Sunday, June 30, 2024


I’ve talked a bit recently about the challenges of getting information to people who need it. It’s an ongoing struggle. If you don’t believe me, just look outside on a Slide Day for trash collection. It doesn’t matter how many times that information is posted or whether it’s on social media or in neighborhood newsletters. There will be people who put their trash or recycling out according to the regular schedule.

It’s simply impossible to get 100 per cent engagement. 

People who dislike the current County Executive are inclined to criticize the many local events around town where he can be seen making announcements, highlighting new businesses, and so on. But having County Executive Ball participate in a public event isn’t the only way the County communicates with residents. The County issues press releases to local media outlets, pushes out information to county social media accounts, and works with organizations throughout the county to spread the word. A personal appearance by the County Executive is yet another way of getting information to the public - - one component in a communications plan, if you will. 

Why? Because it is a monumental challenge to compete with all the other information you are bombarded with every day and because their job is to make sure the public is informed. 

You just know that there will be people who show up when decisions are being made about a new county flag who will be angry that they didn’t know anything about it. 

There’s been some online mockery of the recent “ground breaking” for the next step in the Safe and Sound plan in Ellicott City.

Image from Howard County Governent social media 

One local wag asked, “What is this silly sandbox?” 

I’m not surprised to see people poking fun. And I wouldn’t take them to task for asking questions, either. But to my mind this falls under the category of things that are done in public life which are ceremonial or symbolic: ribbon cutting (don’t forget the big scissors)  groundbreaking (with matching shovels). Humans have been creating and using symbols to mark meaningful occasions as far back in time as we are able to trace it.

Think of graduations with special clothing and the awarding of diplomas, or of pageants where a winner is crowned. What about mayors presenting a key to the city? Or presidential inaugurations where the oath of office is taken with one hand on a holy book? These images convey something to us. We recognize them and know what they mean. 

As dopey as it may feel to critics, things like ground breaking and ribbon cutting are a part of the symbolic language that leaders use to communicate with the public. There’s only so many ways to communicate information that will truly ‘stick’ in the public consciousness. If you think that these sorts of ceremonial behaviors have become meaningless or obsolete, then what do you propose should replace them? I’m open to suggestions.

For all the folks who want to make fun of the “silly sandbox”, there are others stopping to find out what’s going on in that photo and learning something they didn’t know. 


While I have you here:

Howard County Government offices, courts, animal shelter, 50+ centers and Alpha Ridge Landfill will be closed on Thursday, July 4th in observance of the Independence Day holiday. As there will be no Thursday curbside trash, recycling, yard trim or food scrap collection on the 4th, the County’s holiday "slide” schedule will be in effect for the remainder of the week.

Additionally, County Government offices, animal shelter and 50+ centers will also be closed on Friday, July 5th. - - HoCoGov

Tell your neighbors.

Village Green/Town² Comments 

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Saturday, Reduced

So it turns out that doing this Saturday calendar thing is more labor intensive than I had anticipated. Here is a much-reduced version along with a few extraneous announcements.

1. Don’t forget the markets. 

Maple Lawn Farmers Market, Maple Lawn Boulevard, 9 am - 1 pm

2. Ladybug Music Festival, Old Ellicott City, 2 - 8 pm Celebrating women in music 

3. Sunday: Howard County Caribbean American Heritage Celebration, 12-5 pm, Colorburst Park

FYI: This event is free but they are asking you to register.

Now for some extraneous tidbits.

Columbia Community Care Youth Summed Exchange Program: 

CCC is raising funds to send mentees from their STAND and PUSH programs to a summer exchange program in Mexico. 

Community Ecology Institute:

Freetown Farm is celebrating its Fifth Birthday and they are fundraising to support the Farm’s many community programs. 

The deadline for submitting a design for the new Howard County flag is tomorrow, June 30th. Learn more here

Don’t say nobody asked you - - this is open to County residents of all ages! 

Have a great Saturday. I have plans to catch up on post-vacation laundry.

