Sunday, September 26, 2010

Changes in Kent

The changes are abounding in Kent right now.  The new Fairchild Avenue bridge is still under construction and I've gotten used to the crazy detours I have to take every day just to go south.  At the intersection of Fairchild and North Mantua, a new Sheetz station is also under construction.  It's supposed to be done later this year, though, it will be tough if it's finished before Fairchild is set to reopen sometime in January.  I can say even with the mess of construction it's already looking better than it has been for the last several years.  Outside the McKay-Bricker Framing building, everything else was run-down and looked terrible.  I was not sad to see any of it go besides the McKay building, which I was very sad to see torn down.

There are some other smaller changes going on along Haymaker Parkway (State Route 59, aka "the bypass").  All of the street lights are being replaced as is the protective fencing on the main bridge.  The fencing was removed earlier this week and I think it looks pretty good without the fencing, though the bridge itself is pretty bland (a typical boring highway bridge).  The new fencing will be black so won't be as obvious.

The biggest changes downtown are just beginning.  On Friday, the first building was torn down in the area that is set to be developed.  If any of you remember the buidling with the yellow zig-zag front roof that was a liquor store and also home of Spellbinders, it was the first to go.  I went downtown today and took some pictures before any of the other buildings are torn down, and let me just say: I really won't miss ANY of the buildings getting torn down.  That entire block is in horrible shape (including the roads), so I welcome the demolition of the rest of the buildings.  The only building that is in any kind of decent shape is the old Kent Hardware building.  I suppose if they saved any building it would be that one, but the cost of adding on and renovating it would outweigh simply tearing it down and starting fresh.   Here are the pictures of downtown now and some of what will replace them in the next 24 months or so.  Downtown is going to be very different in a short time, and hopefully MUCH better.  I'm really excited to see this all happen!
South Water Street with the rubble of the old Spellbinders building visible.  
This is the expected view from Water Street of the new development.  The image comes from Dave Ruller's blog post "Kent Downtown Redevelopment Update..." on September 13th.
Old Record-Courier office that has been closed since the end of 2008.  I doubt this building has changed much at all since the 1950s.  At this point, the new conference center will be built here, though recently the plans seemed to shift to combine the hotel and conference center into one building here.  If that ends up being the case, there will soon be an 8-story building here!
Looking east down East Erie Street, where the new Kent Central Gateway will be built (see below) 
The intersection of East Erie and South DePeyster streets.  This will be developed into a 3 and 4-story complex with offices, retail, and residential space and the road will be completely rebuilt.  
This is the planned view of the new development from Erie Street.  Looks a lot better, huh?  This also comes from Dave Ruller's blog
Looking north up South DePeyster Street.  The new hotel was originally supposed to be on the left side, but as I said above, it's looking like it will be on the opposite side of the street.  All the buildings in this picture except the looming old hotel building at the top of the hill will be torn down for two separate developments.
The back of Acorn Alley, which opened last year.  After the development behind this picture gets going, the developer of Acorn Alley will begin extending it down to Erie Street and building additional 3-story buildings along Erie.  Note the old hotel looming above.  As much as I'd love to see it redeveloped, it's become Kent's albatross.  It's so big and obvious that it will put a literal and figurative shadow over all the new development as long as it's there.
Drawing of the Acorn Alley extension from Dave Ruller's blog.
House on East Erie Street I barely even noticed before!  It's between the former "The Barn" bar (which had a variety of names over the years) and the old Kent Hardware
Dead end of East Erie Street where it meets Haymaker Parkway.  The new Kent Central Gateway will be built in the empty lot and the road will be connected to Haymaker.
This is the view once the new Kent Central Gateway is built from pretty much the same location as the previous picture.  Not sure I like that thing in the foreground, though.  ?????  This comes from PARTA's website for the project, Kent Central Gateway.

Definitely a lot of changes already underway with more to come.  We still haven't heard about the new municipal court building planned by the county, plus there's always the hope the old hotel will finally get redeveloped or torn down and the potential for additional development as a result of all of this.

For more info also see: 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Arts Academies

Recently, the neighboring Field Local School District started an arts academy for grades 3-6.  Being in the arts, on top of the news, and knowing a number of people in Field Schools, I had heard of the plans for some time.  After some difficulty and controversy, the new Falcon Arts Academy was established earlier this year and officially started classes this past August.  It is housed at the former Central Elementary School, which previously had housed the district's kindergarten classes.  Central is located adjacent to Field High School and Field Middle School right on the border of Brimfield and Suffield townships (so it is appropriately named!).  From what I was able to gather, this academy basically uses an arts-intensive approach to education.  What that means is that while students have more arts classes, the standard classes they do have (such as science, social studies, and math) have the arts integrated into how they're taught.  The examples I heard were things like using stained glass to learn geometric elements or writing songs to help learn science concepts.  Hearing about it definitely got me thinking about the whole concept, though initially I was hopeful for a potential job opening.  That turned out to be for naught as Field simply shifted their current teachers to the new school.

