The Exam School Choice, #17–Guidance Required

Connie took her last final exam of the year on this past Thursday. The Parent Imperfect now officially will spend ONE MORE YEAR as a parent of a student in the Boston Public Schools (unless something really strange and unexpected happens). When Vince began K-1 at the Rafael Hernandez School in September 2001 (just a few days before the bombing of the World Trade Center, and Connie’s birth), we knew very little about Boston’s exam schools, and couldn’t imagine anyone from our family participating in what seemed like one of the most elitist and unfair aspects of the public school system. Never say “never.” Connie’s completion of her Pre-Calculus final closed our ninth year as a parents at the nation’s oldest public school, Boston Latin School (BLS).

I can’t say that we now know a lot about how the exam schools work, but, like many parents at the school, both Liz and I have felt a responsibility to understand at least some of the mysteries of BLS. It has been a humbling, and sometimes maddening learning experience that has involved both attempting to understand the systemic issues implied by the school’s place in the system, and to also understand how to keep our own children healthy and somewhat happy at the school. Like all schools I know, BLS is not a happy and healthy place for all of its students, at all times. When Vince first entered the school in 2009, we had no idea what we were getting into.

One way to understand a school is based on how it responds when the students faces a health or other personal crisis that affects their ability to meet the school’s expectations. This happens a lot, as we have found out over the last period.  Vince missed days due to illness during his six years at BLS, and also took his share of mental health days, but never had a crisis that required a significant accommodation on the part of the school. Connie hasn’t been so lucky. On Mother’s Day, she suffered an injury that required surgery (more about that another time). After having ACL repair surgery on June 12, 2017, she had another one on June 11, 2018 (we’ll be watching out next year at this time). The surgery happened, at Children’s Hospital in Waltham ( a much easier place to navigate than the one in the Medical Area), on Monday of the week during which most BLS students are stressing about the dreaded final exams, and most BLS teachers are focused on preparing their students to take those exams. I can’t imagine a worse time for a student to have surgery, and then spend a week trying to get to the point where pain is controlled and they are able to get around on crutches. The alternative was to wait almost a month and have surgery after the end of school. This option would have totally disrupted an already-altered set of summer plans. Not surprisingly, Connie wanted the surgery ASAP. Liz and I sighed repeatedly, and agreed.

This time around, we had better ideas about how to help Connie through the break in school attendance. Just a few days after the injury occurred, we made an appointment with her guidance counselor at the school. Guidance counselors at BLS play a critical role, but each one of them plays that role for hundreds of the school’s 2400 students. I have to say that we have had decidedly mixed experiences with the this support service, but this time Connie’s counselor really came through for her. At that first meeting, the counselor committed herself to work with Connie’s teachers to be sure that it would be possible to get access to study materials and re-schedule exams, when necessary. This was important due to Connie’s absence during the review week. In one case, the counselor was able to get a teacher to waive the final exam, entirely. One of the school nurses also attended that first meeting, and explained how her office could help with Connie’s medications (of which she would still be taking a lot during the final exam week) and get her easy access to the school elevators. If Connie felt overwhelmed or uncomfortable at any time, she would be welcome in the Nurse’s Office. They set all of this up prior to the surgery, so everything was ready when Connie could finally return to school on crutches, eight days after her surgery.

We are extremely appreciative of the support we got from the Guidance Dept. and the Nurse’s Office over the past few weeks. Some of her teachers have also showed considerable compassion in this very hard moment for Connie. This injury will surely impact her final grades, but this will be much less of a disaster (from Connie’s perspective) than it could have been, mostly because of her determination to make this work. The whole thing has helped us put all of the insanity around grades in some kind of perspective (we’ve been well-trained by the school, in that regard). That said, the fact that Connie is someone who responds quite positively to the very specific educational philosophy of the school also made a huge difference. On several occasions over each of the last two springs, I wondered what would have happened had our son, Vince–someone who quickly showed that he learned in ways not always consistent with the BLS philosophy–faced the same kind of crisis while a student at the school. Thankfully, that’s something we’ll never know for sure.

This is one experience of one student at Boston Latin School. It doesn’t describe or define the culture of the school, and certainly doesn’t describe the experience of all of its students, but it does suggest what is possible. Such support, should be possible for any student, regardless of who they are, or whether or not their parents or guardians have the time and institutional connection to set up these kinds of meetings. We share this information in the hope that it will help other students and parents who face such challenges, and we await the day when any student at BLS, or any BPS school, can expect the sort of support that our daughter received when she really needed it.