Friday, June 28, 2024

F ³: If You See One


You know what they say. If you see one ant, there are bound to be more nearby. But ants are not my problem. It’s something more insidious.

They creep up on you. They enter your house one at a time, over a period of years. They seem harmless. And then, one day… …you find that have been overrun. 

I hesitate to use the word infestation in this case. It feels so dirty, somehow. 

Some people collect silver, china, sports memorabilia, antiques, even autographs. They are things. Inanimate objects. The problem with stuffed plush animals is that first they are cute, then they have names, then personalities. Before you know it they have become members of your family.

On that fateful day when you discover that you have far too many you realize that you are contemplating disposing of things that are not unwanted trash but - - dare I say it - - close personal friends. Sometimes old friends. Yes, some are more like passing aquaintances, but, still. 

If you are tenderhearted, imaginative, and retain a sense of play from your childhood, do NOT let more than one of these creatures into your life. Just don’t.

I wrote a few years ago about a wonderful initiative in the UK called Loved Before. They are still going strong, “saving the world, one teddy at a time.” 

Dream Jobs, March 18th, 2022

They are located in Bedfordshire in England. There is no United States equivalent as far as I know.

Rehoming stuffies in our area is difficult. Because of sanitary concerns places like Goodwill no longer take them.  

  • If they are in perfect, like-new condition you may be able to rehome them through your Buy Nothing group. 
  • I’ve heard through the grapevine that there’s a bin located at Waterloo Elementary School where they can be dropped off to be recycled. 
  • Another friend suggested they might be donated to the animal shelter. 
  • For 121.00 you can purchase a small Zero Waste Box from Terracycle specifically for the collection and recycling of stuffed plush creatures. 

Years ago my oldest child cleaned out the bedroom where she had spent her teen years.  She ended up with a large bag of stuffed animals that she knew were ready for the trash. She didn’t seem to have the kind of angst about it that I would’ve had. I admired her resolve.

Then, before she closed the bag and brought it downstairs, I heard her say, “I’m sorry.” She wasn’t talking to me.

The truth is that she probably doesn’t even remember now what was in that bag or suffer any residual pain over that loss. And I could do that too, if only I were brave enough to do it. 

Somehow they must know this. Their greatest defense is to remain indispensably adorable. 

Be safe. Don’t let them into your home or your heart. It begins so delightfully and ends so badly.

Village Green/Town² Comments 

Thursday, June 27, 2024

The Old Familiar Place

True confession: while the history of American film contains plenty of movie set in newsrooms, I've seen only one: All The President’s Men. The newspaper movie I’d like to see doesn’t exist. It would be about these people.

Image from the former employees of Patuxent Publishing alumni page on Facebook. 

In this place.

At last one of these, if not both, are Scott Kramer images

Oh, how I’d snap up tickets to see the major motion picture of what it was like to create the Columbia Flier newspaper in the New American City and follow its expansion into Patuxent Publishing, providing news coverage for area communities throughout our region. Perhaps this story wouldn’t have enough of the things that Hollywood movie studios like to market: sex, violence, or characters that can be marketed as plastic action figures. 

That wouldn’t matter to me. I’d be happy enough to sit back with my popcorn and watch the story of the people who told the stories. This is the time period - - of Columbia’s early years - - that I missed. And I’d pay good money to see it reenacted on the big screen.

Here are a few of those people who told the stories. They gathered recently to remember those experiences of creating a brand new newspaper for a brand new place. They are photographed in front of the building that most of us associate with the Columbia Flier. The place where it happened, you might say.

Image from County Executive’s social media posts

Designed by Columbia resident and architect Bob Moon, the Columbia Flier Building has been a striking building along the streetscape of Little Patuxent Parkway since its construction in 1978. For 33 years the building was home to the Columbia Flier which ceased its operations there in 2011. - - HoCoGov website

The County has owned it since 2014, searching for just the right use for the space (or perhaps just the land itself.) At long last a decision has been made: the site will be redeveloped as a community center offering recreational, health and social services. It will be called “The Source.”

I like it. A new kind of source for Columbia. A city which is no longer new, but can still get excited to create new things.

