Monday, August 31, 2015

Persuasive Letter

This weekend I decided I wanted to change a rule. To do it, I realized I could write a persuasive letter. I've learned from Lucy Calkins that "writing can change the world". I wanted a small part of my world to change. So I drew on all I learned from TCRWP Writing Unit of Study to write a persuasive letter to the rule keeper.

Here's the background of the situation:
My parents, back in 1966, were active members of their neighborhood homeowners association. Within a 10 mile radius of their neighborhood, there were community pools but they all had a wait list. My dad suggested at one association meeting that this group build another pool so his family and all the families in this neighborhood would have a place to swim in the summer time. After lots of meetings and reaching out to the community to persuade people to buy into this idea, High Point Pool was built. My dad has since passed away and my mom now pays her annual dues at the single, senior rate. She rarely goes to the pool but she will stay a member. How can she not? High Point Pool is the place she and my dad helped to become a reality.

As I reflected on the pool this summer and all the wonderful memories spent with our pool friends at High Point, I got am idea. Next summer, the Summer of 2016, will be the 50th Anniversary of the pool. My mom, now 80 years old, and three others were original members and today they still belong to the pool. My idea is that the Pool Board could propose to offer these original members an Honorary Membership. They could change the rule and no longer charge them dues.

Here's the letter I drafted, revised, edited and sent to the High Point Pool Board:

Dear Mr. Moschella,
I am writing to to you, the President of the High Point Pool, about an idea I'd like you and the Pool Board to consider. I feel strongly that Honorary Free Lifetime Pool Memberships be offered to those who started the pool 50 years ago. Without their efforts, no pool would exist today on Woodland Drive.

I will admit that I am biased in suggesting this idea. My mother, Mary Anne Stallings, along with her friends, Mary Francis Moriarty, Cindy Chase and Nancy Schneider, were all original members back in 1966 and were instrumental in creating High Point Pool. Sadly, they are the only still-living original members. Along with their spouses, these women took the risk to chip in their hard earned money and convince a bank to help them build a neighborhood pool. They sat through many meetings and made many phone calls and persuaded many others to join this venture. Now all four remarkable women are widowed and all are on a fixed income and all continue to dutifully pay their membership dues. They do this despite the fact that their visits to the pool are more infrequent. When I ask my mom why she still pays her pool dues, she simply replies, "How can I not? High Point Pool is the place where your dad and I made the dream of a pool into a reality."

And what a great reality it is!! I just turned 50 but I can still vividly recall my time spent at High Point Pool. Every morning during the months of June and July from the ages of 6-18 I was at swim team practice. Then most afternoons after a quick trip home to have breakfast, pack a lunch and grab a dry towel and my Nancy Drew novel I returned.  It is where I'd swim for 45 minutes straight - playing Sharks and Minnows in the deep end or Marco Polo in the 3 feet area or Jump/Dive/Twist off the diving board. Then sit out for a 15 minute break announced by the lifeguard's whistle. Saturdays were swim team meets filled with cheering and racing for those blue, red and white ribbons. Sundays were the best! Krispy Cream donuts were served and we could bring rafts into the pool. At least one night during the summer, the pool stayed open late for Movie Night. They set up a big screen and rented a reel-to-reel movie and showed it with popcorn once it got dark. On the Fourth of July, they had a Penny Dive and a Greased-Watermelon Race. At least twice each summer was a Pot-Luck dinner. I loved waiting in the long line to fill my plate with a variety of yummy dishes shared by all the pool families.

Today, High Point is a well maintained pool and, as you know, it has a large membership with a long waitlist. However, this would not be the case if a group of forward-thinking neighbors did not have the idea and courage to build such a place. In my opinion,  the least the Board can do is to consider honoring these women with an Honorary free membership. Some might think that the idea of a community pool is for all to contribute and pay their dues, as it takes lots of money to pay the bills to keep the pool running strong. However, I suggest it would be a fitting tribute as the pool turns 50 to honor these four women who were there on the pool deck on the very first day the pool opened and who spent many, many days prior bringing the dream of a pool to a wonderful reality.

Thank you for considering my suggestion.

Sally Donnelly
One time member of the pool as a Stallings Family member 
and now guest at the pool of Mary Anne Stalling, Original Pool member


I will blog updates if/when I hear back from the pool Board.

And I plan to use this writing of mine as an example of how persuasive writing might change a rule. And I'll point out that if the idea is never written down and shared, it never will.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Celebrate - Being a piece in a great puzzle!

