“It was twenty years ago today…”

No, it was not the day “Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play”… but it was still a significant day.

ahlogo1August 14, 1994. I remember shaking with excitement and uncertainty. My principal had come over to my house and was watching a simple graphic appear on my computer. It seemed to take forever to load, watching it fill out from top to bottom, line by line. Eventually, there it was. A school website. OUR school website. The ninth elementary school in the world with such a thing. He happily gave it his blessing – well, what could he say – his name was on the graphic!

The default background color on web browsers back then (if you even had a browser) was grey, so it looked a little different.

But we were there! And we still are. Of the earliest schools on the web, all appearing that summer, ours is the only one that still exists on the same piece of internet real estate: http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/arborhts.html Here’s a listing of school websites from January of 1995. Oh my, it was a time!

ahmapchristmasThe story that followed was flat out amazing. I won’t go through much of it here and now, except to point you to a page that will lead you through the evolution of a pioneering school web site.

As I said earlier, the website still exists. I retired two years ago, but I believe in the importance of hanging onto some things. I am a saver. On the original Arbor Heights site, there are thousands of documents and pictures, telling the story of the school from 1994 to 2012. A few notables that will give you a sense of and feeling for the school, the families, staff, the kids – and that time:

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Principal Carl Leatherman rides into an assembly on his motorcycle, 1997

There is plenty more, so please feel free to poke around and explore this little piece of internet history at arborheights.com. I intend to maintain it indefinitely.

arborhtswikiWe continued blazing school website trails with the establishment of a school wiki in 2006. In 2008, the wiki actually became the official home page of the school, recognized as such by the school district. I also maintained the  original website, so there was a period of 6 years where content was added regularly to the wiki and the website, the difference being, there were multiple authors to the wiki – staff and parents. It was a very exciting time. Challenging? Of course, but the end result of having to collaborate on a shared goal was a strong, united vision of how our school would appear on the web. The wiki still exists, and it has a fair amount of material archived on it as well.

Behind the scenes, from 2005 on, there was a constant pressure from the school district to have the Arbor Heights website look the same as all its other school websites, using their template. My sense has always been that schools, like individuals, want to be seen as unique, and NOT just like everybody else. But the big organization wants all its parts and pieces to look the same – it’s so much easier to manage that way…

In the fall of 2012, as soon as I retired, the school set up its website using the district template.

The current school website for Arbor Heights does not link to content on, or acknowledge the existence of, the school’s unique digital history. I hope that will change someday.  There are many inspiring stories and important pieces of that history to be shared, carried forward, and built upon. As a new Arbor Heights is being constructed, I hope people realize this is a time to tighten those connections and strengthen that foundation.

Happy 20th, Arbor Heights on the web!

 

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An Update – A Tale of Two Cheasties

It’s time for an update, because so many things have happened in the four months since I wrote A Tale of Two Cheasties. That little post has been viewed over 1,400 times, so there was definitely was a lot of interest. Not all of the visitors agreed with my point of view, as you can see in the comments, and so I eventually had to start moderating the comments on this blog, as I was called names and had my intelligence questioned by those who wanted a mountain bike park in Cheasty Greenspace.

14%First off, if you haven’t read A Tale of Two Cheasties, I encourage you to do so before reading on, as I’m not going over the basics of the strange tale here. What I hope to do is bring people up to speed on what’s happened on some fronts in the battle to keep a natural area, well, natural.

Next, note the graphic at the right to see how important this is for Seattle. In spite of how we Seattlites tend to see ourselves a green city, the reality is, we are not, when it comes to our Parks. Out of the 100 most populous cities in the US, Seattle ranks 90th in Parks land that is natural, and undeveloped. A pretty low ranking for a “green city”. See the Trust for Public Land’s City Park Facts for some other eye openers on Seattle Parks

I started and maintain an up to date chronological list of public statements in opposition to a mountain bike park in Cheasty, in a post called Saving Cheasty. However, that list only tells a fraction of the response story, and that’s the reason I am writing today.

Morphing plans
One of the things that keeps changing is the actual proposal, and what proponents of the mountain bike trail say about it. I have heard Parks Department officials in public meetings say in one meeting there would be NO free ride jumps and in another that there would indeed be Free Ride jumps. I have heard Parks officials say in one meeting pedestrian and bike trails would be separate, and in another meeting a few days later say the trails would be dual use – shared by walkers and bikers. These were at public meetings, some in front of City officials. They are part of the public record. So you have to wonder just exactly what do people have in mind, after all?