I don’t know how a movie about the Columbia Flier building would end. Would it be when they had to leave the building? Or perhaps when the newspaper itself ceased to exist? As sentimental as it sounds, perhaps a movie like this might end with a scene such as this week’s reunion at the old familiar place on Little Patuxent Parkway.

Telling stories, sharing memories. 

Village Green/Town² Comments 

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Quotable Quotes on Main Street


Quote of the day for Monday comes from Mark Hemmis of Phoenix Upper Main in Old Ellicott City.

"We have rebuilt twice, we have moved, we survived Gordon Ramsey, we survived a pandemic -- we are still here," Hemmis said. "This tunnel gives us the hope we will continue to be here."

Hemmis was interviewed by WJZ TV in connection with ongoing work on the County’s Safe and Sound plan, most specifically the North Tunnel Project which will be created to divert stormwater.

Yesterday local officials celebrated the next step, which will bring in a machine to tunnel through OEC’s granite. Also worth celebrating: the work of State Representative Courtney Watson and State Senator Katie Fry Hester at the state level to secure funding to bring this public safety initiative closer to completion.

You may recall that the county held a contest to name the digger: yesterday we learned that it will be named Rocky. Choices: were Ellicott Drills, Ellicott Excavator, Granite, Granite Grinder, Hudson and Rocky. I can’t remember which one I voted for but it was definitely not “Roving Radish.” 

If you’d like to know more about what was going on in Ellicott City yesterday, take a look at the following coverage from local media outlets. The WBAL TV piece is the most thorough and lays out a comprehensive look at the flooding history which led to the creation of the Safe and Sound plan by County Executive Calvin Ball and the County Council. But they’re all worth a read.

Ellicott City’s tunnel mole machine has a name: Rocky, Jess Nocera, Baltimore Banner

'Rocky' ready to start boring North Tunnel Stormwater Conveyance Project in Ellicott City, Kate Amara, WBAL TV

Howard County leaders celebrate next steps for Ellicott City's new flood mitigation system, Dennis Valera, WJZ New

Flooding in Ellicott City is deadly serious. So are the increasingly extreme weather events due to climate change. Yet I couldn’t help but chuckle at the picture Mr. Hemmis paints with his words. After everything they went through, they had to survive Gordon Ramsey, too? 

Hadn’t they already suffered enough?

Seeing Rocky chosen as the symbolic persona for the tunnel-boring machine reminded me of the travails of the committee tasked with naming the new high school in 2023. They seemed to come up with nothing but rock-related names:

Gabbro Quarry High School

Granite Quarry High School

Quarry Field High School

Quarry Heights High School

Quarry Hill High School

Quarry Ridge High School

Quarry Rock High School

Quarry Run High School

Quarry View High School

Rock Quarry High School

None of them appealed to the community. While the school system eventually settled on a name with historical significance, Guilford Park, it looks like the rock theme has resurfaced in OEC.

You can’t keep a good rock down, apparently. 

Village Green/Town² Comments

Monday, June 24, 2024


I have reached the stage of Maryland summer where I am just plain angry about the heat. I try not to take it personally, but…it does feel like a personal attack. 

Due to the extreme heat over the weekend Howard County Government shared the locations of local cooling centers on social media.

This made me wonder how many are accessible by public transit. All, I hope. But I have some research in my future.

No, I most likely would not need to use public transit to get to a cooling center. I still care about making sure that others in our community have access to cool places during dangerously hot weather. Not everyone has a car. 

I continue to be appalled by locals who care about county initiatives only if they themselves will benefit, which is probably why I make it a point to examine ways that we as a community should keep working to remove obstacles and open doors for those around us.

Ahem. Sermon over.

Howard County Government has put together a Food Connection Map which does include transit information. Good for them.

Howard County Food Connection Map, Local Health Improvement Coalition 

It’s an interactive map and you can tell just by looking at it that a lot of work went into it. Your tax dollars at work, as they say. I’m thrilled. I’d love to know how the county is connecting this resource with people who need the information. (Ooh, more research ahead.)