I reported to work on Thursday for the first day of the 2015-16 school year. As a member of the new staff of Discovery ES, I met for the first time all my co-workers. We are the staff of a brand new PreK-5 elementary school in Arlington County, VA. However, we met at Yorktown High School in the auditorium because our building is still awaiting final inspection clearance. The venue didn't thwart our enthusiasm though. ALL are excited about this new adventure and the chance to open a new school and mold it into the best school ever!!

First, in pairs, we met one other staff member, finding out where they taught before and one fun fact. Then in pairs, we introduced that member to the whole big group. Quickly, I realized that I have joined an experienced group of educators - diverse and funny and caring, all with interesting fun facts. Their caring showed when the few 1st year teachers were introduced and we spontaneously clapped ,excited to take these brave souls under our wing as they take their first steps in our profession.

Then Erin, our calm and always upbeat Principal, asked, "Who here is a leader? All hands should be up. All of us are leaders. As we do this next activity, I ask you to do 3 things:
1. Remember that you are a leader
2. Take the puzzle piece I hand you and add your name to it on the front - it is your piece
3. Go to Judy, the AP and she will tell you which of the 5 tables to report to.
That is the only directions you will be given,"

And soon she handed me a piece of paper cut out as a puzzle piece. I added my name along a straight edge and Judy told me to go to the table on the right side of the auditorium stage. When I arrived, that table had a pile of more puzzle pieces and 3 people starting to spread them out.

"Let's find all the outside pieces."
"This one is part of a yellow bird, Anyone see more yellow pieces?"

"This piece has the word SNOW" on it."
"My piece has the definition of SNOW on it!" I replied and soon we were placing these two puzzle pieces together.

"This piece doesn't go with anything on this table. I'm going to see if it goes with another table's puzzle."

Also heard were "My name's Sally. I'm teaching 3rd grade."
"Hi, I'm..."

After 20 minutes with no other instruction then the 3 directions listed above, ALL the puzzles were completed and Erin asked us to sit down to reflect together.

She began, "If we could have been in our building today, at this point in the game, I would send you off on a scavenger hunt to find that FIRST piece of a puzzle that you started with. When you find it, you have also found your ROOM."

Not being able to see my room right then was OK. Instead, there was more time to reflected on this amazing staff I have joined, all leaders. As we reflected out loud, comments included all the ways we acted as leaders. Some very vocal. Some quietly hanging back and watching and then making a move. All working to include all. Al working to reach the goal.

All starting as one puzzle piece.
All now part of this big puzzle called Discovery ES.

I celebrate today this rare opportunity I have this year to start a brand new school!!

So proud to be a Discovery Explorer
In the 3rd grade SNOW classroom
a part of 3rd grade Atmosphere
a part of Kindergarten Neighborhood where someone is in the yellow bird classroom
a part of 1st grade Forest where someone is in the raccoon classroom
a part of 2nd grade Oceans where someone is in the dolphin classroom
a part of 4th grade Solar System where someone is in the planet classroom
a part of 5th grade Galaxy where someone is in the star classroom

Now the place we call HOME!

To learn more about my new school, click HERE

Monday, August 24, 2015

High Point Pool

     On Monday, I spontaneously decided to go spend the afternoon at High Point Pool. This was heavily influenced by the hot and humid 90+ degree August day and the fact that I still had a week before returning to work as a teacher. I put on my suit, grabbed my towel and a novel and called my mom.

     "Want to join me at the pool?" I asked my mom on the phone.

     "Great idea but I have to do a few errands. I could meet you there by 2pm," she replied.

     "I think I'll head up there now. I'll just sign in as you. The lifeguard at the desk didn't seem to care last time," I reminder her.

    "OK but call if they give you a problem."

     I ended the cell phone call and headed to the pool where my mom is still a member, paying the Senior Citizen single-rate for our once family membership. (And where her family members are technically suppose to accompany a member to the pool and pay a guest fee to enter.) As planned, I just signed in using her name and walked right in while the lifeguard manning the desk never looked up from her cell phone.

    It seems too weird to me to pay a guest fee to enter this pool, a pool I know my way around quite well. This is where I spent every morning during the months of June and July from the ages of 6-18 at swim team practice. It is also where I returned most afternoons after a quick trip home to have breakfast, pack a lunch and grab a dry towel and my Nancy Drew novel.  It is where I'd swim for 45 minutes straight - playing Sharks and Minnows in the deep end or Marco Polo in the 3 feet area or Jump/Dive/Twist off the diving board. Then sit out for a 15 minute break announced by the lifeguard's whistle.

