Happy Earth Day!

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Rachel, age 16, Patton, PA

Earth Day is April 22nd every year, and kids have been working on getting the word out.

The Earth Day Groceries Project is most likely the largest art give away in history, as millions of school children have poured their artistic and environmental passions into decorating grocery bags that ended up in homes around the world, on Earth Day – in all 50 States and over 40 countries.

Thousands of schools have participated and sent in reports to document their participation.

Now in its 21st year, the Project is a grownup.

If you’ve ever received a decorated bag at the grocery store on Earth Day, it is because of this project.

It began in 1994, with an email invitation sent out to a couple of education listservs. The project has grown, spread, and taken on a life of its own. It has had a blog, a Twitter account, Flickr groups, and was a 501(c)(3) for many years.

These days, the website started in 1995, is still there, with thousands of reports and pictures, going back 21 years. There is also an active Facebook page.

Happy Earth Day!

Ashley, 8, Kansas City, MO

Ashley, 8, Kansas City, MO

Ariana, 9, Philadelphia PA

Ariana, 9, Philadelphia PA

Masy, 9, Omro, WI

Masy, 9, Omro, WI

 

 

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Saving Cheasty

Cheasty Greenspace

Cheasty Greenspace

As the people of Seattle find out about a proposed pilot mountain bike park in Cheasty Greenspace, opposition grows rapidly. Listed below, in chronological order, with the most recent at the top, are some of the many public statements in opposition to the proposal. I will continue to add to the list, so check back often. Feel free to leave comments and additions.

Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park - not a healthy greenspace.

Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park, King County – not a healthy greenspace.

Some try to make the case that the only way to get rid of invasive species and restore Cheasty Greenspace is by putting in a mountain bike park. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Mountain bike parks and healthy greenspaces have nothing to do with each other. As a matter of fact, they are mutually exclusive.

(Top photo by Mark Ahlness, bottom photo by Darrell Howe, used with permission)
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Ziplines, Mountain Bikes, and Horseshoes

Two years ago, Seattle Parks and Recreation tried to give over part of Lincoln Park to a commercial zipline company. When the word leaked out to the public, the community became outraged, and responded in an explosive way against the proposal at a meeting. The next day, the Parks Department withdrew its proposal. Outrage was around two points – 1) what a zipline would do to the mature trees, vegetation, and wildlife at the park, and 2) the lack of public involvement in the process of coming up with the proposal.

Today there is no zipline in Lincoln Park, nor in any other Seattle Park. Those who fought the battle against it remember the time well.preservelincolnpark It actually brought together the community and fostered conversations that led to new friendships and new organizations, to make sure something like that never happened again – to ANY Seattle Park.

Two years later, in January of 2014, the Seattle Parks Board of Commissioners gave their advisory vote of approval to the establishment of a mountain bike park in Cheasty Greenspace, a Seattle Parks natural area, as a pilot project – violating the Parks policy  prohibiting bike riding in its parks. To try it out. For three years. At a cost of three quarters of a million dollars. To be built by volunteers and financed by non- and for- profit corporations.

meetingCommunity members, many having just found about this, became outraged. The bike park promoters said there was ample public disclosure. But somehow, there was a large, very upset group of citizens (many from outside the neighborhood) that shook its head saying it did not know – and this is not what Cheasty Greenspace was meant to be used for. The first public meeting was very contentious. Divisions between sides could not be more evident than Congress during a State of the Union speech.

Right now, at the end of March, 2014, Parks and Recreation says it is going ahead with the pilot, and opponents swear it is not a done deal. Opponents have come out with posts, petitions, and an open letter. The Urban Forestry Commission, another city advisory board, has come out with a draft position statement that questions many aspects of the proposal. Both sides are sending emails to the City Council, the Mayor, and Parks and Recreation. It’s a mess.

So maybe it would be useful to take a step back and look at a more peaceful time, when there was not the public process that we take for granted today, on these kinds of decisions. The city built things in its parks because that is what they thought certain groups wanted, or maybe because it was popular at the time. The land was there to be taken, filled up, used for activities.

Enter, horseshoes, the game – or pitching horseshoes. Some of us can even remember pitching the real thing a few times. It was quite the craze, back in the early part of the 20th century. Well, it was for the men, anyway. The guys who had some leisure time on Sunday picnics and at family gatherings. There were horseshoe magazines and national competitions. It was a great part of white, rural and suburban Americana in the middle of the last century.

