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Tag: students

Montana: The love affair continues

John Steinbeck and I — in addition to traveling with our dogs, being about the same age when we set forth on our journeys, having the same first names, and a lot of the same letters in our last ones — share something else as well.

A mistress.

I have trysted with her three times — as a reporter in the early 1990′s, as a visiting professor in 2007, and as whatever it is I am now. She’s as beautiful and inviting as she was the first time we met — and, I’m sure, as she was 50 years ago, when she seduced John Steinbeck.

“I am in love with Montana,” Steinbeck wrote in Travels with Charley. It was his first trip to the state. “For other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love, and it’s difficult to analyze love when you’re in it.”

He babbled on, as people in love do: “…the mountains are the kind I would create if mountains were ever put on my agenda … the calm of the mountains and the rolling grasslands had got into the inhabitants … the towns were places to live in rather than nervous hives. People had time to pause in their occupations to undertake the passing art of neighborliness.”

“Of all the states it is my favorite and my love.”

Steinbeck — apparently getting into being “out west” — stopped in Billings and bought a cowboy hat. In Butte, he bought a rifle. He dipped down into Yellowstone National Park, but after seeing Charley’s reaction to bears that approached his car — “He became a primitive killer lusting for the blood of his enemy” — he turned around and spent night in Livingston.

Ace and I stopped in Billings, in Bozeman, in Butte, and have arrived in Missoula — with no new hats and no sidearms. I am considering investing in a pair of gloves though. Winter is clearly on the way. People are stacking their wood, squirrels are hoarding their nuts, and the sky is taking on that steelier glow it does here in winter.

Once again, the return to a place I briefly called home has triggered memories. The closer I got to Missoula — winding through the hills alongside the Clark Fork River — the more of them resurfaced, leading me to wonder how I could have temporarily misplaced them, especially those that were only three years old.

I guess, they go into deep storage, like the earliest nuts the squirrels gather — pushed to the back to make room for new ones. But I don’t think I get a vote in the matter; it just happens. Returning to a place seems to make them accessible again; I can — with a little help from a familiar sight, sound, or smell — pull them out of the disorganized file cabinet that is my mind, open them up and say, “Oh, yeah, I remember that now.”

It could be something as simple as the lay of the land — they way grassy golden hills climb up into the big blue sky, a sharp curve in crystal clear river, the golden outline of Tamaracks among evergreen. Just seeing the general scale and expanse of it all triggers Montana memories — even memories that have nothing to do with the scale and expanse of it all.

Nearing Missoula — and (after North Dakota turned bleak) getting to experience fall all over again — I was surprised how the yellows were popping on the trees, and by how many things were popping into my head.

Some of them were from nearly 20 years ago — visiting the Unabomber’s former, still forlorn, shack in the woods; hanging out in radon mines, where people soak in radioactivity to heal what ails them; documenting the influx of celebrities to the state, which back then were becoming as common, and unloved, as deer.

Some of them — memories, I mean, not celebrities — were only three years old, and less dusty: long hikes in the mountains; the little house we rented, dubbed the “shack-teau,” while I was a visiting journalism professor at the University of Montana; the peaceful (mostly) campus; my earnest (mostly) students; and how we chased the muck train — as it began transferring mining waste that had collected in the river outside Missoula 100 miles back east to a little town called Opportunity — for our class project.

Memories that had faded like ghost signs kept returning — of fellow professors; of time spent at the student newspaper, The Kaimin; of a party, or two, or three, or four; and how I didn’t (really, really didn’t) want to leave when the semester was over. Because I flat out loved it.

And therein — on top of returning to a place, seeing and smelling it — is one of the keys to recalling times past, at least for me. Your brain alone can’t always take you back there; sometimes, it needs an assist from the heart.

Third graders bring a dog park to New Jersey

Glassboro, N.J. has a group of third graders to thank for its new dog park — expected to open next year.

More than a dozen students from Dorothy L. Bullock Elementary School showed up at a borough council meeting in March, taking turns reading from a prepared statement, urging the council members to consider creating a dog park. It was signed by all their classmates.

Three months later, and even amid serious cuts elsewhere in the borough budget, the dog park, students recently learned, is a go.

Just before the school year ended, Glassboro Council President Tony Fiola and Councilman Ed Malandro went to the children’s classroom to deliver the news, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Malandro and Fiola had spoken to their class earlier in the year, and they invited the students to the next council session, encouraging them to present their thoughts on how their community could be a better place. After that their teacher, Shelly Petrozza, had the students nominate things they thought would improve Glassboro. It ended up a tie, with half the students favoring a dog park, half choosing a skate park. The children presented the council with a case for each proposal.

After research, the skate park was ruled out because of cost – at least $75,000, Malandro said. The dog park idea, on the other hand, appeared to be possible.

“We said, ‘This is something we can afford to do,’ ” Malandro said. “It lets us do something for the kids, and it lets them see government does work in the right ways.”

The dog park will likely be in East New Street Park, next to the Bullock school, and plans call for a plaque commemorating the role the third graders played.

“We all said to them, ‘Boys and girls, look at what you did. You’re only 8 and 9 years old,’ ” said their teacher. “I think they realized you do have power no matter how little you are.”

(Photo: Philadelphia Inquirer)

How do you spell Big Dog?

Ace, after a bit of a hiatus, got back in the saddle as a Karma Dog yesterday at the Baltimore County Public Library’s Woodland branch.

Everyone agreed — as the wooden blocks attest — he was a sizeable canine.

Yesterday was the last of the season at the Woodland Library for HEARTS (Helping Encouraging All Readers to Succeed) — one of several Karma Dogs programs.

In it, children read to dogs, who because they don’t judge, criticize and correct, help students grow more confident in their reading skills.

