up from 621 in 2005); 576 were anti-Hispanic (up from 522 in 2005); 156 were anti-Islamic (up from 128 in 2005). Hate groups also appear to be on the rise. According to the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of hate groups has increased by 54 percent since 2000.
The full article can be found here. This next quote comes from a column written in the Washington Post by Richard Cohen. He wrote this column 4 August 2009 shortly after the shooting this summer at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I felt his column pretty much summed up exactly what I was thinking, so you should have a read!
Let us assume that the "community" is really affected by what we call a hate crime. I am Jewish. But even with von Brunn's attack, I am more affected by a mugging in my neighborhood that might keep me from taking a walk at night than I am by a shooting at the Holocaust museum. If there's a murder in a park, I'll stay out of it for months. If there's a rape, women will stay out of the park. If there's another and another, women will know that a real hater is loose. Rape, though, is not a hate crime. Why not?
So, while I am saddened immesely by the death of this KSU student, his murderers should be punished according to the laws dealing with cold-blooded murder, not as a hate crime. I really don't care why they did it; the fact is they did it and now must pay the penalty. I also want to send my condolences and deepest sympathies to the family of the victim, Christopher Kernich. I hope and pray they are able to again find some peace and that justice is served. Our community has been attacked and this crime has truly saddened me even though I did not even know Mr. Kernich existed until a few days ago. No family should have to worry about sending their loved one(s) to a college town like Kent or anywhere for that matter. May God bless and comfort you in your time of need.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Are YOU a Utard?

Every once and awhile I'm reminded of a certain mindset, which I and many others refer to as being a "Utard" ("YOO-tard"). This blog post will attempt to explain what a Utard actually is and what it isn't to hopefully help any readers deal with this crippling and debilitating disease and way of thinking.

Of course the root of "Utard" is "Utah", meaning the state of Utah. That's not to say Utards only come from Utah, but most do and this ideology is most prevalent in and near Utah. It is certainly not to imply that anyone from Utah is a Utard. If they haven't come from Utah, their way of viewing reality is so close, and they lead others to believe they are from Utah or a similar environment. Similar environments can be found in many parts of the inter-mountain western United States, particularly in southern Idaho and parts of Wyoming, Arizona, and Nevada. These are typically areas with a high concentration of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormons) but need not be limited strictly to rural or suburban areas.

In the most general terms, a "Utard" is an individual who is also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon Church) who has developed a belief that living in or near Utah somehow entitles them to greater knowledge, understanding, and blessings than those poor, less-fortunate fellow Latter-day Saints who live further away from Church Headquarters. Generally, Utards will refer to areas outside of Utah (and adjacent areas that also have a high concentration of church members) as the "mission field" and will refer to Utah as "Zion." They regard the Church as having reached some level of maturity or perfection in Utah, as demonstrated by the large number of LDS wards, stakes, temples, and meetinghouses that dot the state. They also regard this maturity as a sign not of numbers and demographics, but as a show of spirituality and righteousness. When they do actually venture into the "mission field" it is their job to guide these sweet-spirited, but inexperienced members in the "correct" way of following Church procedures and guidelines. Other Utards will counsel Utards in the "mission field" that they know far more about how the Church runs than anyone in their respective ward or stake regardless of how long any of the involved parties have actually been members of the Church. Remember, being from Utah means that person has additional knowledge and understanding that other members out in the "mission field" do not have, again, regardless of how long anyone has actually been in the Church or what positions they have served in.

In general, most Utards have rarely lived outside a heavy-LDS environment and struggle immensely when required to do so for an extended period of time whether it be for a business trip or an actual relocation for school or work. Most times, Utards will avoid such decisions or spend as little time in a "mission field" as possible. Many Utards' only experience outside an LDS-dominated atmosphere is spent on their own missions (which in themselves are hardly isolated, but hardly totally "in the world" either). Once they finish with their required time in a given mission field, Utards welcome the chance to return to "Zion" to share their valiant stories of struggle amongst the Gentiles (non-Mormons) and having to sacrifice "so much" just to drive to church each week as opposed to walking or how hard it was to "stay spiritual" with all the "worldly influences" surrounding them in these secular, unholy cities. Once back in Utah (if they ever left in the first place), they will reminisce about their days growing up when the nearest temples were nearly an hour away or there were only 2 stakes in town instead of 6. They will regard these as "hardships" where they had to make "great sacrifices" so they can relate to those in the "mission field". I blogged about this specific phenomenon in Utardism a few months ago with the opening of the Oquirrh Mountain Temple.

