essay: parenting in the age of school shootings

telegram_logoSomeone threatened to shoot up my son’s high school recently. Administrators alerted parents to the threat and assured us that there would be a strong police presence on the school campus.

When you are told that someone — likely an individual trying to get attention and spark a high-profile reaction — has threatened your child’s school, on a specific day, how are parents, in the age of Parkland and Newtown, supposed to react? What is a reasonable response? I wrote a piece about navigating this new terrain, “Parenting in the Age of School Shootings.”

An excerpt:

“… all I had were questions. Will there be an increased police presence at the high school because the shooting was threatened to occur tomorrow? Or will police be there just because there was a threat made? Is the high school graduation ceremony a few days from now at risk?

Facebook quickly became the virtual meeting spot for worried parents who wondered if it was safe to send kids to school the following day, for parents who said we shouldn’t live in fear, for parents who were hungry for more information, for parents who sought solace from one another because this is now the world in which we are raising our children.”

Read the whole piece at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette here.

Advertisements

educators’ podcast: ‘mr. clark’s big band’ teaches how to help students with loss

Screenshot 2018-06-06 09.19.15

The “10 Minute Teacher” podcast recently featured Mr. Clark’s Big Band, specifically how Mr. Clark and fellow educators at the Trottier Middle School in Southborough, Mass. were willing to try novel and untested means to help their students through the grief of unexpectedly losing a fellow student.

Vicki Davis — aka “Cool Cat Teacher” — conducted the brief interview with me, asking whether teachers reading the book would find strategies to help students cope with the complicated feelings they experience after a peer passes away. My response included something Mr. Clark once told me, “If you give your students what they need, you’re never going to fail.”

You can listen to the podcast by:

Image credit: Cool Cat Teacher.

essay: adventures with a dairy allergy

dairyIt was a serendipitous coincidence that my latest column for The Mighty website, “Got Milk? Adventures with a Dairy Allergy” was published as many were celebrating National Cheese Day an event in which I, sadly, did not partake.

The piece involves Thanksgiving dinner at my sister-in-law’s house, a jar of gravy, and a couple of doses of Benadryl. It starts this way:

My legs seemed to dissolve beneath me. My eyelids grew heavy as I plunged into sleep like I was falling off a cliff. Actually, it’s more accurate to describe what happened this way: I passed out in my sister-in-law’s guest bedroom, as if I’d been drugged. Blame it on the dry milk.

Read the whole essay here.

Image credit: The Mighty website via Getty Image/Baibaz.

essay: ms keeps some patients under summertime house arrest

the-mighty-300x300The website The Mighty has published a piece of mine about the brutal impact of summertime heat and humidity on multiple sclerosis patients.

“I am locked in a personal war with heat and humidity,” I wrote in the piece, my first at The Mighty where I am now a contributing writer. “To me, they are more than mere summertime annoyances, inconveniences that cause one’s hair to frizz, make-up to melt off one’s face in a colorful oil slick, and perspiration to soak one’s clothing with unsightly blotches. To me, heat and humidity are my jailers.”

Read the whole essay here.

Image credit: The Mighty website.

talking student journalism at umass amherst

UMass Collegian panelI climbed into the mental “way-back” machine at UMass-Amherst over the weekend at a reunion of fellow alums who’d spent countless hours tucked away in the windowless Campus Center basement working on the university’s student newspaper, The Massachusetts Daily Collegian.

Invited to speak on a panel of alums — along with S.P. Sullivan, award-winning investigative journalist and Larry Bouchie, president of a public relations firm — we talked about our respective career paths, taking chances, and being willing to continually learn and update one’s skills. The intrepid B.J. Roche moderated. Meanwhile, the student editors schooled us as one introduced us to a new app (new to me anyway), Slack.

The afternoon event also included a keynote speech from Boston Herald sports columnist/UMass grad Steve Buckley, a discussion about local newspaper ownership in New England, and a presentation from the current Collegian editors on the publication’s evolution to a largely digital news outlet.

Image credit: Mark Curelop.

‘big band’ book wins publishing award

Screenshot 2018-04-12 19.36.22

Mr. Clark’s Big Band: A Year of Laughter, Tears and Jazz in a Middle School Band Room has won a 2018 Independent Publisher Book Award.

The group–which received over 4,500 entries for this year’s contest–honored Mr. Clark’s Big Band with a bronze medal in its Education: Commentary/Theory category.

“This year’s winners represent books from 41 U.S. states, Guam, and DC; 6 Canadian provinces; and 12 countries overseas,” the Independent Publisher group said in a press release.

Ironically, the silver award winner in my category is Joseph E. Aoun, author of Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence and president of the university where I teach. Two Northeastern University educators in one category. Not too shabby!

Screenshot 2018-04-18 11.48.15

Mr. Clark’s Big Band is also a finalist for the Foreword INDIES Award, in the Education category.

foreword finalist

Image credits: Independent Publisher Book Awards and Foreword INDIES.

signing sneakers & arms at a massachusetts middle school

ac82ea3d-b0de-4adb-b1d4-4a76ff1c0fd6It was in Monson, Mass. where I autographed my first arm.

And my first sneaker.

And a slightly sweaty palm.

f8f5e515-78e3-46c4-b15a-b6df7ca57768

Students from the Granite Valley Middle School — where I spoke in March about Mr. Clark’s Big Band — were full of questions, energy, and requests for me to use my green Sharpie to sign … their various limbs and footwear. (They SWORE their parents would be totally okay with this. For the record, I remain skeptical.)

Before I spoke in the auditorium, I visited the Granite Valley band room where students assured me that their Mr. Clark — who goes by the name of Mr. Topham in Monson — is just as lively and off-center as the lead character in my book.

a012dafb-8c38-4c57-9cb9-84193fa88e57Later, I shared stories about how and why I came to write Mr. Clark’s Big Band about a middle school jazz band about an hour’s drive to the east, told them tales about Southborough’s Mr. Clark, and read passages aloud while a PowerPoint presentation behind me showed various images of Mr. Clark (including one of him in a goofy pink wig during a performance), and of the Trottier Middle School band room.

The image that got the loudest response? The one of chicken-in-a-can that was on screen as I read a segment from the chapter called, cleverly enough, “Chicken-in-a-Can.” At least the presentation was AFTER lunch so it didn’t spoil anyone’s meal.

a1e0c588-b981-4df5-a402-4b3fc295c218I also got the opportunity to catch up with my friend from West Springfield (MA) High School, Granite Valley’s Principal Mary Cieplik (above, on the right), who generously invited me to address her students.

If you’d like me to visit your students, or your book club, send me an email: mereditheobrien@gmail.com.

Images from Granite Valley Middle School’s “In the Loop” newsletter.