A Playground for Walker

Parents of students attending Charlottesville City Schools would like to support our community in building a playground for WalkerIf you are interested in getting involved, including taking a survey to provide student and parent feedback, please sign up to receive updates by emailing christa@communitywell.com.

Currently, Walker Upper Elementary School does not have a playground. Instead, it has a basketball court, a four square section of the court, and a soccer field (which is often unusable due to wear and tear from weekend soccer games). This is problematic, as it limits the options students have for critically important physical movement during the day. In a 2018 study by Oregon State University, researchers found that one of the contributors to quality recess experiences for students was “plenty of choices of play equipment and games.”

During a school project that engaged all sixth-graders at Walker in fall 2018, students identified a playground as one of the top things they wanted for their school.

The lack of a Walker playground is particularly unfortunate because it is at this upper elementary divide that economic and racial disparities in Charlottesville City Schools (CCS) become even more pronounced, per public data. Walker has the highest percentage of economically disadvantaged students of any CCS school, and its percentage of students of color is higher than the citywide average, as well. We want for all students to have access to adequate spaces to play.

In conversations with community stakeholders over the last year, several key parties have expressed interest in supporting a playground for Walker. This includes local nonprofits; Walker’s principal, Dr. Adam Hastings; and CCS School Board members Juandiego Wade and Lisa Larson-Torres, in addition to CCS parents.

A Playground for Walker is being considered as a possible topic for this fall’s Participatory Budgeting at Walker, a design thinking and democratic process to determine creative, student-driven solutions to the question, “How might we improve the school experience at Walker?” Through this innovative approach, students would be part of the process of deciding what a playground at Walker should include. The final designs and equipment, as informed by students, may include innovative playscapes outside of traditional playground structures.

Thank you for taking time to learn more about A Playground for Walker!

If you have questions or would like to be added to a mailing list to receive updates on how you can be involved, please email Christa Bennett at christa@communitywell.com.

There’s a broken immigration system and then there’s tearing children from parents. We can fix one NOW.

The US’ immigration system has been broken for a long time. Good people can disagree on how to fix it. Personally, I will always promote welcoming the stranger. However, I’ve studied immigration policy, and I know there are a variety of factors to be considered – including, yes, the safety and livelihoods of the people already living in a country – when creating policy, so that it is hopefully done in a way that does the most good for the most people. We can disagree on the best way to do that.

But even when we disagree on other immigration issues, we can agree that we must do all we can to not separate children from their parents, a new policy of the US government. Laura Bush says it well in her recent article in the Washington Post:

I live in a border state. I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart.

Please call your congressperson and senators and ask them to sign onto the Keep Families Together Act. Or, if you don’t like how that bill is written, ask them to sponsor their own bill. Ask them to make sure children are not separated from their parents. NOW – not in 6 months or 6 years or whenever our government can finally get it together to fix our overall immigration system. And remember, even families seeking asylum – which means they are *not* coming illegally; asylum is a legal right – are being separated.

Find your representative’s number here: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative

Find your senators’ numbers here: https://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm

This article links to several organizations that are supporting separated families, if you would like to make a donation: https://mashable.com/2018/06/18/child-separation-immigration-charities-donate/#PR1QwOwooqqd

I was never meant to be enough for them.

The most tender and dangerous and important adventure of my life is being a mother. (It is not the most important adventure of every woman’s life, and that is ok!)

As my children grow, my arms must open wider and wider to let them run their own paths. Today, they both expressed a need that, as much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t meet. I felt sad, and I grieved. In both cases, though, someone else stepped in and did for them what I could not do. Someone else nurtured them and loved on them.

A time will come, over and over, when I must trust my children to the world. I am not enough for them. I never will be. I was never meant to be. I have to trust that there are other arms waiting to hug them, other eyes waiting to see them, other hearts waiting to know them.

There was a time when I held their very being. Their breath was mine, and mine was theirs.

That time was never going to last forever. They were always going to have to learn to breathe on their own.

And.

And there is a place outside of time, where I will always hold them, always bear them. I will be to them an anchor to being, to love, to belonging forever.

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My Mom Career

After getting a master’s in international relations, I started my career, supporting a campaign to end the genocide in Darfur. Then I helped create a nonprofit that partnered with locally-led initiatives in Rwanda to provide job training and education.

One of the things I observed while I was doing this work was how fiercely African mamas worked to take care of their families and others in their community. I use mama in a broad sense: all the women who nurture, from biological mothers to young women who, as teenagers, took in smaller children after the Rwandan genocide and raised them. I felt a conviction, for lack of a better word, that the most powerful, most influential thing anyone could ever do was take care of their closest community, starting with their selves and their families, and moving out in an ever-widening circle of compassion.

This shift in the way I was thinking about my work happened at the same time that I was, unexpectedly, becoming a biological mother myself. In several different ways, I moved from my “big” work to the very immediate work of growing a child.