I have a great deal of leisure time and I spend several hours every day looking for local stories online for the blog. So I know about cooling centers and the summer food resources and the Food Connection Map. I have home internet, a smart phone, an iPad. 

How do people who truly need these resources get connected with this information?

The first thing that comes to mind is the library. Which is also a cooling center. And a home base for some of the summer food programs. 

Yes, our libraries are places to borrow books, music, movies (and more) but they also provide computers and internet and opportunities to connect with very important information. 

The Howard County Department of Community Resources and Services is promoting an upcoming podcast interview with Library president and CEO, Tonya Aikens. 

The library isn't what it used to be. And that's a good thing!

"We have to engage, listen and respond," says Tonya Aikens, the president & CEO, @hocolibrary when talking about leading one the county's greatest resources.

Hear more in her conversation with host and DCRS Director Jackie Scott about how she encourages programming alongside community, in our July podcast #hococommunitychat, which drops on the first.

For back episodes, visit htts:// HoCoCommunityChatPodcast .

It sounds like a cool listen for one of those hot Maryland days ahead.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Where the Food Is

I am going to take a break from stressing out about all the folks who love to drag area restaurants on social media to take a look at a different kind of food service.  Not fast food, casual, or fine dining. The kind of service that means people who might not get food, or not enough, will get to eat.

Summer meals will be available to children this summer beginning tomorrow, June 24th:

To continue meeting the growing need to feed hungry children and families in Howard County and fill the nutritional gap over the summer months, the Howard County Public School System's free summer meal program begins on June 24 and runs until August 2 

This year, meals will be served on weekdays from 12:30-2 pm at our Elkridge and East Columbia branches. 

There are no applications, enrollment or fees to participate in this program, however children must be present to receive free meals. Meals will be provided at no cost to any children aged 18 and under. There will be no meal service Thursday, July 4.

Find all the information at

In addition, the Central and East Columbia branches will be offering free afternoon snacks sponsored by Good Harvest between June and August.

I had not heard of Good Harvest before but I am guessing this Baltimore-based nonprofit is what they are referring to here.

Did you know that the Farmer's Market at Clarksville Commons matches SNAP benefits?

Once again this year, the Clarksville Commons farmers market is participating in the Maryland Market Money program. This wonderful program allows us to match SNAP benefits to buy eligible food at the market. 

If you receive SNAP benefits, come see us in the yellow MMM tent to get SNAP tokens & MMM tokens, which can be spent at almost all of our food vendors. 

We're able to offer unlimited matching, and you set the amount every time you visit. Tokens are good all season, so you don't have to use all of them on the day you get them. 

FMNP and Senior-FMNP benefits can also receive MMM matching once they are distributed in July.

The farmers market is every Saturday, 10am-2pm, through November 23.

You may have heard that the Roving Radish is roving once again. A lot of us think of the Roving Radish as “that local meal kit thing”.

The Howard County’s Roving Radish promotes healthy eating habits through meal kits comprised of locally and regionally grown foods straight from the farm to your table. The meal kits are available to anyone who works, plays or lives in Howard County and are offered at a discounted price to those in need.

But now they’re taking the show on the road with a mobile market.

After being relatively stationary at the Long Reach Village Center for several years, the Roving Radish will be out and about making regular stops throughout the community. 

I saw them setting up at Stevens Forest elementary school as I drove by this week. Getting fresh food out to the community in a way that supports people with limited resources makes a lot of sense to me. If you take a look at the sponsors you’ll see that this is an investment both in public health and equity in education. To be clear, anyone can purchase food from the Roving Radish. Members (see info above) can purchase at reduced prices.

An anecdote from back when the Roving Radish was in the planning stages: then-County Executive Ken Ulman announced a naming contest for the new initiative on social media. He described how the soon-to-be launched food service would connect local farmers with community members in need of fresh food and how the meal kit service would work. As a way of generating interest (I’m guessing) Ulman solicited name suggestions from Howard County residents. “Something like…the Roving Radish,” he tweeted, to get the ball rolling. 

