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.

The Waiting Place

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I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Glennon Doyle‘s quote, “First the pain, then the waiting, then the rising.” I’m in a period of waiting, and I have to keep reminding my self that the rising always follows the waiting. It really does.
I’m also listening to Jason Isbell’s song, Something to Love, “May you find something you love/ Something to do when you feel like giving up.” I think the something can be profound – like my babies, who absolutely have saved me from giving up – but also a small, every day thing. Like I recently found the most amazing lounge pants from Gap. They’re so soft, and they have pockets, and they’re not too long on my short legs.
Glennon also says that we cannot rescue each other from the pain and waiting. They are sacred, and they are ours, and we should not try to snatch them from each other. Instead, she says, “All we can do is offer relief from this fear: I am all alone. That’s the one fear you can alleviate.”
So here I am, waiting in my Gap joggers, and if you are in pain or waiting too, you’re not alone. Life is hard, sometimes hard down to our bones, hard in a way that changes us. And we are not alone. I see you, and as long as someone sees you, you are not lost.

The First Christa

When I was in college, the president of my university gave a speech that made a lasting impression on me, about how we make choices, and that limits the other choices we can make. I appreciated it because it was really thoughtful and honest, like he was preparing us for adulthood: “You’re going to have to make choices. That’s great! How lucky you are to have choices! When you do make those choices, there are other choices that will no longer be available to you. That’s called growing up.”

I’m in my late 30s now, and I’ve made a lot of choices. With that has come the bittersweetness of knowing (or wondering if) there are things that aren’t available to me anymore. It is bitter in the sense of grieving the loss of things that I thought might be – but aren’t. It is sweet because I have received what I wanted most.

Last night, Mike came home from dinner with a colleague we had both known in CA. He said that she had asked how I was doing, and that he had told her, “She’s busy being the first Christa.”

The first Christa! Ha!! There remain many fewer “first” or “youngest ever” opportunities for me. But Mike sees that I am trying to very carefully create a life that reflects my deepest values and to be the best mother I can be to Emma and Maggie, who have never had any mother ever before. I am trying to not waste a drop of this one wild and precious life.

Being named the first Christa is the best birthday gift I received this week.

And you are the first you! Congratulations!!! You must be so proud. ❤️

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22 year old me in Cambridge, England. It’s one of my favorites, as it was taken at a time when I was trying very hard to become the first Christa.

Patriarchy

This past week has been a stunning display of patriarchy in America. Like many people, I’ve felt personally sucker punched by its acute audacity and cruelty. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about things like the nearly 500 immigrant and refugee children who are still separated from their parents – a stain on our conscience from which we should never recover.

The most accurate description of patriarchy is not men vs. women. It is those with power vs. those with less or without. This is one of the reasons that my upbringing in the Christian faith was the original force behind my deep commitment to push back on patriarchy. Jesus said the first will be last and the last will be first. Jesus sided with those with less power.

When we resist patriarchy, we do so for women, and for our babies, including all the babies in tent cities in Texas and those separated from their mothers and fathers, because all children are our children. We do so for the differently abled and those without access to living wage jobs. We do so for all those with less power.

In her book Memories of God, Roberti Bondi wrote that for the ancient Christian teachers, “humility was about slipping underneath the whole hierarchical social web of judgments by which we limit ourselves and one another in order to love and act fearlessly with power and authority.”

We slip out from patriarchy, we claim power through acts of love, and with that power we bend the arc of the moral universe to justice.

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.

It is only a door.

This poem has been on my mind this week, as I did something hard, the consequences of which could not be completely foreseen. But I did it for the same reason a caged bird sings. I did it because it was the only thing I could do. I had to open the door.

Prospective Immigrants Please Note
~Adrienne Rich

Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.

If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.

If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely

but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?

The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.

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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

* * * * *

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

If This Isn’t Nice

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I’ve been experiencing some early midlife restlessness lately. The older I grow, the more choices I have made, and those necessarily limit the opportunities still available to me. It turns out that I’m not going to be the youngest person ever elected to Congress. (There’s still time to be the youngest person elected President, so stay tuned.)

However it also turns out that I do have a yoga practice. That was on the Person I Want to Be list that I made in my early 20s.

And tonight the girls and I ate dinner outside in the dark because it is the first warm night of the year. As we carried the candles outside, Maggie said, “This is the best day of my life.”

So there’s that.

Years pass and choices are made and possibilities change. Am I still becoming the person I wanted to be? Would I trade my four year old’s pronouncement, “This is the best day of my life,” for any other award?

If this isn’t nice, what is?

