Duking it out with the good, the bad, and the ugly


Email Sandra Nichols

  "As we go around trying to focus on the positive, our satisfaction is often marred by intrusive bad memories and pessimism. A teacher once told me, `You can't keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair'."

ITH JUST sixteen days left in 2001, some say they'll be glad to close this chapter in the book which is our lives. As our literary pal, Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This rings true today even though A Tale of Two Cities was written more than 100 years ago, and spoke of a time long before that. There is a certain cosmic reality — the Yin and Yang — a balance between good and evil which typifies the human condition.

As we go around trying to focus on the positive, our satisfaction is often marred by intrusive bad memories and pessimism. A teacher once told me, "You can't keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair." (Did that teacher think I would remember her words 40 years later?)

In reflecting back on 2001, September 11th looms enormous, occupying so many bits in our personal memory banks. Vivid visual images take a toll on our appreciation of skyscrapers. Berkas and tunnels, the faces of the children. The images haunt us. While recognizing that pain, I recall and will mention some of the wonderful events which occurred this year. For me, some of those memory gems, those positive images, happened at school.

This year I had to be evaluated by my supervisor. She saw me working with 4 children. One was born in Brazil, one in Mexico, one in China, and one in Russia. These kids come together with their mutual need. They have in common the need to improve their communication skills, the need to learn English, and the desire to become well-educated, productive adults. They dream of becoming policemen, accountants, and soldiers, hopefully as citizens, a distinction that will come to them only through effort, not birthright.

My students like each other. They link arm in arm as they escort me to the speech room. They speak to each other with respect. In my class, that's the law. I give those kids a big thumbs up for working together pleasantly without regard for country of origin or socioeconomic status. They also get a gold star for being such eager students.

Another highlight of my year was a visit I made to Watsonville High School. I wanted to see some of the special programs in action and I wanted to get a feel for the campus during the school day. Do you know what I saw? A clean campus and students passing between their classes in an orderly fashion.

I observed students in AP (Advanced Placement) Spanish getting their full share of educational benefit. Later, I saw teenage parents continuing in their education while their babies were also being given an educational opportunity in the next building. It's good to see those young students — teens and babies — at school.

And I had the pleasure of being introduced to the agriculture program, nicknamed "Ag". I am pleased to report that the opportunity to study agriculture exists at WHS, but you have to sign up for it to get the benefit! These courses prepare students to enter university programs in agriculture, besides providing alternative curriculum and hands-on learning experiences for our students. Thank you to the teachers who welcomed me into their classrooms for this on-campus visit: Lowell Hurst, Ellen Fairhall, Joan Wilkinson and Bev Wong.

It has been thrilling personally to attend many celebrations of educational success this year. Two of the most special were ceremonies at Pajaro Middle School and Hall District School. Hundreds of parents were honored. They have successfully completed training in support of their children's schooling and learned how to advocate for their children and participate productively in the educational system. They have learned that a college education is within the reach of their children. What a great effort our community is making to create a better future.

Back to Dickens, who went on to say, "it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,... we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way — in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."

The year 2001 has been very special for me, because of the pleasure of serving on your School Board. I have never enjoyed hard work as much as I do the task of representing 14,241 of you at the School Board table. Some of you have been calling me up or speaking to me at the microphone during Board meetings. Some have stopped me over the veggies at Nob Hill, written me letters, called out advice from your car windows! I like it. Please don't stop! Even if we disagree on certain issues, I know we can agree on this. EDUCATION MATTERS!

Sandra Nichols is a Speech and Language Specialist with Santa Cruz City Schools in Santa Cruz, California and is Governing Board Vice-President of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This essay was first published in the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, Dec. 15, 2001. The opinions expressed are those of Sandra Nichols and do not necessarily represent those of any school district, print publication or web site.

© Sandra Nichols 2001