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Parenting the Beautiful Game, #2

Over two years ago, the Parent Imperfect published a first post on the “soccer Dad” aspect of his parenting experience. On an impossibly snowy March day in Boston, it is time to return to that theme. That first post described how Vince became interested in soccer, and how his interest came to an abrupt end in ninth grade. We thought we were done with watching kids play soccer, and we missed it.

Ms. Connie had attended dozens of Vince’s soccer games and had shown amazingly little interest in the sport. As far as sports went, gymnastics was her thing. No cheering for her brother, no kicking balls on the sidelines, no playing on the field at halftime…none of that. She never said it, but one sensed that she thought that any game that her brother could play at a competitive level couldn’t really be all that interesting or challenging. Being the parents we are, we signed her up (against her will) at one point for Jamaica Plain Youth Soccer, but she was immediately impatient with the laid back, non-competitive nature of the program. She wanted to be on a team with a uniform, and she wanted to WIN, every week. She bailed on that experiment, quite quickly.

She progressed quickly in gymnastics, but, as she grew taller, the injuries started piling up (the two things are not unrelated). She also started to put more pressure on herself, which, in such an individual sport can be a very difficult thing. She loved the sport and her coach, but the whole experience became increasingly stressful for her, physically and emotionally.

I can’t remember who it was, but in spring of her 6th grade year, a friend told her that she should give soccer a try. That, of course, had much more effect than anything the parents might say. At first she was put off by the idea of starting a sport that others had been playing for years, but she decided to give it a try. The lesson here is that it is never too late to try something new.

The rest of the story is probably predictable. She went back to JP soccer, and they put her on a team made up mostly of girls who knew the game, but were playing for fun, rather than blood. Connie was fine with that, at first. She loved soccer from her second Day One, and has never really looked back.

For the parents, it started out very much like a continuation of the soccer life with brother Vince. She was going to one or two low-key practices each week, and a game on one of the weekend days. The team was called a “travel” team, so we occasionally had to go to Needham or Belmont to play a game. We huffed and puffed about “all that driving around,” but she was so excited about playing that we were happy to support that passion.

The parents who were coaching her team quickly noticed this passion, and moved her to a team with other girls who took the whole thing a bit more seriously. There were two or three girls on the new team who were clearly as excited about playing soccer as Connie. This, in turn, intensified her passion. It was great to see this group of girls playing off of each other’s passion. Before long, they were organizing their own practice sessions on the English High field.

At the end of the spring season in 7th grade, the father of one of these girls came to me to say that his daughter wanted to try out for a “club” team called Valeo, based in Newton. After years of having a high-level boys program, Valeo was going to begin a girls’ program, apparently under some legal pressure. It was one of the private clubs that had always bothered me, because these were “elite” places that only wanted the best players and the cost of membership excluded a lot of people. This other father talked to the club about Connie and did everything but make the call for us, so, with no small amount of hesitation, I called.

The Valeo people made it clear that, since they were trying to build a team, they were willing to be extremely flexible with us on the cost of membership. This was important to a  “frugal” parent like myself. It turned out that almost all of the girls in her emerging little group were going to give Valeo a try, so we decided to do the same.

Playing for Valeo meant driving to Newton for practice, instead of Jamaica Plain. It also meant travelling much further for games (as far away as Connecticut for some games). She would be playing in Valeo’s very nice facility in Newton, and would be coached by a professional coach who had experience playing soccer at a semi-professional level. Perhaps the biggest change was that, rather than playing with whoever showed up to play town soccer in JP, she was playing with girls from several Boston suburbs, most of whose parents could afford the cost of a soccer club.

I still remember that, on one of my first trips to the Valeo facility in Newton, I ran into another Roslindale parent whose son played with one of the elite Valeo boys’ teams. I had coached with this parent in the Jamaica Plain’s Regan Youth Baseball League, the baseball equivalent of the town soccer program. He stopped in his tracks when he saw me wandering through the Valeo parking lot, probably looking like I was trying to steal stuff out of someone’s car.