Update: Wellness Policy to Be Presented to the Charlottesville School Board on August 3

This evening, a wellness policy that prohibits taking away recess as punishment will be presented to the Charlottesville City School Board. The board will vote on the policy at their next meeting on September 7.

The wellness policy is a revision of a previous policy and was drafted by the School Health Advisory Board under the guidance of Patrick Johnson, the CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education.

While I was not able to attend the SHAB meeting last month when the final draft of the policy was discussed, I spoke with Patrick by email and phone after the meeting. I am very pleased with the wellness policy that is going to be presented tonight. I think it best to wait until it is presented to the board to discuss the details, but I can say now that it states explicitly that recess will not be withheld as punishment. The policy also addresses the issue of weighing students. I believe it does so in a way that is clear and empowering for students and their families.

I look forward to writing more about the policy after tonight’s board meeting. As long as it seems appropriate at the time, which I think it will, I am going to live tweet the presentation of the policy to the board and the board’s response. You can follow along on Twitter: https://twitter.com/c_v_bennett.

What this campaign needs from its numerous supporters: can you mark September 7 on your calendars and show up to the school board meeting that evening? There is a time at the beginning of meetings for community members to speak for three minutes. It would be wonderful if the board could hear from other parents who want them to pass the wellness policy. If you can’t show up in person, please consider writing to the board members and our superintendent, Dr. Rosa Atkins. I am pasting below their email addresses.

CCS Board Webpage

Email our CCS board members:

School Board           SchoolBoard@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Adam Hastings hastina1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Sherry Kraft        krafts1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Amy Laufer   laufea1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Jennifer McKeever mckeevj1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Ned Michie   michien1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Leah Puryear           puryeal1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Juandiego Wade wadej1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins Rosa.Atkins@charlottesvilleschools.org

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Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

 

Update: Campaign to end weigh-ins, taking away recess – what we’re asking for now, May 24

Cville Weekly has published a story about our campaign to end weigh-ins and taking away recess in Charlottesville city schools. (Click here to read it.) I am hopeful this will direct more CCS parents to sign our petition to the school board.

There has been progress since the petition was first created. Here is what we are asking for now:

1) Our superintendent, Dr. Atkins, send written communication to ALL CCS parents, teachers, and admin, stating that recess is not to be taken away from students in our schools, so that everyone is of the same understanding. On May 11, I emailed Dr. Atkins asking if such communication could be made. I have not had a reply from her yet. (See a copy of that email in the previous update.)

On May 9, Dr. Atkins stated to School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) that recess will not and should not be taken away from students. However, I have heard three separate reports from three separate CCS elementary schools of students having their recess taken away last week, the week after Dr. Atkins said that would no longer happen.

2) Dr. Atkins and the school board identify what tools teachers will be given immediately to use in place of so-called “Recess Academy.”

While programs such as VVTS and PBIS are valuable initiatives to institute positive behavioral management, teachers need tools *now* that they can use instead of Recess Academy (this is what some teachers call the practice of taking away recess as punishment).

3) A more transparent and methodical approach to weigh-ins be established. That might mean banning it altogether or better communicating with parents that it is being done and why.

4) An enforceable prohibition against taking away recess be included in the school policy manual or other binding policy.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting this campaign! Charlottesville city schools are strong schools, to be proud of. Together, we can make them even better and help ensure the health and success of all of our children.

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Read evidence supporting my request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

A Prayer for Easter

Witnessing the strength of our bodies and minds,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing our recognition by our selves and others; our being heard, seen, known, and accepted,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing our abundance; the times when we have plenty; the needs that are extravagantly met,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing the communion and unity among us,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing the healing of our grief and our ashes turning to beauty,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing our agency,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing how we use our agency to create and perpetuate equality and justice,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing our enlightenment,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing the wide path within which we walk,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing our words and actions and attitudes that have bound up brokenness and created joy,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing our wholeness,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

Witnessing our contentment,
Spirit of Life, rejoice with us.

2017: Year of the Potato Cleanse?

My first reaction to the @NYTimesWell headline in Twitter, “The more potatoes in a woman’s typical diet, the more likely she is to develop gestational diabetes,” was, “Oh my goodness, I need to cut potatoes out of my diet” (even though I’m not pregnant. Let’s be on the safe side).

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My second was to take the declaration with a grain of salt (and full fat sour cream and butter), “Wait a minute, in another year, another study will come out that will dictate how awesome potatoes are, and we’ll all be doing potato cleanses.”

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years reading about nutrition research, and I’ve thus far concluded that all I really need to know about a healthy diet comes back to Michael Pollan’s: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

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