Anyway, I think most people assume that because I'm an arts person that I would naturally be a supporter of something like this.  To be totally honest, I've never been sold on arts academies or any kind of specialty school that segregates one interest from another.  My main experience with a separate arts academy was the same school Field used as a model: the Miller-South School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron.  I was a part of the Summit Choral Society's Junior Chorale program for a few years in the early 1990s and our rehearsals and many concerts were at Miller-South, which was converted to a 4-8 arts school from the old South High School.  I didn't know much about the school itself, but the kids I knew who went there largely had an arrogance about them.  It wasn't major, but it was there.  That's my first major problem with a separate school like that.  I think the unintended consequences are that you end up with some students who think of themselves as better than they are, but you also take away some of the most motivated and creative students and isolate them.  Another unintended consequence is the potential for a district to use an arts school as an excuse to reduce arts programs in other district schools.  While I've never actually seen that used as a reason, knowing how many non-arts people think, having an arts school and strong arts programs at the district's other schools would seem redundant and people would basically think if students want to be in the arts, they should go to the arts school.  Of course, an arts school can only handle so many students, so in the end, kids would be denied participation in arts programs or at least in the best arts programs simply due to numbers.

Before I go on, let me be very clear: this is not criticism exclusively of the Falcon Arts Academy.  No, this is my arguments against any kind of setup where students of one interest are taken out of their school and placed in a completely separate building, effectively segregating them.  Having an academy within a school, I think, is much better way to not only allow students to explore their interests on a higher level, but also allow those students to still be well-rounded while still giving other students the opportunity to take advantage of those programs but maybe on a lower level.  When I first found out about the Falcon Arts Academy, I started thinking about another specialty school I have experience with: the Maplewood Career Center.  Maplewood is a joint vocational school in Ravenna that serves students at 9 of Portage County's 11 high schools (excluding Kent Roosevelt and Aurora) as well as Mogadore in Summit County.  Students at Maplewood are all juniors and seniors who are enrolled in one of the schools several vocational programs.  Prior to coming to Maplewood, those students take care of most of their state-required classes needed to graduate.  Half of the day at Maplewood is spent in lab while the other half is spent in required courses such as English, Social Studies, and Math.  Students are still considered part of their home high schools and many participate in athletics, but for any other courses such as band, choir, art, or any other kind of elective, there is no chance as no such classes are offered at Maplewood.

Now, again, this should not be considered a criticism of Maplewood itself.  I have been very impressed by the faculty at Maplewood and enjoy being able to sub there; the format of having a completely separate vocational school is what I'm talking about.  Subbing in Kent, I have been able to see the other option: having vocational programs integrated into the school itself.

Roosevelt has somewhat of a hybrid system.  While there are some vocational programs students can take that will put them at another building for much, if not all, of the day, most of them are either available at the school itself or only require a few periods at another school.  Roosevelt is part of a compact with 5 other school districts that basically pools the vocational resources of each school and makes them available to students at the other compact members.  What this allows is for students to pursue a vocational tract, but as their schedule allows, they can still be part of things like choir, band, art, and other electives that may interest them plus their required classes are with fellow classmates as opposed to just vocational students like at Maplewood (though some program-specific classes like that are offered at Roosevelt).  It also keeps them as part of the school environment for much of the day rather than segregating them from their classmates all day, every day.

The more I think about it, the more I like the integrated approach over the separate building approach.  It lets arts students really explore their interest in the arts, but also can allow others to explore it without having to change schools; basically an all-or-nothing approach.  Indeed, even with the more arts-based approaches they are taking in the non-arts classes like science and social studies, if the methods are valid and work, they should be integrated into standard curriculum, not just restricted to "arts" students.  Students learn at different speeds and in different ways.  Not only should teachers be using a variety of approaches in presenting curriculum, but they should also be giving students a lot more options for projects and assignments to promote and develop creativity.   The same is true in any specialty area like math, science, vocational, etc.  The more these kinds of academies can be integrated into traditional schools, the more options it gives students not only in how much they learn but how fast.  But, on the flip side, I think having an arts academy is a step in the right direction; however, I'd much rather see many of its ideals better integrated into the regular curriculum to be most effective and reach as many students as possible.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Separating Doctrine From Culture