I thought up a name. It was probably silly. I have no recollection of what it was. Ulman’s tweets as County Executive don’t exist anymore - - as far as I can tell - - so I can’t document this. But when the winning name was announced it turned out to be: The Roving Radish!

I have since suspected that the name had already been chosen in advance and the naming contest had been a social media engagement exercise. On the other hand, maybe it was better than all the other ones submitted by the community. We’ll probably never know.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Friday, June 21, 2024

F ³: Close to Home

 Just when I was getting all sentimental about Sunday’s Pops Concert at the Chrysalis…

The weather report for Sunday is grim.

We truly regret that due to expected high temperatures, we have cancelled the upcoming Columbia Orchestra Summer Pops Concert: Preludes and Possibilities, presented by Baltimore Washington Financial Advisors.

The temperature on Sunday, June 23, is expected to reach 98 degrees with 50% humidity and would be an unsafe environment for our guests, our staff, and our artists. 

We know you were looking forward to this incredible performance and we were thrilled to be working once again with the Columbia Orchestra.  While we regret cancelling any event, we take the safety of our guests and artists very seriously

We are actively working with the Columbia Orchestra to set a new date and hope very much that they will return to the stage this year and that you will be able to join us. - -  Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods

It’s absolutely the right choice both for the concert-going public and the musicians. Still, it’s a disappointment. I’ll keep you posted when I learn the new date. It’s always a great concert and it’s my idea of a quintessentially Columbia experience.


Heads up: I’m taking the day off tomorrow on the blog. If you have a Saturday community event you’d like boosted, tag Village Green/Town² and it should magically appear on the FB page. 


One last thing. Yesterday I managed to end up with one hearing aid instead of two after a hair appointment. I thought I’d put both of them in my purse. I checked inside the salon, they hadn’t seen it. 

I was having a no good, very bad day. My hair looked great, though.

I looked through my purse again, so did my spouse. I looked in my car, so did he. I contacted the salon and told them it was still missing, they looked again with no success.

An hour or so later I received a text from my hairdresser that the hearing aid had been found. A client heard the hairdressers talking about it, walked outdoors and found it in the parking lot. It was completely unharmed.

So, anyway, if you are looking for a new place to have your hair cut, styled, whatever…may I sugggest Willow & Oak Salon? 

You can learn more about what services they offer at their website. They’re also on Instagram. My stylist is Katie and I followed her to Willow and Oak from Floyd’s. I adore her because she knows exactly what I want and takes the time to get it right.

Obviously there are other stylists as well. Check them out if you’re looking for a new place.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Places, Please!


Howard County Summer Theater’s big production for 2024 opens this weekend. It’s “Guys and Dolls”, and will run for 7 performances at Marriotts Ridge High School. 

I went to last summer’s production, “Hello Dolly” and had a lot of fun. You can learn more about the mission of Howard County Summer Theater at their website, where you can also purchase tickets. A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to local charities. 

Heads up: there’s road work going on out there. This helpful PSA comes from a cast member:

Are you coming to see Guys and Dolls? Here are a few transportation tips. Part of Marriottsville Road will be closed during our run (from Resort Road to US 40) and while you can "technically" still get to the school from Marriottsville Road North off of 70, you may want to avoid it all together and go down to 32 North. I've also included an image with info on parking (don't turn into the first parking lot; go to the second). Can't wait to see you there!

Also this weekend, more performances of the musical at DoodleHATCH - - “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” presented by Stand Up for…Theatre, 7 pm. (Tickets here.)

Stand Up for…Theatre presents "You're Good Man Charlie Brown" at the DoodleHATCH Interactive Art Museum, 8775 Cloudleap Court Columbia, MD 21045. Performances are June 21 & 22 at 7 PM and June  23 at 3 pm. Sunday matinee performances are sensory sensitive. (Link to purchase tickets)  adults $22, children/seniors/military $20. Group discounts are available. DoodleHATCH is handicap accessible.

And here’s a great review of the show by Amanda N. Gunther of TheatreBloom.