 

But most people don’t play horseshoes anymore. So here’s what a horseshoe pit looks like today, in Lincoln Park:

DSC08033

cedar at end is 2+ feet in diameter

DSC08077

moss covers concrete slabs

The cleared, barren area is 50′ by 100′, 5,000 square feet, the size of a typical city lot.  It is surrounded by a high chain link fence, in the middle of a heavily forested area. There were 20 horseshoe pits there at one time, each flanked by two 2′ by 6′ concrete slabs. There are currently six pits that are recognizable, still having some rotted wood around them. All 40 concrete slabs are still there, most now below the surface.

Here’s what the area looks like to the north, and the south – a natural woods. Trees grow and mature, and wildlife thrives. People walk on paths through the woods.

DSC08038 DSC08037

 

 

 

But   that 5,000 square foot horseshoe pit just sits there, unused, as it has for decades. As it will for decades more. Nothing grows there but moss and weeds. It is scar tissue in Lincoln Park. Thank goodness there is no zipline folly in the park, wrapped around, nailed into, and choking its maturing trees.

I wonder what those mountain bike trails at Cheasty Greenspace will look like in 10 or 20 years? The proposed trail system will cover 50,000 square feet, at the very least. That’s ten house lots, or ten of these horseshoe pits – a lot of land upon which no trees or plants will grow, and no animals will live. For decades and decades. Well beyond the popular use of mountain bikes by a small segment of society. Trust me.

DSC08079Will some current specialized use be worth this? Is anything worth the destruction of a natural area in the middle of a city?

If so, what is it?

And who decides?

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A Tale of Two Cheasties

Ironically, I first heard about this strange tale on a bike blog post, from one of dozens of blogs I follow via rss. And I am a bike rider, well, a street bike rider. The Parks and Recreation Department was allowing a mountain bike trail in Cheasty Greenspace, a natural area of Seattle Parks. I did a little digging and became very upset that this was actually happening, and that I had only just found out about it. How could this be?

Cheasty Greenspace or Cheasty Mountain Bike Park, that’s the question.

I thought back to the summer of 2012 when the Parks Department tried to put a commercial zipline in Lincoln Park. That one was stopped by a huge community backlash. But this mountain bike trail… it seemed that the only people aware of it were those in the biking community, and they were very excited. The similarities between the zipline fiasco and the mountain biking proposal seemed eerily striking: Parks had worked for quite a while quietly with the backers of both proposals, before the public became aware of what was happening – and the public was not in favor of either – and the Parks Department wanted both. Hmmm.

Right now the general public is just starting to find out about the mountain biking proposal. A few people talked about it quietly, did research, got a tip, and pretty soon an ad was run in the Seattle Times, in opposition to the mountain bike proposal: 

Amazingly, the people right around Cheasty Greenspace were some of the last to find out. Thanks to the ad, the community is alive and fighting back, organizing, planning, researching – to preserve their urban forest sanctuary:

14%Turning a natural area into a mountain bike park in the middle of Seattle is unforgivable. Once that forest is torn up, it will take generations for it to return to a natural state. There are precious few undeveloped areas in Seattle Parks – actually, only 14% of its park space is undeveloped. It is so incredibly important to maintain the little natural space we have, and we must do whatever we can to keep it for the enjoyment of ALL the citizens of Seattle, not just the special interest groups that serve a fraction of the population – in the case of the sport of mountain biking, we are usually talking about affluent, white males. There are exceptions of course, but the fact remains that the vast majority of the population will not be able to use this space as a place to get away from it all, and experience a native wild habitat. It will be gone.

The people behind the mountain bike park have been quietly working on it for three years. They have worked carefully, and they have cultivated a good relationship with some of the staff of the Seattle Parks Department. In fact, the Parks Department itself was the one pushing this through the approval process before the Seattle Parks Board. One of the most startling aspects of the proposal is that the Parks Department has a policy of no bikes in its parks (with a few small exceptions). The Parks Board twice turned down this Mountain Bike Park proposal based on that policy. Two months later, the Parks Department came again to the Parks Board, and asked for the Bike Park to be approved as a pilot – meaning it would be exempt from city policy. Incredibly, the Parks Board approved it.

One has to wonder why we have rules and policies at all, if they can be overridden at any time by a pilot from a special interest group. What would stop the development of something like a pilot “Family Fun Old Growth Zipline in Schmitz Park”, for instance?

Here’s a link to what the Parks Department has to say about the project. Please note the March 25th meeting. It is the FIRST public meeting on the Mountain Bike Park. Trail construction is scheduled to start within a week of the meeting. If you care, be there.

