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This blog is a small, first step toward encircling all of our community members in friendship and sharing. Are you intrigued by the concept of a common place for those who believe in the value of inclusion in the fabric of shared community? Email me at

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Belonging to our community: Room for achieving full potential

Kennedy Krieger Institute has an excellent newsletter entitled "Potential" where they discuss inclusive child care training, assisting Spanish-speaking families with special needs children, helping teachers understand special needs, etc. Here's a link:

This publication reminded me that our community has a rich history of providing a quality education for its citizens. One problem has been that families who have special needs are so busy trying to meet their child's needs, that they have little or no time remaining to participate in the community itself. Our school boards, without benefit of membership and substantive input from parents with high needs children, may not understand how some other school districts have evolved to provide greater support to help all of the students achieve their full potential. Some of these parents have even been told that it is not the obligation of the Winnetka Public Schools or New Trier to help children achieve their full potential. We cannot afford to have our community aim toward mediocrity.

We need to ask what our community can do to support all of its families, especially those with needs that have not been traditionally met by our school systems and other public bodies. Our train stations and many old buildings continue to be inaccessible by those who need "handicap accessible" ramps, elevators, etc. Many families indicated on the Caucus survey that they are having to spend thousands of dollars per year toward private tutoring to supplement and/or replace the educational services in our public schools.
If your family has underserved or unmet needs, I'd appreciate a confidential email contact at or call at 847-446-1251 so that I can formulate a formal needs assessment we can utilize in including everyone into our community life.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Volunteering As a Job Search Strategy

In the Wall Street Journal on March 17th, there was an article entitled, "Volunteering: A Generous Job Search Strategy" where they indicated that volunteering while job hunting not only helps the recipient organizations but it sharpens critical skills that can be used in future jobs.
We just posted on using athletics as a way to find a job, while also getting in shape. A growing number of the laid-off are turning to another two-for-one strategy: Helping others in need through volunteering, while hopefully helping themselves by gaining career experience, contacts or job leads. For some, it may even mean a new career when the economy does turn around, as The Wall Street Journal’s Dana Mattioli reports today.
Take Laine Seaton, who was laid off from her development-management position for an Arizona nonprofit in December. According to today’s article, Ms. Seaton, 41, now volunteers about 35 hours a week at five nonprofits. She says that beyond supporting causes she cares about, she’s been able to nurture skills that will help her find a new position. One volunteer post, for example, involves setting up a fund-raising plan, grant writing and strategic planning; she plans to add these skills to her résumé and tout them in interviews. Continued...

So, think about ways you can volunteer, whether you have a job or are transitioning. In our own community, there is the Volunteer Center of New Trier Township:

On March 18th, there will be a special Volunteer Ability Forum entitled "How Volunteers with Disabilities Can Help Organizations Fulfill Their Missions"

Leaders of community non-profit organizations and persons with disabilities are encouraged to attend the Volunteer Ability Forum on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 at the North Shore Senior Center, located at 161 Northfield Road in Northfield. Co-Sponsored by The Volunteer Center and New Trier Township, the Forum begins at 4:00 p.m. and concludes at 5:30 p.m. The purpose of the event is to uncover the untapped resource of available, willing and able individuals to help organizations further their important work through volunteerism.

A panel discussion on effective practices for including persons with disabilities in volunteer opportunities will feature authorities in the disability community and self-advocates with disabilities. Moderated by Jane Doyle, Executive Director of Independent Futures, the panel includes:

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Alan Goldberg, Trustee, New Trier Township, noted advocate for the disability movement, former Chair of the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities, Special Assistant to the Director of the Office of Special Education Programs of the United States Department of Education as well as on the staff of The President’s Committee on Excellence in Special Education.

JJ Hanley, Founder, JJs List ( where people with disabilities review businesses and services.

Ken Bellis, Division Manager, Adult Learning Program of Search, Inc. a community-based non-profit providing personalized support services for adults with developmental disabilities.

Karen Noonan, Director of Programs & Support Services Northern Suburban Special Education District (NSSED), and Jan Sonderman, Program Supervisor from North Shore Academy, will present with young adult volunteers. NSSED is a special education joint agreement between 16 elementary and 4 high school districts to improve the quality of life for students with special needs.