One more performance this weekend that has become one of my favorites of the summer: the Columbia Orchestra’s Pops Concert at the Chrysalis. It’s Sunday, June 23, from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM in Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.

This year’s theme is “Preludes and Possibilities.” Tickets are free but you must register so they’ll know how many people to expect and how to best assign parking.

Presented by BWFA, don’t miss this fun and exciting musical journey filled with possibilities as the Columbia Orchestra, under the baton of guest conductor Victoria Gau, performs a captivating program of popular pops melodies. This remarkable afternoon will culminate with the historic announcement of the orchestra's next Music Director.

Register for your free tickets here. 

Image from Inner Arbor Trust

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Juneteenth: It’s Not About Me


Here are two local celebrations of Juneteenth that are happening today. Details are at the links:

At the Lakefront in Columbia.

At Caroll Baldwin Hall in Savage.

The observation of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is very new. President Biden signed it into law in 2021. The historical truth it rests upon is not new. It’s about slavery, period. The people who are experts in understanding that history are Black Americans. That can be uncomfortable for white people who are accustomed to feeling that pretty much everything centers around what we understand.

This year I’ve been actively looking for responses to Juneteenth that don’t come from people like me. This one made me realize what happens when the corporate world gets ahold of a concept that’s just too raw for them to articulate:

Maybe making Juneteenth a federal holiday was a mistake. Because what is this? - - Morgan Jerkins, Writer, Editor, Professor at Columbia University 

“In observance of Juneteenth, we will be closed this Wednesday, June 19, 2024. This day holds great significance as we celebrate and honor every individual whose efforts and sacrifices have contributed to the freedoms we enjoy today.”

Notice anything? There’s no slavery, no Black Americans of African descent, no national reckoning. This is an “All Lives Matter” corporate-speak announcement. Statements like this, which blandly erase history, are not merely “off the mark” or watered down. They cause actual harm because they are actively obscuring the truth of American history, most particularly the suffering and injustice of the enslavement of Black Africans by white Americans.

Who should get the day off on Juneteenth? The following statement made me think.

To be clear, white people should NOT be awarded the day off for Juneteenth.

But since “equality” (identical treatment) is a MUCH more easily attainable goal than “equity” (actual fairness), [even racist] white people get the day off, too.

Critical thinking is key to antiracism. - - Johnathan Perkins, Director: Race and Equity, UCLA

Clearly I can’t speak for all white people but I do think there’s a general sense that we don’t know what to do with ourselves around the concept and observance of Juneteenth. What I have been reading online is that Black people wish we could, at the very least, not get in the way. Not make it about ourselves.

The next post, also from Mr. Perkins, made me smile.

Here’s another useful parallel. White people should treat #Juneteenth celebrations like they’re someone else’s birthday. It’s a party. You should be excited. But y’all’s only real role is to offer gifts and wait to be invited to celebrations.

It’s not about us. Nobody owes us anything. So: then what?

If you’re looking to do something more than simply not getting in the way, there are some excellent lists out there to get you started. Here’s the beginning of one by Guimel Carvalho, Director of People and Culture and Amy Hogarth Director of Recruitment and Inclusion at the Wayside Youth and Family Support Network.

10 Things We Want White People to Do to Celebrate Juneteenth

1. We want white people to deeply consider the wound of racism on the hearts of every Black American.

2. On Juneteenth we want white people to read, study Black history, Black poets, Black leaders, Black achievements.

3. We want white people to do things about racism as readily as they do things for their own children.

Read all ten.  

Talk about them with your friends, your family, your coworkers. Locally, the Anti-Racist Education Alliance holds events year-round that foster learning around issues of equity and anti-racism.

UCLA has created a Juneteenth Equity Toolkit  which is an excellent resource if you are looking to learn more. 

From the introduction:

On June 19, 1865, enslaved people in Texas finally found out that they had been freed from bondage. Even though President Lincoln had signed the Emancipation Proclamation over two years earlier, Texas slaveholders had hidden that fact from the people they kept in chains. Since then, generations of Black Americans have celebrated the anniversary of that liberation as “Juneteenth”.