Take a look at this wild picture below. Some would call this an overgrown waste of space, filled with invasive species. Others would look more closely and see native ferns, mahonia, salal, and a host of critters underneath it all, living their lives in an undisturbed peace, in the middle of a big city. 

We need to preserve this space for all those living things, so that generations of people can visit, enjoy, and be refreshed by being in their midst.

To learn more about the efforts to stop the Mountain Bike Park proposal, read what others have said, written, and cited, below:

To stay in touch with the latest, and to add your thoughts and ideas, stop by the Seattle Nature Alliance on Facebook or follow along on Twitter. Or leave a comment here…

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Seattle Urban Forestry Commission Meeting

On Feb 12, 2014, the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission held a meeting to review a proposal from the Parks Department to put a mountain bike trail in Cheasty Greenspace. I attended to provide public testimony.

After some other business, a member of the Seattle  Parks Department presented the proposal to the Commission, via two PowerPoint presentations, which took up the major part of the meeting. Commission members asked a few questions.

The entire meeting is available online, via the Urban Forestry Commission website. Individual components are listed here:

The next Urban Forestry Commission meeting is March 5, where they hope to formulate and send on their recommendation to the Mayor and City Council. They are accepting public feedback, via their Contact page. Their meetings are always open to the public.

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The Common Core Shield

Common Core Shield

Meet the new Common Core Shield. It refers to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

The purpose of the Shield is to protect people, especially teachers and parents, from the unwavering acceptance of and submission to the CCSS.

The Shield can be used as clip art, in actual signs, in buttons, for a coloring break, etc. It comes in many sizes. Help yourself, it has a Creative Commons license that encourages sharing…

About the CCSS
Much has been written about the standards, and a lot of it lately, in push-back. Some parents, finally hearing about CCSS, have expressed outrage. Tea Party disciples are latecomers to the Push-back Party, but they have definitely joined in the conversation. Hmmm. I don’t have much in common with them…

There’s a lot to read and digest, if you are new to the discussion, but here are a couple of recent posts with excellent analysis, one from Anthony Cody: Common Core Standards: Ten Colossal Errors and another from Diane Ravitch: Mercedes Schneider Explains: Who Paid for the Common Core Standards.

Reality
The CCSS is already out there. Teachers are being “trained” in it. Two years ago, in my last year of teaching before retiring, part of the staff at my elementary school began receiving instruction in how to implement it. Interesting that it began with the primary teachers, responsible for implementing the section of the standards that has received the harshest criticism from educators and specialists in early childhood education. Speaking of criticism, there was absolutely NO questioning allowed about the standards. Unless you wanted to get in trouble.

Many teachers I know have simply given up any resistance to the CCSS. They shrug their shoulders and see it as a done deal. No choice. I guess it’ll be good. Some even find things to like about the standards, which is not surprising, as teachers are intrinsically looking for the good in everything, even the worst situations.

Using the Common Core Shield
It’s not recommended that most teachers display it in a prominent place – unless they’re looking for a bad evaluation. With few exceptions, such as principal Carol Burris, the vast majority of principals and school administrators are very much pushing forward with CCSS implementation and are not much interested in having a discussion about its worth.

So I recommend teachers be cautious about the public use of the Shield. Extra cautious. There may be teachers in your building who will tattle on you if you use it – really.

Parents – hopefully you will not feel so threatened. But your child’s future is at stake, so I understand caution in this arena, where feelings are as high as the stakes on the tests your kids are being forced to take.

Brief History
The Common Core Shield evolved from the Data Shield, which I designed three years ago. I intend to post the MS Word file I used to design both. It is easily customizable, for instance, to be a NCLB Shield, a RTTT Shield, a Duncan Shield – you get the idea… I’ll get it up here soon.

Looking ahead
I am well aware this shield idea is just a defensive stance, and maybe only a way to feel a little better about participating in things you know are wrong but cannot change…

I would like to come up with a positive icon for resistance to current edreform insanity, somehow capturing what teaching and learning is really supposed to be about. I’m looking and thinking, and I would welcome any advice in that direction. Thanks – Mark

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RIP, Jr. Seahawk Newsletter

After 22  years, the “The oldest continuously published elementary school student newspaper on the Internet!” is no more. Here’s to the kids who came to those meetings, pushed themselves to write for each other and the world, made podcasts, missed recesses, and partied seriously in some legendary end of the year celebrations.

The archive will always be here, at jrseahawk.com

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