The event will also provide an opportunity for networking with leaders of community organizations and persons with disabilities who volunteer or are seeking volunteer opportunities. For more information, contact Barb Tubekis, event coordinator, at 847-441-7665 or via e-mail For more information, go to

For more information about joining others who are interested in "doing well by doing good" please contact Jeanne Beckman at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rising above the "Race to the bottom"

A New York Times editorial on March 12th discussed Obama's outline to get our schools back to the standards of other high-achieving countries:
There was an impressive breadth of knowledge and a welcome dose of candor in President Obama’s first big speech on education, in which he served up an informed analysis of the educational system from top to bottom. What really mattered was that Mr. Obama did not wring his hands or speak in abstract about states that have failed to raise their educational standards. Instead, he made it clear that he was not afraid to embarrass the laggards — by naming them — and that he would use a $100 billion education stimulus fund to create the changes the country so desperately needs.

Mr. Obama signaled that he would take the case for reform directly to the voters, instead of limiting the discussion to mandarins, lobbyists and specialists huddled in Washington. [emphasis added] Unlike his predecessor, who promised to leave no child behind but did not deliver, this president is clearly ready to use his political clout on education... More:

What's the educational system like in our own backyard? It depends on who you ask. Winnetka has always made claim to "the best" schools, yet there are many students and families who are disenfranchised from the opportunities to achieve their full potential because Winnetka school administrators still segregate students who have learning challenges via "self-contained" classes in the grade schools, and via the level system at New Trier. Winnetka administrators still tell parents that the school is only obligated to provide "some benefit," and not required to insure that each child achieves his or her "full potential." Winnetka administrators also tell some parents that they are not obligated to provide any special services to their children because the student has not failed enough. While the deep-pocket legal teams hired by the Winnetka schools and New Trier maintain that their interpretations of the special education laws allow them to get away with avoiding the provision of quality education that is individually tailored to what specific students need, is this what the taxpayers of Winnetka want for their children? And, Winnetka administrators still allow some teachers to make maverick decisions about whether to provide "accommodations," which are supports such as audio/computerized books for those with reading challenges or a calculator for a student who has strong math reasoning abilities but challenges in math calculations. And, worst of all, the Winnetka administrators allow some teachers to get away with telling students that they are "just being lazy," "need a kick in the butt," and "don't belong" in [higher level] classes. Some Winnetka administrators have told parents that they cannot MAKE the teacher provide the accommodations, to which I ask, “Why not?” Denying students such access and accommodations prevents the students from being able achieve their potential, or even to keep up with their peers.

Many Winnetka parents, recognizing that their children need more than what the schools are providing, have dug deep into their pockets to pay twenty to thirty thousand dollars per year to provide private tutoring. Those students whose families who cannot afford to do so, go without. Now that we have this terrible economic downturn and many families can no longer afford to pay the private tutors, what is going to happen to those families, what is going to happen to those students who can no longer afford private tutoring to make up for the lack of appropriate research-validated remedial tutoring in the public schools?

If we want to deserve our reputation for quality school systems, we need to make sure our schools are "the best" for ALL of our students. It is time for Winnetka parents to take back the control of their schools and require full transparency and accountability to parents from top to bottom in their schools. ALL school policies should be written and available to the public. We need to stop the illegal segregating of students into lower levels just because the schools have failed to provide appropriate remedial tutoring and/or appropriate supports (such as technology, notetakers, etc.) so that the students can thrive in upper levels and be fully prepared for a competitive college. Actually, the research indicates that both the highest achieving students and the lower achievers benefit the most from integrated classes, so we need to challenge whether the premise that New Trier students benefit by having a level system or even whether the level system is legal given the Constitutional ban of segregation in public schools.

If you're interested in helping parents return our schools to quality and research-validated innovation, please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman at

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Crisis of credit

A Rotary friend shared this video that explains the credit crisis. You can also see this at

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

We need to find ways to preserve our community, or we will lose many families who formed the very fabric of our neighborhoods. Already this year (in only 2 months), the little village of Winnetka has had almost 30 foreclosures. We need to find ways to help, neighbor to neighbor, family to family.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Changing how we view our lives

Today, a friend sent me a YouTube video that begins by having you believe that there is no hope for our present and future generations, then reverses the same words to give us great hope. You need to listen while following along with the words. Apparently, it was a winner in an AARP contest and is entitled "Lost Generation":

How can create bridges between our neighbors to help them believe that we can reverse individual downturns and downward spirals during this time of severe economic challenges? Whom have you touched today? What can you do?