But even 155 years later — and as recent national events have powerfully demonstrated — we have learned that celebrating and recognizing that day is not enough. What can we do to truly acknowledge Juneteenth? How can we learn more about the day itself, especially its historical and current repercussions? And how can we take action and get involved — both on campus and beyond — in the hope of genuine reform?

We want white people to do things about racism as readily as they do things for their own children.

Do we?

Village Green/Town² Comments 

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Sticks, Leaves, and Touching Grass

After yesterday’s post you might be surprised to see this photo of students tackling a math problem.

Image from Glenwood Academy. Used with permission.

Take a closer look at the math problem.

They’re making “Stick Stew.”

Measuring, doubling, and halving ingredients for our 'Stick Stew'. Even basic recipes require math skills. Making recipes larger or smaller can take you even deeper into fractions, multiplication, and division! - - Glenwood Academy

As someone who had terrible experiences with math throughout my education, I thought, “Wow! That looks like fun!” 

As a career early childhood educator, I wondered, “But did they really get to go out and make ‘Stick Stew’ with real sticks?”

Glenwood Academy is described on the The Maryland Association of Nonpublic Special Education Facilities (MANSEF) website as follows:

GA embraces and empowers all students with language-based learning differences such as dysgraphia, dyscalculia, dyslexia, and language processing difficulties. Through an engaging, multi-sensory, developmental, language-intensive curriculum, we work towards helping all of our students to evolve and discover his or her individual potential for greatness.

What caught my eye, of course, was the engaging presentation of the math lesson. What sparked my imagination was the potential for a multi-sensory experience with sticks and leaves. I don’t know if this particular lesson culminated in a hands-on nature experience, but GA’s social media posts document a curriculum filled with “engaging, multi-sensory, developmental, language-intensive” learning experiences.

Around the same time that I was contemplating this photo, I came across a quote from Chiara D’Amore, founder and CEO of the Community Ecology Institute:

At heart, I am an experiential environmental educator. I love little more than getting folks out into nature and helping them learn about why and how we should care for the ecosystem of which we are a part and on which we ultimately depend. And the true joy it brings people, especially in an age in which we spend so much time inside on screens, is some of the best medicine.

D’Amore illustrates this statement with photographs taken while engaging with students in CEI programs.

Images: Chiara D’Amore, used with permission 

And here’s how CEI describes its overall program goals: 

We create innovative, meaningful experiential education programs for people across the lifespan.

Although the missions of these two institutions may be quite different, I couldn’t get the juxtaposition of the two experiences out of my head. Both use materials from the natural world as a jumping off point. 

Clearly the Glenwood Academy’s example is more symbolic, using the mental image of Stick Stew to enliven a lesson in recalculating amounts in a recipe. D’Amore’s heartfelt description of CEI’s experiential learning in nature speaks to the discovery learning experiences that I’ve always loved the most in teaching early childhood classes.

Both illustrate ways in which traditional classroom education isn’t the only way to learn deeply and effectively. And also, that hands-on experiential learning isn’t just for “the littles.” 

Yesterday a response from a reader reminded me of the challenges presented by non-traditional learning environments.

To make project-based and inquiry learning possible, we have to slash our class sizes.

It’s true. These experiences rely on smaller groups, more adult-to-student interaction and relationship-building. That’s expensive. We keep hearing that our school systems can’t afford that.

Nevertheless, I’m writing about this here because I’m convinced that we need to find ways to incorporate these kinds of experiences into our kids’ lives. Not solely to support educational goals, but also, as Dr. D’Amore says:

…the true joy it brings people, especially in an age in which we spend so much time inside on screens, is some of the best medicine.

What do you think?

Monday, June 17, 2024

Don’t Ask That Question

 “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

Do you remember a time when the first days back to school in the fall were centered around that question? Classroom discussions and possibly the first essay assignment of the year were often rooted in the recounting of seeing fireworks or a family trip to the beach. 