   It is also where swim team meets were every Saturday and where Sundays were the best. Krispy Cream donuts were served and we could bring rafts into the pool. At least one night during the summer, the pool stayed open late for Movie Night. They set up a big screen and rented a reel-to-reel movie and showed it with popcorn once it got dark. On the Fourth of July, they had a Penny Dive and a Greased-Watermelon Race.

   After about an hour of reading my novel and taking dips in the pool to cool off, my mom arrived. Back in 1966, my parents and a handful of neighbors had the idea of chipping in to build a community pool. Land was available at the top of Woodland Drive. My mom suggested the name - High Point since the pool was at a high point and my dad was born in High Point, NC. Now 50 years later, this community pool is well maintained and has a large membership with a long waitlist.

   Neither my mom or I live around the corner from this pool anymore, but we can't imagine not having a membership. So my mom pays a single, Senior rate and she might go two or three times during the summer only. Yet, as I sit with my mom today at the pool that she and my dad and their friends helped start, I can't imagine a better place to be on a hot, summer day. I can't imagine summer without High Point Pool.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Celebrate - a great summer

This is my last weekend of the Summer of 2015.
Monday I report to work, this year as a 3rd grade teacher in the county that I live in.

As I look back on the last few months, I celebrate that I had time to:
- attend PD run by my new county for 7 days
- attend TCRWP Reading Institute (the best 5 days!!)
- join a Writing Group and meet with them most Mondays at 9am in July and August
- posted every Tuesday to the TwoWritingTeachers SOL, often the writing I was working on with the Writing Group
- read 4 books within a virtual book club, posting my writing about reading to a shared google doc and participating in 2 twitter chats about the process at #WabtR
- read Colleen Cruz' Unstoppable Writing Teacher book and met with a colleague to discuss how to use the ideas in this book with our next group of students
- took my mom on a road trip for a week to see cousins and my daughter (VA-Louisville-Chicago-Ohio-VA)
- many breakfast, lunch, and dinner get-togethers with family and friends, a relaxing time to reconnect and catch up

I celebrate summer as a teacher. It gave me nine weeks to rest and have time to think about my practice and time to work on my reading and writing while taking breaks to catch up with family and friends.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Celebrate - Construction Workers

Thank You posters hung on the construction fences. Cheers and clapping filled the air. Construction workers wearing hard hats formed a long line and my school's PTA served them lemonade and hot dogs as the noontime sun shone down brightly. These many workers are building us a brand new school building - Discovery Elementary School in Arlington county, VA.

We celebrated the hard work being done by the many workers yesterday by feeding them lunch as a sign of our appreciation. Their work is harder because the calendar today reads August 15th and in just 24 days, the calendar will read September 8th  - First Day of School. It is going to be a beautiful school. It is designed to be a zero-net energy school by relying on solar panels, geo-thermal wells and a smart energy-efficient design. Today I celebrate these construction workers who are doing all they can, as fast as they can because they know the clock is ticking. They know that on September 8th, teachers and kids with their parents will be arriving to learn in this unique educational space.

Construction workers are a big part of my life now. On January 14, 2014 we had our house knocked down completely and hauled away. My husband is an architect and he designed a modern, energy efficient home to be built on our lot. And the construction workers began to build his design.

We are getting closer to moving into our newly built home. Today it looks like this from the front and from the back:

Today I also celebrate all involved in building my new house. So many construction workers -  the ones that knocked down the original house, the ones that placed the concrete and steel in place, the ones that pieced together the SIP panels. Those who welded together the plumbing pipes, threaded the electrical wires through the walls and ceilings and added the ducts and radiant panels. And the ones that carefully measured and hung the siding and the cedar shingles and others that somehow lifted all the big windows into place.

But mostly I celebrate my architect husband who envisioned such a house, a house with light-filled spaces and energy efficient features. A house that is clearly worth waiting for!

And finally,  I celebrate the patience required when one builds anything.

To see images of the school construction, go to

To see more images of my house construction, go to

Check back after September 8th to see the school being used by my students and me
and in October (hopefully) to see images of us occupying our new white(out) house!

Monday, August 10, 2015

What book from your childhood do you remember reading?

I took a road trip last week over seven days with my 80 year old mother. We drove 1,612 miles from VA to Louisville to Chicago to Loraine, Ohio and then back home to VA. We visited her cousins, her granddaughter (my daughter) and her friend since 3rd grade.

Along the way, I asked those we met, "What book from your childhood do you remember reading?"

Her cousins (ages 65-78) - I don't remember being read to ever. I don't remember my school having a library. But I always read to my grandkids.