In dealing with marriage, Utards believe that an individual does not truly enter his or her adulthood until he or she has been married. It does not matter how young someone is when they marry (18-19 is most common for females, 21 for males), but once that threshold has been crossed, they have entered adulthood, which earns to respect of other "adults" (who are also married of course) regardless of any other outward indications that the newly married individual actually possesses an ounce of maturity or life experience. No, until an individual is married, regardless of age, he or she cannot be treated as an adult. People who do not marry obviously have some sort of obedience issues or disregard the Prophet's counsel and should be confined to Singles Wards. While it is true that Mormons in general regard marriage as one of the faith's highest sacraments, they do not regard it as any type of actual barrier in treating an individual differently.

Probably the easiest trait to pick out in diagnosing a Utard is how he or she responds to open criticisms or even simple jests about Utah and Utah culture. Utards are horribly offended by anyone criticizing their state, even if the criticism is valid or comes from real-life experience. Rather than seek to understand the criticism or even lend a sympathetic ear, a Utard will instead try to counteract with some criticism about the other person's home state or culture (also known as a "Straw Man" argument). Utards take any criticism or joke that is aimed at Utah very personally and generally lack any type of humor in regards to Utah and LDS-related things. It's more than just a simple matter of Utah pride; it's a belief in Utah perfection and superiority without any concrete facts to support such a belief.

In closing, it is my hope that instead of Utards, we can have just Utahan members of the Church who love Utah and celebrate its many blessings and accomplishments as a State without forgetting to understand that how we feel about a certain area all depends on who we are. In other words, there are lots of wonderful places in the world that have great people and assets; LDS and not. Be happy where we are and be proud of it enough to make it better, but never assume that any place has reached any level of perfection of plateau or that an area's blessings are purely the result of that population's righteousness. Of course I also hope to have more members of the Church who recognize that it's not so much a matter of when we join the Church, but that we actually do and stay in the Church. Living closer to Church headquarters makes someone no better, more knowledgeable, or stronger a member than living near Washington, DC makes someone a better American. There are strong and weak members EVERYWHERE in the Church, not just in Utah and not just in the "mission field".

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's Fall again!

I don't know why, but every Fall I feel like I need to go around and take a million pictures of the leaves. This year is no different, though I will say I have different scenery than normal since we've moved. The Fall colors at our old house were always amazing, but it's been nice going around Kent and seeing some more, particularly in the parks. I'm hoping if we have some sun tomorrow I can get some pictures at Sand Run Metro Park in Akron. I've driven past it on the way from my after-school job to rehearsal and the colors and scenery I can see from the road are just amazing!! Sand Run is in northern Akron right on the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley, so it really doesn't feel like Ohio or even Akron at all! Unfortunately, I am already running late when I am normally driving past it, so no time to stop. Tomorrow, however, I don't have rehearsal so I hope the weather cooperates. For now, though, I have gotten quite a few pictures around Kent. I've always enjoyed Fall, not only the colors but the weather too. I didn't really appreciate the color and season here until I lived out west in Arizona, New Mexico, and Idaho for the better part of 5 years and really missed it all. There was some color in Ruidoso and in Idaho, but nothing even remotely close to what we have just here in Kent, not to mention around the area. Just the short drive from Kent to Akron along I-76 is full of color. I uploaded all of these and more on Facebook, so if you've already seen them, sorry! If you haven't, check out my Facebook album "Fall 2009" if you're on Facebook.

This is looking down in my current neighborhood. Yeah, I guess it's now "my" neighborhood, but I still don't feel like it's "mine" ya know?

These are both from a tree in front of Central School on North Mantua Street...pretty cool huh?!?

Earl Avenue in Kent...I just kind of saw it while walking and was like...WOW!

This is my favorite park in Kent, the Franklin Mills Riveredge Park downtown. This is where I got the picture of myself that's at the top of the page.

I took most of the pictures Sunday, October 25, but went back Monday to get more when the sun was at a better angle. This one above was taken on the 26th, looking south from the Main Street Bridge downtown Kent.

Looking north along the Cuyahoga from the Main Street Bridge

I am hoping to go back and get another shot of this when there is more sunlight, though I am still happy how it came out. Looking at the old 1875 train depot from under the Main Street Bridge.

Another view from under the bridge on the can see I took these earlier in the afternoon and with way more sunlight than the ones on the 25th.

Looking up from Heritage Park, which is right below the Main Street Bridge adjacent to Riveredge Park.

Looking north from the Haymaker Parkway (SR 59) bridge. I had to fit the camera between a very small opening in the chain-link fence that lines the bridge. It's a much tighter fence than a typical chain-link fence.

These two are from the same tree in Tannery Park, which connects to Riveredge Park on the south end. I came in the park and couldn't miss this tree which is seemingly on fire! Tannery Park is on the site of an old tannery that was initially run by Zenas Kent and famous abolitionist John Brown in the late 1830s when Brown lived in Kent (which was then called Franklin Mills).