The non-nimby response
wilsieThe rapidly increasing number of signatures on the petition, Maintain foot traffic only policy within Cheasty Greenspace, is striking. When I first happened upon the petition in February, and started getting it out in social media, it had 94 signatures. It was put up in early 2013, because people living around Cheasty had heard about a mountain bike park proposal, were worried about it, were reassured by Parks that it would never happen – and for some reason, did not believe that. Right now it has 362 signatures. While many of those who signed are neighbors, many more are certainly not all living next door to Cheasty, and several make that clear in their comments. I find it interesting that several signers are from outside Seattle as well. As the word spreads about a plan to put a mountain bike park in a designated natural area in the middle of Seattle, people are spreading the word, because preserving dwindling natural areas in urban areas is a hot topic right now, globally. The voices at Save Cheasty Greenspace are a part of that chorus, hoping to give Seattle a wake-up call.

Every time someone signs that petition, the Parks Department advocate for the mountain bike project is notified. I have never heard a single word of acknowledgement anywhere from Parks that there is even a petition out there…

Meetings and positions
In spite of there being only one public meeting so far hosted by the Parks Department to discuss the proposal, there have been several community group discussions of the proposal. The most recent was a panel discussion with Q&A, hosted by the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition. I had earlier noted a draft position statement by the Urban Forestry Commission, and they indeed came out with a strongly worded final position statement (pdf), sent to the City Council, the Mayor, and Parks Department officials, raising serious questions about the proposal, and asking for, among other things, a five year pilot and a fenced area to protect the interior habitat. They also questioned the public engagement process.

lcna letterYesterday the Lake City Neighborhood Alliance sent a letter to the Mayor, City Council, Urban Forestry Commissioners, the Parks Advisory Board, Parks Department officials, and Neighborhood Community group leaders, citing concerns over process and policy changes, noting, “Once those revised policies are implemented—even as a pilot project—changes in our natural areas/greenbelts are irrevocable. We will never get them back.” Their letter at the right (used with permission, click to read the pdf), is another indicator that people in communities far away from Cheasty are watching and are worried about what they see happening there.

Almost done
There is so much more to add, and there are many more people and organizations working hard to keep Cheasty a natural area, but this is enough – for now. I hope somebody in the media will do an in depth piece on this mess. It’s complex, and it can’t be covered in a couple of paragraphs with a few bullet points. I will close by adding something that has been bothering me the more I think about it…

Volunteers
Volunteering is a wonderful way to help out a community or a cause. Volunteers get no compensation – they get a nice warm feeling, though, helping to make a difference for countless causes everywhere. The bike park proponents have touted how many volunteers they have working to clear invasive species right now in Cheasty, and how many millions of dollars their hours there are worth. I say they are not volunteers. They are working very hard, but only because they expect something in return. So what do they expect?

They expect to be given exclusive use of a natural area, to be able to turn it into a mountain bike park for them to ride around in. That’s not volunteering, that’s quid pro quo, as in, if you do this, you get that. They have written this up in some of their proposals to Parks: in exchange for their doing work clearing invasives, they get to put a mountain bike park in a designated natural area. True, and unbelievable.

Friends of Lincoln Park volunteers, http://www.FriendsOfLincolnPark.org

Let’s talk about the totally unselfish work real volunteers do in our parks day after day. Those true volunteers love their cause, but they expect nothing in return personally, except a beautiful and healthy park.

The value of their work is not counted in dollars. It’s what that credit card ad would call priceless. Here’s to the countless “Friends of” groups made up of true volunteers.

If you haven’t signed the petition yet, please consider doing so. Thanks – Mark

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Heartbreak in my city

My wife and I recently spent an hour exploring natural areas not far from our home. We were amazed and appalled.

ospreyThis is a juvenile osprey, waiting for food, in its nest on a big ball and tackle joint of an enormous crane on the Duwamish River in Seattle. The river is incredibly polluted, and it will take decades, at best, to clean up a few years’ worth of irresponsible toxic industrial dumps in the middle of the 20th century. But despite existing on fish caught in a polluted river, the amazing osprey continue to thrive on the Duwamish. They are incredibly resilient and adaptive.

camplong1A few minutes drive away from the Duwamish there is Camp Long, a beautiful  rustic park in the middle of a city. Elementary school classrooms vie for a limited number of coveted field trip spots there every year. The peace is stunning. The cabins available to the public for once in a lifetime family camping experiences are absolutely enchanting. The surrounding woods and well cared for trails invite exploration and discovery.

camplong2A few steps away from that scene is another vision of how we should use our city parks. This is the “ropes course” at Camp Long. In the middle of this pristine jewel in Seattle, is this testament to what can be fabricated in the name of a “natural experience”. All the supports are on poles, not trees. There are no trees where the poles are – they have obviously been removed. Reminded me of a scene from Bridge on the River Kwai.