-What are you doing here?
-(sheepishly) Connie is on one of these teams.
-Really? So is [my son]. We should be in touch about rides. This is wild, huh? You’ve probably figured out that this is not Jamaica Plain Youth Soccer over here.
-Yeah…even I can get that…

Truer words were never spoken. The move to Valeo represented the early stage of a big change in Connie’s life and that of her family. Under the guise of pursuing her passion, the move put us on a path that has taken us places that we would have never imagined going, and it’s not over yet.  Deep involvement in the world of elite girl’s soccer came through a number of small changes, all of which seemed perfectly appropriate, if troubling, at the time.

Fast forward, three years. The weekend before last, we piled into our Prius and drove through the first nor’easter of March to Huntington, Long Island. Symbolically, the police closed the Throg’s Neck Bridge to truck traffic because of the high winds, causing a back-up for miles on all roads leading to the bridge. How’s that for an omen? You can guess what would motivate us to drive south on that wild weather day. Hours later than expected, we finally got to our hotel, appropriately located very near the setting of the B-movie classic, “The Amityville Horror.” There, we joined literally hundreds of other families who had made the journey from as far away as Ohio to participate in the Manhattan Kick-off Classic, held on Long Island, of course.

That next morning, Connie was up very early to put on the white uniform of FC Boston, as well as a scary-looking knee brace. At 10AM, she walked onto the field to play a soccer game for the first time in eleven months. Last April. she tore her ACL in a silly 5-on-5 tournament held at a Catholic School somewhere on the South Shore. I literally don’t remember where it was. We won’t be doing more of those silly side tournaments.

ACL tears are an epidemic, especially among girls on the intense year-around soccer circuit into which Connie eventually moved. She had surgery in June and then spent over eight months doing intensive rehab on the knee and the hamstring muscle that was cut in order to repair the knee. There were many dark and stormy days during those eleven months without soccer, but we have somehow come out the other side. The work and discipline required of Connie to get herself back into position to play soccer was incredible. In a strange way, I think it was the physical and time demands of rehab that kept us all at least marginally sane.

That morning, the sky was deep blue, but the temperature was under 40 degrees and winds were gusting to 50-60 m.p.h. Perfect soccer weather. The parents were freezing to death on the sideline, but Connie was in heaven. After practicing with her team for three weeks, she finally was going to play The Beautiful Game again. Her team is now made up of a full set of driven 16-year-olds who live literally all over Massachusetts. She is the sole Boston girl on this FC Boston team. People do a double-take when we say that we live in Roslindale. In addition to tagging along on trips to Long Island, Pennsylvania or North Carolina, the parents of these girls drive them over an hour to twice-weekly practices in Taunton, Dedham or at Catholic Memorial, just down the road for us. For the most part, it is the mothers that make these trips. The girls’s families want at least one parent to be present at these games. We, of course, want to support our daughters, but we also want to be there just in case something happens. As we know too well, when soccer is played with such intensity, things do happen…

FC Boston won that first windswept game, 1-0 against a powerful team called Dynamo. Connie was not the player she was last April, but she did fine, and she had no pain in the knee, except for that caused by the brace. Her mother and I looked at each other occasionally, as we shivered on the sideline, as if to say, “What the hell are we doing here,?” but we knew what we were doing. Like all the other lost souls on that chilly sideline, we were parenting The Beautiful Game. Stay tuned…

 

 

 

 

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Citing Right to Education, Advocates Seek Sanctuary Status for Boston Schools

Creeping back into action by posting the writing of these interlopers…

RIGHTSCAPES

By Aja Watkins and Kevin Murray

The Boston City Council held a March 7 hearing on a resolution, introduced by Councilor Tito Jackson, to declare Boston Public Schools sanctuary schools. A sanctuary school would refuse to participate in any action to enforce federal immigration policies, including the signed by President Trump. Around 200 community members met at St. Stephen’s Youth Programs on March 7 and heard testimony from teachers, students, activists, and BPS personnel regarding the proposed resolution.

Those who argued in favor of the resolution cited fear of deportation as an impediment to learning. Students who are undocumented, or who have undocumented relatives, are particularly impacted by policies of the new administration. However, proponents of the sanctuary schools resolution said that the issue at hand wasn’t immigration policy, but the right to education. If children are afraid of attending school or related stress, they will be…

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Christine Langhoff: The Real Goal of Question 2 in Massachusetts

Thanks, Christine, for this telling of the truth. I honestly don’t know if the boosters of Question 2 INTEND to bankrupt the public schools, but that’s just what will happen. I’m glad Ms. Ravitch picked up your post.