These days it has become painfully clear that a question like this makes an assumption: of privilege. Many families struggle to get through the summer if both parents must work. Childcare is cobbled together or sometimes the older children are put in charge of the younger ones. Families who rely on school food programs during the school year face additional hardship.

When I was growing up the assumption in my neighborhood was that the kids “stayed home” and had fun playing during the summer. This really meant that the family could afford for Mom to be the full time caregiver during the summer months. In recent years I’ve seen that assumption grow to include a summer spent going to fun, themed camps - - not only for enrichment but also because both parents work. Still there is an assumption: that the family income will cover the cost of the camps. 

So the days when teachers routinely asked the summer vacation question are pretty much over (I hope) because it’s widely known that asking how a kid spends the summer can be shining a big and unwelcome spotlight on their family’s financial resources. It’s unkind and it’s unhelpful. There are plenty of other ways to break the ice and better prompts to elicit student writing. 

I’m thinking about this today because I came across a piece I wrote ten years ago about the best, most significant learning our youngest experienced every year. It was at summer camp.

Summer School, Village Green/Town², July 28, 2014

It is truly the high point of her year. She thrives in a total immersion environment of music, drama, art, and dance. Of all the worlds she must function in, this is the most meaningful.

To be blunt, our kid learned better at Summer Camp than in school.

She talks with us about what she is learning. She gets ideas. Creative ideas. She writes about them on the ipad. She gets ideas for other musicals, ideas for short stories based on musicals. The other evening she was excited about what you would need to do to adapt the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" to the present day. It led to a fascinating discussion about changes in our culture and in the popular music scene.

I think we tend to think that the academic year is all about “education” and that the summer is for “fun”. Not everyone is comfortable with that, however. There’s an entire industry that creates summer learning work books and educational summer camps lest all the learning drain out of our children during June, July, and August. 

I think it’s a mistake to assume that things that replicate the typical classroom experience are “real” learning. We miss the boat if we don’t understand how much kids are learning in summer camps that look nothing like “school” to us.

Project based learning. Hands-on learning. Multi-sensory learning. This is the most meaningful way for my child to learn, and for most of us, I think. Finding topics that truly interest students and allowing some choice in how to explore the subject matter is what fosters the creation of a self-directed learner. That should be our goal--self-motivation, learning how to learn, and the joy inherent in true, deep learning.

Within Howard County the next few months will contain many different kinds of summer vacations. I don’t presume to know what is best for every kid and I certainly don’t know what works for every family. 

I do hope that, in some way, our kids get to connect with something meaningful to them, something that makes them laugh, something that brings them joy. 

Because that’s learning, too.

Village Green/Town² Comments

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Dragon Boats and Community Outreach

For an event announcement and a confession, read on.

From the Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County:

Looking for a fun summer activity for your kids or a delightful evening for the whole family? Join us at CAPA's annual Dragon Boat Festival, June 16th from 4-8PM  at the Dancel YMCA in Ellicott City! Enjoy Asian food, cultural activities, performances, a moon bounce, magic show, twisted balloon art, Asian games, and much more. 

Images from CAPA-GC social media

True confession: all this time I have been thinking that actual dragon boats would be a part of this event. My assumption, as embarrassing as it is for me to admit, is that the dragon boats would be…in the pool at the Y. Alas, the schedule of events does not indicate that this is so.

This is where a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. I’m familiar with dragon boats largely because of the Baltimore Dragon Boat Club.  What I had not done, until this morning, was any basic research on the Chinese holiday known as Dragon Boat Festival. From a website for children:

The Dragon Boat Festival is a folk festival integrating worship of gods and ancestors, praying for good luck and warding off evil spirits, celebrating, entertainment and eating. - - Duanu Festival Facts for Kids

This evening’s event appears to be focused on the cultural aspects of the festival rather than on boat racing. There will be performances, activities, and food to enjoy. The event is a part of CAPA’s community outreach.:

The Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County provides three core services: Family & Youth Education, Community Outreach, and Civic Engagement.

Have you ever been to this event in years past? I’d love to know more.

To learn more about the Chinese American Parent Association of Howard County, visit their website.

Village Green/Town² Comments