This is also at Tannery Park. I took a picture the first day I was there but it was overexposed, so I went back the next day and got this from a different angle...I loved how the leaves are pink! The small shelter there was made out of wood from the tannery when it was torn down in 1976.

My grandpa Derby got a picture of this tree at the corner of Crain and Elmwood last year and it was even more red. I found out red leaves are a sign of acid in the soil! Thanks Kirsten!

These are the stairs leading up to the Auditorium Building (now Cartwright Hall) in the Front Campus section of Kent State. In the winter, this is part of a wonderful sledding area! :)

So in case you haven't noticed, I LOVE Kent, especially in the Fall. There aren't many places that can top Ohio in the Fall or the East/Midwest in general for that matter in my humble opinion. :)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What's in a name?

I decided to do a post about some of the aspects of local history I've been reading lately. This may be of interest to some of you, but less interesting to others. This post is all about what I've learned about the history of what Kent has been called prior to being named Kent in the 1860s. It also dives into the system used in naming that was brought here by the New England settlers in the late 1790s and early 1800s.

Before I begin, I better get all the technical stuff out! The main thing is township, more properly defined as a civil township. Most people here in the East are familiar at least somewhat with what a township is, while westerners are pretty clueless about what they are since such things do not exist in most western states. In Ohio, a township is an additional, older form of civic government that consists of three township trustees. This contrasts with a village or city that is divided into wards and the council will have representatives of each ward and maybe at-large members. Townships also have limited authority. In Portage County, most townships do not have their own police or fire departments, but some do have their own fire departments. Most cases, the township will either be part of a joint fire district or negotiate coverage with the closest city while the county sheriff will cover police protection. That's the case here as Kent Fire also covers Franklin Township. Townships also do not collect income tax and thus are usually not as able as cities and villages to provide additional services like sidewalks, sewers, or an aggregate agreement for trash pickup. I actually grew up in Franklin Township, just outside the Kent city limits. Most services were either ones we contracted ourselves (like garbage pickup) or did through the county (like recycling). Townships also don't have their own municipal water supply, though many will make deals with nearby cities to buy water. Even then, most township residents have wells. That's what we had growing up. As a result, townships can be less favorable to development, so many either are annexed by a neighboring city or incorporate into a village or city. In many other states, township can mean different things or a different term is used. For instance, in New York state, the word "town" is equivalent to a township in Ohio. So, for any of my LDS friends who are familiar with Joseph Smith History where the family "was removed to Manchester" (where they literally moved a few hundred meters down the street across the line), they didn't move from the village of Palmyra to the village of Manchester; no, they moved from the town (or township) of Palymra to the town of Manchester. The village of Palmyra, New York is located near the center of the town of Palmyra (The Book of Mormon was printed in the village of Palmyra). Like in Ohio, the village and town(ship) are two distinct entities, many times legally as well as in general practice, but share a common history and even name. OK...does that make any sense?

So, given that lengthy explanation of what a township is and how it is different from a city or village, on to the names of Kent.

Franklin: The first name of what is now Kent was simply Franklin. The townships were laid out before anyone settled there and most were bought by proprietors. The survey township "Town 3 Range 9" was purchased by Aaron Olmstead around 1798. He named his land "Franklin" after his son Aaron Franklin Olmstead. Only recently as cities and villages have become more prominent have we added "township" after the name to differentiate the township from the village or city. For instance, the nearby township of Mantua (MAN uh way) is usually referred to as "Mantua Township" while the village of the same name is referred to as "Mantua". In the early days (and in older published histories) and likely into the 20th century, however, "Mantua" by itself was referring to the township. Within the township were three small villages: Manuta Center, Mantua Corners, and Mantua Station. Eventually Mantua Station dropped "station" from its name and incorporated into a village and "Mantua" came to be referring to the village of Mantua as opposed to the township of Mantua (which, for my LDS readers is where Lorenzo Snow was born and raised and Eliza R. Snow was raised). So, the first name for Kent was simply Franklin when the first settlers arrived in November 1805. I have only found one other source that even mentions "Franklin" as an early name, but logic tells me it was the first name not only for the naming conventions of the time, but also the next name. Either way, Franklin Township was one of the first named townships in the Connecticut Western Reserve. Initially, "Franklin" included most of what is today Portage County and additional lands as well.