Diane Ravitch's blog

Retired teacher Christine Langhoff has been following the debate over Question 2 in Massachusetts closely. She concluded that its real goal was not to close the achievement gap–charters have not done that anywhere in the nation–nor even to provide better schools–most charters in the nation are no better and many are unquestionably worse–than public schools.

The real purpose is to bankrupt urban districts, and maybe other districts as well. This has been the story in Pennsylvania, where charters have sucked resources out of public school districts, causing budget cuts, layoffs, and program cuts to public schools. Meanwhile, the charter schools get outside funding from Wall Street, the Waltons, financiers, and other champions of privatization. The ultimate goal is the destruction of public education.

She writes:


It’s becoming apparent to many that the real objective of Question 2 is not merely to further the cause of privatization to benefit the hedge…

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A Good Night for #NoOn2

school-committee-votesThe Parent Imperfect hadn’t been to a meeting of the Boston School Committee for a while before last night. Long gone are the days in the dank chamber on Court Street, but last night something had changed that was much more important than the room. The energy in the room around the Committee’s deliberations was completely different.

On the agenda last night was a resolution to oppose Question 2, the charter school piñata. To the shock of many, the Committee voted UNANIMOUSLY to oppose Question 2. By the time members commented on the resolution, the meeting had turned into a competition to see who could speak most strongly against it.  You just had to pinch yourself to be sure you were really in Dudley Square.

I’ve been to a lot of meetings where charter schools were discussed, including hearings where the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education was considering the application of one or more new charter schools. Last night’s meeting at the Bolling Building made it very clear that something really important has changed in the energy around the charter school discussion in Boston and (I hope) in Massachusetts.

young-peopleDifferent people will describe the change differently, but, for me, the change comes from the energy and voice of young people in the discussion. At too many of those BESE meetings, the only young people in the room were well-organized attendees of charter schools. While they never actually said a lot in the meetings, their presence spoke volumes.

Now the story is another one. Young people, many of whom became active around the BPS budget cuts that have come down every year, have taken a hold of the movement to protect and improve public education, and that movement won’t soon be the same. I don’t know if they will succeed in countering all of the money that is flowing into pro-charter coffers, but they certainly have flipped the conversation in Boston.

While Committee members were surely more attuned to the youth voices in the meeting, a few non-youth also offered testimony. One bit of that testimony is included below, just to give you a sense of the flavor of the discussion. The names are changed to protect those who are anything but innocent.

Thanks to the Committee for the opportunity to comment tonight, and to everyone else who cares enough about education to be here.

I’m a resident of Roslindale, a BPS parent for 16 years and a member of Quest (Quality Education for Every Student).

It can come as no surprise to anyone that Quest is firmly in support of the clearest and strongest possible School Committee resolution against Question 2, the charter school piñata. Yours will not be a resolution against charter schools, the students who attend them, or the parents who choose them for their children. It will be a resolution questioning the policy of using scarce public funds to build a separate, but unequal, system of privately-managed, privately-governed schools.

The information provided at your last meeting offered a conservative assessment of the financial damage that will be wrought by this initiative, if successful. In addition, the charter expansion favored by our governor will reduce the resources available for educating vulnerable populations in the BPS. It will also exclude the voices of students, parents and even you, The Boston School Committee from some of the most important decisions to be made about education in our city in the coming years. And, finally, in the end a Yes vote on Question 2 will mean more school closings in the city, an eventuality that will surely have a disproportionate impact on communities of color.

We are hopeful and confident that tonight you will become the 158th school committee in the Commonwealth to go on record against this tragically wrong-headed policy initiative. In such situations, my friends in El Salvador were always fond of saying, “Nunca es tarde.”  It’s never too late.

We thank you in advance for taking a stand against Question 2, but we must conclude asking if you have each done all you can to see that our public schools are defended? Have you each spoken out publically on the issue? Have you contacted people in your own social and professional networks and engaged them in conversation about the dangers of this initiative? Has any one of you taken the time to walk door-to-door in one of our neighborhoods to share your views on this issue with the people behind those doors who really want to do the right thing? If not, I very seriously invite you to join me on just such a walk, in Roslindale, this weekend.