There were poles where there should have been trees and undergrowth. There were no birds. It looked clean, spiffy, and it was devoid of life. If there had been humans there, flying this way and that, one could say it hosted life. You’d have to read the sign on availability, fill out the forms, and pay the fees, to be a part of that, though…

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Uncle Xerxes

ux4When I was finally confident, through a zoomed in scope, that we were looking at UX on the band, I let my wife know – “UX, definitely, green band on left leg, white band on lower right”. Almost immediately she responded, “Uncle Xerxes!”

Bottle Beach is a mecca for birdwatchers on the Washington coast. Get there 2 hours before high tide, in the right season, and you will be amazed at the volume and variety of shorebirds, especially in spring and fall migrations.

b95We had missed the spring migration, because it was June 3, and supposedly all the birds inclined to head north to breed had already passed through. But I had just read the amazing report of a 21 year old Red Knot, sighted on the east coast. He’s known as B95, and there’s a fabulous book about him, Moonbird. And we really, really wanted to see a Red Knot. However, they are never a gimme in the west coast….

So when we headed to Bottle Beach this time, it was with long shots in mind. Our chances were slim, because it was so late in the spring, and we were not encouraged when we arrived at the parking lot, and there was nobody else there. If the birding is hot, you’re lucky to get a parking spot at Bottle Beach.

ux5But we pushed on , and good grief, there he was, Uncle X,  with two others – Red Knots in breeding plumage, heading north to breed near the Arctic Circle. There were no other people there.

We stayed for a long time, watching. It took a while to confirm that there were indeed three Red Knots. There were many Black-bellied Plovers, Dowitchers, and a few Dunlin, all hanging out, feeding.

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Exhilarated beyond belief by what we had just witnessed, we returned to our hideaway on the coast and let a well known coastal birdwatcher know about our sighting. She forwarded our pictures to Washington Fish and Wildlife, and we got this email  response from them  the next day:

Mark, thanks for taking and sharing the photo! UX was banded at Grays Harbor on 14 May 2014. The band on the lower leg is the metal one issued by the banding lab. The green flag is used to identify individuals without needing to recapture them; green is the color code for the USA. It was one of about 180 Red Knots we captured and processed that day as part of a disease monitoring project. I see that this bird was observed at Bottle Beach on 3 June; that means it has been in Washington for at least 21 days.

When we forwarded that report to a very good friend and excellent birder, he responded, “Have you ever spent 21 days at a McDonald’s?” Love it!

Uncle Xerxes, you go, guy! And get a move on, time’s a wastin’.

What a fabulous opportunity to witness, and share with others, this amazing natural cycle.ux7

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Sweet Memory of a Hard Thing

I taught 8 and 9 years olds for 29 years, and toward the end of every one of them I experienced the most difficult task I had to deal with all year long – finishing up the reading aloud of Charlotte’s Web, by E B White.

The penultimate chapter ends with “No one was with her when she died.” That was always hard to get out, but I eventually learned to quickly compose myself by saying something like, “Well, isn’t it a good thing the book doesn’t end here?!” Always met with nodding heads and misty eyes. And a couple of smiles. Because they all knew how it was going to end.

But the end of the last chapter was the killer. Charlotte’s babies hatch, three stay with Wilbur, her devoted best friend… and it ends with talk of life going on, and the importance of friendship. Sometimes I had to stop, because I couldn’t get the words out, but somehow I found a way to finish the book. Every year.

I went through three copies of Charlotte’s Web. If I were to dig out the most dilapidated copy from a box in the garage and flip through some of the paperback’s pages lucky enough to still be bound to other pages, I’d get a faceful of chalk dust. Yes, I taught in the world of chalkboard classrooms, and all the books I read to the kids rested on the tray of the chalkboard until I picked them up the next day to continue.

Today, on a beautiful last day of May, I sat mesmerized in our back yard, watching as a cluster of dozens of miniature spiders began their journey out into the world.

It all came back to me in a wave – powerful emotions brought on by skillfully written words that I had the privilege of passing on to children every year. I got to be very good at reading that book. I had all the character voices down, and it got to the point near the end of my teaching career where I didn’t really need to do much but glance at a paragraph to be able to read it to my class.

Ah. Here’s to the sweet memory of making it through a hard thing.

And here’s to those little spiders I saw this morning on their way out into the world. I wish them safe journeys and wonderful friendships:
charlotteskidssmall

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The Seattle Nature Alliance

There’s a new group in town, the Seattle Nature Alliance. It started on Facebook, expanded to Twitter, and now it has a website. An email discussion list is about to launch. Check it out – like, follow, comment:

songsparrowsmI feel privileged, and very excited, to be a part of it. I hope you will consider joining in.

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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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