Franklin Mills: The next name, and probably the most well-known of Kent's previous names, was that of Franklin Mills. This, of course, was the result of mills -- gristmills, sawmills, even an ANVIL mill and more -- being built along the Cuyahoga River. So naturually, when the first settlers arrived and there were no mills here, I have a hard time believing they called it Franklin Mills. I do not know, however, when the name was first used. The first settlers, the Haymakers, built a gristmill in 1807, so sometime after then. The first official record of Franklin Mills was ca. 1837 when a town plat was registered for what is now downtown Kent. The original village of Franklin Mills started along the river southeast of present-day downtown on the west side of the river, near the Stow Street bridge. The Kent flour mill (ruins at right) was said to have been built on the site of the Haymaker's original 1807 mill. The name Franklin Mills lasted until 1867 when the change to Kent was made official at the incorporation as a village. The vote to change the name was made in 1864.

Reedsburg: Only dedicated historians even know this name existed. In 1811, the Haymakers sold their gristmill to Jacob Reed, who had come from Rootstown. He made significant improvements to the mill and operated it from 1811-1816 until he sold it to George DePeyster and William Price. Portage Pathways by Loris Troyer seems to indicate residents used the name in gratitude for the improvements to the mill, but at this early stage of Kent's history, there weren't many residents at all. All we know is once Reed sold the mill, the name "Franklin Mills" returns, so that only testifies to me that few used the name, particularly those outside the settlement.

Carthage: This is another of the better-known names of Kent, though this actually began as a separate settlement. Carthage began around 1818 when Joshua Woodard moved from Ravenna and began building several small factories and buildings along the river with Frederick Haymaker near the present day intersection of North Mantua Street, Fairchild Avenue, and Crain Avenue. Locally, Carthage was referred to as the "upper village" while Franklin Mills was the "lower village" and collectively they were referred to under the Franklin Mills name by outsiders. Carthage was, however, the first officially recorded name for what is now Kent when the town plat was registered at the county courthouse in 1825. It is the village identified in Franklin Township on the 1826 map of the Western Reserve (Portage County portion at left). The name, however, didn't stick as some historians believe residents preferred the Franklin Mills name. Whatever the reasons, the Carthage name was never widely used outside of the area and apparently even in the area. The only remaining evidence of it in Kent is a small side road called "Carthage Avenue" in the area where Carthage was. The square created by Hudson Road, Fairchild Avenue, North Mantua Street, and Cuyahoga Street is identified on older maps as "Center Place" and was likely the original town square for Carthage had it been laid out and developed as a village. A small but fierce rivalry did exist between the two villages, mostly because of the competing taverns located in them.

Kent: Kent is named for Marvin Kent as he was responsible for a number of business developments in Kent's history, but most importantly the establishment of the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad in 1863. Even more than getting the railroad to come through the village, he was also successful getting Franklin Mills to be the location of the railroad shops, providing hundreds of jobs and generating significant business growth and development. The Kents had been investing in the area since the 1830s with Marvin's father Zenas owning land along the Cuyahoga River and operating a flour mill (ruins shown above) and a tannery (which was briefly operated with famed abolitionist John Brown in the late 1830s). They finally relocated to the village from Ravenna in the 1850s. Marvin Kent's son William Stewart Kent would later donate his 52.89 acre farm as the site of a new normal school in 1910. This school would evolve into today's Kent State University, a development that has shaped Kent into the crazy, unique place it is today. The name "Kent" was used for the settlement first in 1864 after residents and the post office department approved the name change. The change was not official, however, until 1867 when it was approved by the Ohio state legislature and Kent incorporated as a village.

Rockton: Prior to voting on the name of Kent, local leaders also considered the name "Rockton" in honor of Standing Rock (seen at right), a local landmark in northern Kent. Interestingly enough, Marvin Kent actually preferred this name. There are only two known uses of "Rockton" today in Kent that I could find. The first and most prominent is the local Masonic Lodge (which meets in the former Kent home). It was formed in 1859 and adopted "Rockton Lodge" believing the name of the village would become Rockton. It didn't, of course, but the name of the lodge stuck. Another usage I have seen is the neighborhood where my Ridinger grandparents live just east of the city limits (Horning Road area) is identified in the 1957 Portage County Atlas as "Rockton Heights". It appears to have been the name of the subdivision when it was first being developed. It doesn't appear in subsequent maps, and I have never heard that area referred to by that name, so apparently it didn't stick around.

  • Brown, R.C; Norris, J.E. (1885, 1972 revision). History of Portage County Ohio. Chicago, Illinois: Warner, Beers, and Company.
  • Darrow, Ralph, ed (1999). Kent Ohio: The Dynamic Decades. Kent, Ohio: Kent Historical Society.
  • Grismer, Karl H. (1932). History of Kent (2001 Revision ed.). Kent, Ohio: Record Publishing (1932), Kent Historical Society (2001)
  • Plough, Cyrus T., ed (1978). 1874-1978 Bicentennial Atlas of Portage County, Ohio. Ravenna, Ohio: Portage County Historical Society.
  • Troyer, Loris (1998). Portage Pathways. Kent, Ohio and London, England: Kent State University Press