Regardless of how you got into those seats, you are the leadership of our public schools. As such, you deserve our respect and our gratitude for your service. In the same way, the parents, students, teachers and staff of the Boston Public Schools need, deserve and EXPECT your full, unqualified support on this issue. Thank you.

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Question 2: A Conscious “No”

public-funds-for-public-schoolsThis weekend, the Parent Imperfect finally got out and knocked on peoples’ doors to talk to them about Question 2, the November referendum question that, if approved, will lead to a much bigger charter school sector in Massachusetts. I had hoped that Connie might accompany me on this walk with the Save Our Public Schools campaign, but she isn’t yet ready for that. I think she’s quite clear about what she thinks about Question 2, but the idea of going door-to-door with her father, for any reason, is not the way she wanted to celebrate her birthday.

My canvassing partner and myself knocked on fifty-five doors in the Neponset area of Dorchester. Most people weren’t home on Saturday morning (no surprise), and many who were home don’t answer their doors to strangers on Saturday mornings. Those who answered the doors and engaged with us agreed with us on the issue by a 3-1 margin. We found only one man who was undecided about Question 2. We even had two people pull their cars to the curb to tell us that they understood that more charter schools would take more money away from the public schools, which they saw as a bad thing. I didn’t sense that most of these people were “against” charters, they just saw that the way they are funded pits them against the public schools that are the only answer for the majority of kids. The “drain on public schools” argument was all they needed.

showing-upIn other parts of my life, I’ve been getting a slightly different argument. Many good people who consider themselves to be quite liberal are convinced that people of “conscience” should vote in favor of lifting the cap on charter schools. For these voters (and these are people who will vote), our public schools have denied children of color an equal education, so we need to do all we can to offer those children and their families options to get the education they need. According to this way of thinking, a “Yes” vote on Question 2 will see that children get those options.

Behind this opinion is the idea that the African-American community supports more charter schools. Some important African-American leaders, including President Obama, speak quite passionately in favor of charter schools. Charter advocates never miss an opportunity to show that many of their supporters are African-American students and parents who have apparently benefited from charter schools.

My friends of conscience are correct that public education has failed to provide adequate education to many children of color in this country. They are also correct that some charters have provided better education to some of the children of color they have served. But at what cost?

the-argument-againstThe argument against Question 2 is not an argument against charter schools, or a criticism of any family that has pursued that option for their children. Like public schools, charter schools are a mixed bag. Some of them have achieved very impressive results, while others aren’t doing their job. The argument against Question 2 is an argument against further expansion of an alternative private system of schools that is draining money out of the public schools that must educate all children, including the vast majority of African-American children. There are other issues with charters–discipline policies, high suspension rates, treatment of teachers, failure to serve Students with Special Needs and English Language Learners, lack of oversight, etc., etc., etc.–but the “financial drain” issue is the one that seems to upset most people about further charter expansion.

The African-American community (as well as the Latino community and the Asian community) holds different points of view on this issue, as it does on all issues. Boston City Councillor, Tito Jackson, has taken a strong position in favor of a “No” vote on question 2. This summer he and fellow councillor, Matt O’Malley proposed a City Council resolution on the issue, and all but two council members voted to make a public statement against Question 2 because of the financial drain it would represent for the City of Boston. At the national level, during its convention this summer, the NAACP membership voted to support a national “moratorium” on charter schools until a number of problems with the schools can be addressed. At a very local and personal level, almost half of the people who set aside a beautiful Saturday morning to knock on doors with me yesterday were African-Americans concerned about Question 2.

Of course, none of this means that “the African-American community is united against Question 2.” It means that the community, like all other communities, is of a mixed mind on the issue. It also means that there is no easy answer for people committed to racial justice who are trying to figure out how to vote on this issue. The desire to provide equal educational opportunity for all children is a great one. I share that ambition, but my own study of the charter school issue suggests that more charters–as promised by Question 2–will not further than noble goal.