The whole issue I blogged about back in November about being a "Utard" seems to come up every once and awhile.  Basically, the problem boils down to people being unable to separate being a "Utahan" from being a "Utard" and assume that those of us who don't live in Utah have some sort of general dislike for "Utah Mormons".  Is there a prejudice outside of Utah towards church members from Utah?  Absolutely, though it varies greatly by location and the individual and is not always negative.  Some people automatically assume the worst when they find out someone is from Utah; others assume the best.  I like to get to know someone before I come to any conclusions about what kind of person they are, though I do admit, I have the whole "Utard" worry in my head when I first find out and hope I'm wrong.  Why?  I've had far more negative experiences than positive with the whole cultural divide that separates Utah (and in reality many western U.S.) Mormons from the rest of us.  That's not to say I've had all negative experiences.  I still count many friends who are Utah natives and/or still live in Utah, plus my best (and worst) mission companions were all from Utah, plus I have family there.  But to simply stand by and assume that all the negative and testimony-damaging experiences I endured, and the many negative experiences I've heard from others, are simply coincidences or isolated cases would be to ignore the problem and allow it to continue.  What I've come to believe is that it's a widespread enough problem that a negative prejudice has developed outside of Utah, though it is by no means universal to all Utah Latter-day Saints.

As I stated originally and have restated many times, this is nothing personal against the state of Utah.  As a state, Utah really isn't much different to me than any other state.  There are things I love about the state (the mountains, for one!) and there are things I don't like about the state (like the desert climate and the horrible drivers on I-15).  I can say the same about every state in the U.S. I've been to (42 and counting), including Ohio.  No, this is speaking out against certain prevalent cultural elements that exist primarily in Utah, simply because Utah has the unique situation of having the single-largest group and highest concentration of members of the church; cultural elements that I find contradict church doctrine yet are constantly (and improperly) mingled with it as if they are one in the same.  Basically, if the church were most prevalent in, say, Illinois or Wyoming or Florida I'd be saying the same thing about those states.  And yes, parts of Idaho (like Rexburg) also have these same cultural elements.  Because the elements are so much associated with doctrines of the church, they not only give Latter-day Saints a bad name overall in many cases, but even amongst each other it creates problems where the line between cultural traditions and doctrines is blurred.  The elements that have created this culture are mostly those from the 1840s that were common in the United States when the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley.  Once they got to the valley and began spreading out, they were largely isolated, so while the rest of the country moved on with certain cultural "norms" the previous ones were able to take deep root and eventually creep in the same level as doctrine amongst the Saints.  For instance, the charge that the church is very "clannish" actually comes from the early development of the church in the 1820s-1840s.  Just take one read of Joseph Smith History and his descriptions of the various Protestant sects.  The various sects were very divided against each other and did not intermingle, something that for the most part is not true today.  Of course too, the early church did often have to go it alone because of persecution, which also contributed to that "stick with your own" mentality to the point where visitors tend to be ignored.  This is not something that generally happens in other areas of the church, but has happened to me and I've heard many others talk about experiencing this in Utah.

As for the term Utard, again, people need to understand this isn't a term for anyone from Utah, at least the way I use it.  That is Utahan.  Utard is not a term I came up with, but I thought it was a clever play on words and it seemed to fit what I felt it was describing when I first heard it on my mission.  In doing a Google search for the term, I've discovered it has several meanings; some related to the church, some not.  I guess for die-hard Utah lovers, it's unfortunate that their state name is so easily turned into a derogatory term, but to think that Utah is the only state people make fun of is ridiculous and ignores reality.  It's just that other state names aren't as easily combined with another word!  The only one I could think of off the top of my head was "Floridiot" and honestly, I've never heard it used!

So, we definitely shouldn't just come to a rushed judgment about someone just because they're from Utah, and Utahans shouldn't make quick judgments about people from the "mission field" (a term which I feel is TOTALLY misused out west).  Whether good or bad, that's a form of prejudice and it prevents us from really getting to know someone, not just here but in any instance of prejudice.  We're all on the same team here working for a common good, but we also must not stick our heads in the sand and pretend there's not a major cultural problem where large amounts of members exist because there certainly is a problem.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Additional blog

I've decided to start a second blog that's private as a place to express more personal thoughts.  Since I'm still looking for a job, it's probably not a good idea to truly express what I think about certain things since that could be used against me, plus there are things that I don't want everyone or even just certain people to know.  I've already noticed a fair amount of traffic that comes to this blog by virtue of people searching on Google or another search engine for my name.  I hate to think I've been prevented from getting a job because I have opinions and I express them.  Never the less, I will keep this blog for sure and I'll keep it public.  It will still remain my primary blog, but just won't have some of deepest thoughts that I'd like to share, just not with the entire world.  If you'd like to be included in the new blog, post your e-mail in the comments here.  Since I have to approve all comments, I can get your e-mail and then not post the comment.  At this point the blog is called "Live From Kent...Unleashed" and is at  You'll also note I secured the domain name "" for this blog.  Both the new address and the old blogspot address will get you here.