Continuing to create my life – including my career – in the years since has been a sometimes pain-staking process that has required a lot of grace (from my self to my self) and patience and trusting that if I take a step, the path will appear. I still have to trust that, every day. I want to make the world a better place. I also want to be there to pick my daughter up from the bus stop in the afternoon. The meta shift in my thinking about what it means to serve my community exists alongside the real-life practice of caring for my family.

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I took this photo at a conference I attended this week, to look back on as a reminder that, as difficult and scary as it can be trying to create one’s own path of career and parenting, I am incredibly grateful that I’ve been able to do what I love most, which is: first, to love on my babies, and second, to build stronger communities through health and education access.

The topic of this education conference is the Future of Work. I hope to support educators preparing young people for meaningful, self-sustaining careers that allow them to be their best selves and take care of their families and communities. We all deserve that.

March for Our Lives

I had been planning on taking my girls to the March for Our Lives in Charlottesville yesterday. On Friday night, I talked with them about what the march was about. I told the little one that there were too many guns, and we want people to not have so many guns, especially the kind that can hurt people the most. I told the older one that the right to bear arms is in the Bill of Rights, but in the context of a well-regulated militia and arms that fired at much slower speeds than arms today. I told her that her right to be alive is far more sacred. We talked about how we are asking for better regulations of guns and enforcement of regulations. Extensive and ongoing training and practice should be required for every gun owner, and we discussed that.

As we talked, my nine-year-old’s eyes were growing wider. “Mom, what if there are people with guns at the march? This is going to make them mad. What if they start shooting?”

My oldest is generally fearless. She was the toddler that made all the other moms at the playground hold their breath with how high she would climb. She has, of her own initiative, asked strangers if they will please donate to the SPCA or Dancers for Dance.

Guns can take our children’s lives in more than one way.

What I didn’t tell Emma was that I felt safer taking her to the march than I did dropping her off at school. Instead, I listened, and I told her that we didn’t have to go. That I’m glad she’s listening to her inner self and how she feels. There are times to teach children to do things that feel scary, but at age 9 when their life really is on the line, isn’t one of them, at least not for us.

I am in awe of and encouraged by the young people who led and participated in the March for Our Lives yesterday, across the country. And I am sad that they have to march at all. I wonder how many children would like to march but are, justifiably, too afraid to do so. We certainly can’t tell them their fears are unfounded. We want them to live to be old enough to vote out of office anyone who thinks the right to bear arms is an unfettered right triumphant over all others.

The girls and I still made signs, and we hung them on our front door. We talked about other things we can do to support common sense gun reform, such as donating to groups like Everytown and Americans for a Responsible Solutions, which are able to research, produce information about good policy, and lobby for it.

Because kids are more important than guns. Life is more important than guns, and with the current lack of sufficient regulation and requirements for training and practice, guns are far more likely to kill us than keep us safe.

March for Our Lives

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More on this topic
Guns in America: A Mother’s Terror

Cville Schools Support Student Responses to Shootings

Charlottesville City Schools should be praised for their support of student-led responses to school shootings. On March 1, CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins emailed parents with information about upcoming dates when student activism would take place (National School Walkout Day on March 14, March for Our Lives on March 24, and a possible walkout on April 20: see copies of the emails at the bottom of this post). Additionally, she notified parents that a community forum on school safety will be held at Charlottesville High School at 7 pm on March 15.

A reminder email was sent this past Monday, March 12, and this afternoon parents received an email summarizing today’s events. My heart is filled with pride that my school district sees the value in, as Dr. Atkins states in her March 1 email, using “occasions such as [these] as ‘teachable moments’ so our students – regardless of their political beliefs – can continue to learn how to engage in our community and world to make a positive impact.”

Thank you, Dr. Atkins, for your strong support of our students’ civic engagement.

From Dr. Atkins’ email today:

“As you know, today there was a national call for student-led school walk-outs.Thanks to our students’ leadership, maturity, thoughtfulness, organizational skills, and respect for others, today’s events went peacefully. At Walker, Buford, and CHS, students freely chose whether to stay in class or join the walk-out. The students leading the events presented statements, shared original poetry, and read the names of  the victims in Parkland, Florida. The students attending the events were respectful and returned to class promptly. The students who chose not to leave class were also cooperative as they continued their studies or participated in alternate community-building activities and discussions. Whether they chose to remain indoors or go outdoors, we are proud of our students and how they are learning to address complex situations.

We also want to thank our schools’ administrators and teachers for their support of all of our students. We respect both the rights of our students to advocate for causes that are important to them and their right to learn in an environment that includes diverse viewpoints.

Through the leadership of our students, today we accomplished both.”

March 1 email from Dr. Atkins

March 12 email from Dr. Atkins

March 14 email from Dr. Atkins

Roe v. Wade 45th Anniversary

I stand with women.
I stand with children.
I stand with families.
I stand with my faith.
I stand with Planned Parenthood.

I am glad to be traveling to Richmond with Planned Parenthood today, the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. This afternoon, we will be talking with our state representatives to remind them that reproductive rights matter to us mamas, and we are watching their votes. We will also discuss how important Planned Parenthood’s services are in providing care for our community, including the most vulnerable among us.