Her granddaughter (my daughter, age 26) - As a young child, Dr. Seuss books, then Harry Potter. Also, the Alanna series by Tamora Piece.

Her 3rd grade friend - "I read Seventeenth Summer in my childhood. I was just sharing an idea from that book with my granddaughter who was sad to breakup with a boy. I told her that book taught me:
"Men are like streetcars. If you miss one, another will be along in 5 minutes" !!

Afterwards, I did a little research on my mom's 3rd grade friend's favorite book while growing up. It was published in 1942, written by Maureen Daly when she herself was age 17 and it was published while she was in college. Wikipedia states: "Some critics claim that the modern period of young adult literature is often said to have begun with Seventeenth Summer. Daly is a teen writing for teens and her work influenced other writers to write specificially with the young adult audience in mind." And now our libraries often have a Young Adult section. I never thought about a time before such books existed but now I know the book that started this genre!

I was able to download this 1942 classic book to my kindle and read it this weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Angeline "Angie" Morrow the summer following her high school graduation and preceding leaving home for college, the summer she dates Jack Duluth.

One theme of the book was the growth of love between the main characters. I especially liked how Maureen Daly described the setting so beautifully throughout the book to masterfully match the amount of affection felt between Angie and Jack. The book was divided into three chapters - June, July and August. Here's a glimpse at her setting descriptions -

from the June chapter:
It was just after nine o'clock and I was in the garden picking small round radishes and pulling the new green onions for dinner at noon. I remember it was a warm day with a blue and white sky. The garden was still wet with last night's rain and the black earth was steaming in the sun, while between my toes the ground was soft and squishy - I had taken off my shoes and left them on the garden path so they wouldn't get caked with mud - and I remember thinking how much fun it would be to go barefoot all the time. The little tomato plants laid flat against the ground from last night's downfall and there were puddles like blue glass in the hollows. A breeze, soft with a damp, fishy smell, blew in from Lake Winnebago about three blocks away. I was so busy thinking about the weather, the warm sun, and the sleek little onions  that I didn't even hear Jack come up the back sidewalk.

from the July chapter:
We took the longest way, the way that goes through the park and along the edge of the lake where the small boats moored at the shore dip in rhythm with the waves and the blue water is spangled with sunlight. And down the long thin highway toward the country, passing cars with their windows glinting with sun, to the curved gravel road with scum-covered water in its ditches, growing with tall heavy-headed cattails and slim purple iris. Farther on the air is honeyed with the clean, sweet smell of clover and the willow trees shake their varnished leaves till they glitter in the sunlight. 
Jack drove with both hands tight on the wheel and I sat close beside him till we came to the place where the Virginia creeper stretches heavy on the fences and the trees beside the road grow thick and gnarled, reaching up muscled arms, and the fields, all wild with mustard  plants, are yellow as sunshine.  Jack slowed the car while we held our breath and listened to the whole air singing with the sound of insects and the wind in the grass and the warm steady hum that is summer.

from the August chapter:
But even if it was only August there were already signs of summer's dying everywhere. The poppies in the garden that had been tousled pink blossoms only a few weeks before were now full-blown and hung heavy with the busting seed pods, scattering the seed like black bugs to the earth. The corn leaves dried in the sunlight and rustled with wind, while the fine, silken hair that hung from the ears shriveled, tobacco-brown. And I knew by the tomatoes that summer was ending. The vines sprawled luxuriantly over the earth still, but the runt tomatoes ripened before they were full-grown, not trusting the sun to shine many weeks longer. 

And a few photos from the road trip: 

Nana on far right with her cousins - Jan, Alice and Ronnie (from left to right)

Nana with Bridgit in Chicago

Nana with Marilyn, her friend since 3rd grade

I recall reading The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg as a favorite of my childhood. I also recall my mom (who now is called Nana) reading Encyclopedia Brown to my brother and me before bedtime!

What book from your childhood do you remember reading?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Celebrate - The Daily Show ends their conversation

Thursday night I watched Jon Stewart's last show.

Toward the end, Stephen Colbert said to Jon:
"We owe you because we learned from you. We learned from you, by example, how to have a show with intention, how to work with clarity, how to treat people with respect," Colbert said. "You are infuriatingly good at your job, and all of us who were lucky enough to work with you for 16 years are better at our jobs because we got to watch you do yours, and we are better people for having known you."

This is what I hope my students/parents would say about being in my classroom.
This is what I hope I can say to my co-workers at my school.
As teachers, many watch us do our jobs. 
I hope they can be better for having known us.

If you are a fan and missed it, click here -
Last episode of The Daily Show