A new round of summer reading programs start in June at the libraries in Towson and Pikesville, and in July in Whiteford

For more information about the reading program, go here. To learn how your dog could become a certified therapy dog, visit this page on the Karma Dogs website.

(Photo by Mary E. Isaacs)

Students’ hard work foiled by thief

Students at Woodlands High School in Conroe, Texas raised $9,000 to help purchase a land-mine sniffing dog — only to see the money snatched by a thief.

Teacher Susan Hollier  said about 2,000 people from across the community attended a Woodlands High School walk and fundraising festival on Saturday.

Two student clubs — Interact and the Council on International Affairs — started working on the project in February, with hopes of raising $20,000 to pay for the purchase and training of a Belgian Malinois. The dogs are sent around the world to detect mines so communities in such places as Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam can use the land again.

Part of the money raised was also going to pay for a Woodlands High student to travel to Bosnia to see the dogs in action. The clubs’ project dog was going to visit the high school in May.

Around noon Saturday, though, a suspect grabbed a box of donated money from a student and ran, according to the Houston Chronicle. Hollier said all but $253 was stolen.

“It’s really just heartbreaking, especially when this one dog would save up to 10,000 lives in its five to seven years of service,” said Shelby Howard, 18, president of Interact. “It’s really hard to see all our hard work just taken from us in a matter of seconds. It’s hard to believe someone would go to that level.”

What are the clubs going to do about it? Start all over again, Shelby said. “We’re definitely not going to just let it go. This is a worthy cause.”

There’s more than one way to skin a frog

frog dissection

Holy Formaldehyde! Times are changing. As of this fall, thousands of Catholic school students in the Philadelphia area can opt out of that once mandatory, highly stinky rite of passage — dissecting a frog in biology class.

The  Archdiocese of Philadelphia has established a policy under which students in its 20 high schools who have concerns about traditional animal dissection are allowed to use alternatives to frogs, cats and other actual animals.

As an increasing number of high schools and universities are realizing, there are plenty of options to cutting up an animal, and students can learn just as much about biology through models and computer graphics.

“As the 21st century evolves, greater use of virtual dissection experiences will be encouraged and eventually replace the use of scientifically preserved animals,” said Mary E. Rochford, Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. “With the availability of virtual lab experiences and other Internet instructional tools, students can arrive at the same learning.”

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s policy is modeled after the Pennsylvania Students Rights Option, a law established in 1992, which enables public and non-public students from grades K-12 who do not want to harm animals as part of their coursework to use an alternative instead.

You can learn more about the Pennsylvania law here.

“The Archdiocese’s student choice policy can serve as a model for other schools in the state of Pennsylvania, in addition to other dioceses across the U.S,” said Laura Ducceschi, Director of Animalearn, a project of the American Anti-Vivisection Society.

Tens of thousands of cats, frogs, and other animals are killed annually, specifically for dissection and other educational purposes, despite available alternatives and studies showing that students learn as well or better by using virtual dissection and other humane alternatives, according to Animalearn.

Animalearn’s website offers a searchable database of over 450 alternatives to dissection, downloadable software, and other humane science tools. A free resource to students and teachers nationwide, The Science Bank offers interactive models, videos, and virtual dissection CD-ROMs and DVDs.

“Dog Days” help ease campus homesickness

susquehannaAt Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, faculty and staff bring their dogs to school every Tuesday during September, gather on a grassy field and allow students to have their homesickness washed away by spending an hour with the hounds.

The events are aimed at helping students overcome their homesickness, which often includes a longing for the family dog, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. The “Dog Days” have been held on campus for five years.

They were started by former counseling director Kathy Bradley, now executive director of health and counseling at Gettysburg College. Bradley has started a similar program there. A few times a semester, Bucknell University in Lewisburg, which heard about Susquehanna’s program, brings trained therapy dogs – some owned by staff members – to campus to visit with students.

“The fact is that students miss their pets, sometimes more than they miss their families,” said Anna Beth Payne, associate dean of student life and director of Susquehanna’s counseling center.

Professors especially like the opportunity for the informal gatherings, saying they break the ice and can help make the campus, and the professors, seem less intimidating to students.

Nine dogs showed up on a recent Tuesday, a typical turnout, and dozens of students stopped to play with them, one of whom said she missed her dog, Babe, back home in Maine — at leas as much as she missed her mother.

“It’s a close tie between the dog and my mom,” she said.

(Philadelphia Inquirer photo by Robert Landry)

Vick addresses students in Philadelphia

Michael Vick spoke to a group of Philadelphia high school students Tuesday, warning them against the dangers of peer pressure and urging them to make the right choices and resist the temptation to follow the crowd.

The Philadelphia Eagles quarterback addressed 200 freshmen on their first day at Nueva Esperanza Academy, a North Philadelphia charter school.

“I didn’t choose to go the right way, which led to 18 months in prison, which was the toughest time of my life,” he said. “Being away from my family, being away from my kids who I adore dearly, and being away from the game of football, doing something so foolish, and I wish I could take it all back.

“I was influenced by so many people when I should have been a leader, not a follower.”

The 10-minute talk marked Vick’s first anti-dogfighting public appearance in Philadelphia since he signed a one-year, $1.6 million deal with the Eagles on Aug. 13, the Associated Press reported.

“My future was promising … at some point, I got sidetracked. I started listening to my friends and doing some things that were not ethical and not right.”

Vick visited the school with Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. Pacelle met with Vick in prison at the quarterback’s request and agreed to allow him help in the organization’s anti-dogfighting campaign.

Once the highest paid player in the NFL, Vick was suspended from the league following his conviction in August 2007 on charges of conspiracy and organizing the dogfighting ring. He was released from federal custody in July and was signed by the Eagles in August.

Vick is suspended for the first two games of the regular season and is eligible to play beginning Sept. 27.