Please take the time to look beyond the “optics” of this issue, as presented on TV,  to determine for yourself the likely impact of the charter school expansion on public school systems across the Commonwealth. If you take that time, I think you’ll see that there is every reason for a person of conscience, concerned about racial justice to color in the little box saying “No on Question 2.”

mel-kingDefeating Question 2 is important, but it will certainly not resolve the issue of Quality Education for Every Student. As veteran organizer and political leader, Mel King, said at a meeting last winter hosted by the NAACP at a church in Roxbury, “It isn’t enough to raise concerns about the charter schools. People want us to do something about the problems of the public schools, and they are right.” Amen.

 

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Back to School 2016: The Road Trip

keep calm and get backNo reason to keep denying it; Summer’s all but over and the back-to-school season is upon us. For the Parent Imperfect, this week is all about that transition and the mixed emotions that go with it. It all starts a little earlier once they finish high school. On Monday, Vince and I loaded his stuff into the car and headed to the Finger Lakes region for Year Two. It was to have been an end-of-the-summer road trip for the entire family, but Ms. Connie wasn’t having it. I drew the traveling straw.

Mountain shotSince it takes longer to get to Ithaca than it takes to get to San Francisco, Vince had lots of time for a pensive transition back to college life. The ride through western Mass and upstate New York was gorgeous, reminding me of how little time I spend in Vermont these days. After living intensely with a group of IC people for all of freshman year, he didn’t see any of them over the summer. He has a new roommate this year and the young woman with whom he spent a lot of the spring semester transferred to Syracuse. There was a lot on that mind surrounded by the headphones, and the Parent Imperfect was much more chauffeur than confidant. Vince needed the 6+ hours to get back into an Ithaca frame of mind.

He was actually scheduled to go back to school two weeks early to train with the rugby team, but he decided that his knee couldn’t take another year of that sport. I think  he was also quite enjoying himself in Boston, and didn’t look forward to spending the last two weeks of summer grunting and hurting in Ithaca. Summer was to have been a time of rehab for his MCL injury (not a tear), but, instead, he spent the summer lugging around other people’s furniture, which was anything but rehab for the knee. He’ll have moments of regret about that decision in the coming weeks, as rugby was a big part of becoming part of the college community last year.

I want my future backWe remain, as always, on a “need to know” basis with Vince, but from what we could tell the first year at college seemed to be a year of growth for him. He points to last January, when he worked for a month at the moving company with men in their 40s and 50s who make an uninsured living for their families (sort of) by moving heavy things from place to place. Many of them walk like his father walks, even though they are twenty years my junior. No other students, just Vince and perfectly intelligent guys of various races who’ve ended up on the wrong side of the rigged economy. I’m not sure what he learned from that, but something clicked.

I’m sure he was still being a full-on college boy when he went back to school, but he did well enough in his classes to get into Ithaca’s much-respected communications school for Year Two. They had passed on him when he applied as a first-year student.

Ithaca viewHe was visibly excited to get back to Ithaca, although he has also become aware that going to school there is costing money that other good schools wouldn’t necessarily cost. From the beginning, he had a sense of the privilege in that, but he didn’t always understand the cost of it in the same way.

He will not stay up at night worrying about this, but he knows it in a way that he didn’t, even last year. He says that he is exploring transferring in January. We’ll see. I feel the pain about the money, but, if he has found a passion at Ithaca it would be a shame to let it go for the unknown at another place.

It was great to have him here over the summer, but he now lives on South Street as a matter of convenience (for him). In essence, he treated the place like a flop-house over the summer. Who would turn down a flop house with food in the refrigerator? I remember the days when life was so much more fun in the 1-4AM period, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to live with someone who is living that dream. Then, when one of the parents (or the sister) was reaching a limit, he would be home for dinner for a couple of nights, make the time to go visit his grandparents, or spend an evening on the couch talking about the Republican convention or the problems with Bernie’s campaign.

After too many hours in the car, we rolled up to the beautiful dormitory  where he’ll spend the next few months. The move did not have that high energy of excitement and nervous anticipation that we all felt a year ago. This was more lugging his stuff up the back stairs into a room that his definitely a step up from the freshman digs. He was happy to have the help moving in, but then it was time to go. His roommate and friends were nowhere to be seen, forewarned via social media of my arrival. I barely had time to deliver my predictable departure speech, which he probably could have delivered, himself. His phone was buzzing with things to be done as soon as he could get rid of the rest of the family unit.

Much more quickly than I came, I was gone. And now, on South Street we are three…

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