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op frI was trying to sell myself to my prospective new boss, Scott McLeod. I may not know anyone in the Haywood County area yet, I told him, but don’t worry — I’m a horse person. We have a network. 

So as soon as I knew I’d been hired, I got in touch with all the horse people I’d met with connections in this part of the world. My old friend Katherine, who grew up riding ponies in Asheville, put me in touch with Connie Moore, a fellow-rider who lives in Haywood County. Maybe you know Connie. I got on the phone with her and quickly got all sorts of great advice about boarding barns and other practicalities. 

op frWe are now — officially — barreling into the holidays. Thanksgiving is already a fading, drowsy memory of turkey carcasses and piles of dirty dishes. As we march onward toward Christmas and the new year, my mind always goes into the same pattern, one I can’t shake: I think of blessings and shortcomings, wondering why the things that aren’t right can’t be righted. 

And so a couple of recent articles about opportunity in this country and how those who come from wealth are more likely than ever in recent history to remain in the upper income brackets hit home. In order to change this, we need to do more for children, especially those who haven’t reached what we have traditionally deemed “school age.”

op frBy Doug Wingeier • Columnist

In early October we spent two weeks in our 150-year-old log cabin situated on a corner of our daughter Ruth and husband John’s 40 acres in central Minnesota, which has no electricity or running water. 

While there we enjoy a simple life — reading by oil lamp and candlelight, outhouse comfort, vegetarian diet, sleeping sundown to sunup. Ruth is a licensed nurse midwife who has delivered more than 2,000 babies (many of them home births) in the 30 years she has lived there. John is recently retired after working as an Alaskan bush pilot, builder and cabinet maker, skilled factory worker, and a math and science teacher. They have raised three boys, the youngest now a college junior.

op frWe had talked about going to Disney World for so long that it had become an abstraction, so distant and unreal that we might as well have been talking about taking a trip to Saturn. Still, the notion kept forcing itself upward though our cluttered and chaotic family life and back into our consciousness, like a dandelion that finds a way to grow through a crack in the sidewalk.

op frI’ve heard all the speeches and read all the legislative fantasies, and I’m still not satisfied with what I’ve heard about the state of the schools. The stories don’t match.

One question I cannot get the answer to is this: is the figure used by the state legislature for school budget before or after the reversion monies? When did the reversions start? Why? 

op frBy Dawn Gilchrist-Young • Guest Columnist

If I could create for you an apt metaphor for public education, it would be that of public schools as a sentient being. And, as such a being, it would have a body, much as we do, with a heart, with a brain, and with hands. The heart of public school, in my metaphor, is the loyalty, passion, and dedication of its teachers. The brain of public schools, the part that has foresight, is the knowledge of those teachers in pedagogy, in content, and in current thought. The hands of public schools, to complete the conceit, are the resources teachers have available to them, with time being the most important resource of all.

op frI am writing this in my classroom on a Friday evening in the hours of quiet before the kickoff for our homecoming ball game. My students are all gone for the weekend, but it is still early enough that my classroom remains lit by the clear autumn sunshine. I look out at 28 desks that hold the adult sized bodies of the 63 students I teach in senior English: 24 in first period, 25 in fourth period, and 14 in AP English Literature. In my first- and fourth-period classes, the place is pretty packed when everyone is present, so I am grateful I do not as of yet have the full allotment of 29 students that N.C. law allows. My county is fighting hard to keep class size within reason and to maintain teaching staff, although current legislation is telling us that staff reduction is only a matter of time.

op frBy Sarah Kucharski • Columnist

The government shutdown went into effect on the first night I arrived in Yosemite National Park. There was no phone call at midnight, no note on the door in the morning. The birds still chirped, and the redwood trees still perfumed the air. Yet there was a great sense of angst. At the park hotel’s front desk, I was just one of many tourists asking what to do next — do we stay, or do we go? The road to Glacier Point already had been closed, making the day’s planned hikes impossible. The stables were shuttered too, which meant no mule rides. Restaurants and retail operations within the valley would be closing during the next 48 hours. And so we packed our bags, shoved everything back into our rental car, and left.

op frBy John Beckman • Guest Columnist

There’s a lot to be said for making careful plans in our lives, crafting a logical, well thought out path to get us from point A to point B without getting too lost in between. How we navigate through the multitude of choices and directions we have in life depends on a variety of factors derived from all that we have seen, heard, learned, experienced and dreamed. 

By Dawn Gilchrist-Young

Of the 120 or so 12th-graders I teach each year, about two-thirds have jobs outside of school. Of those two-thirds, there is a large number who work 30 to 40 hours a week. Their jobs range from bagging groceries and stocking shelves, to cleaning motel rooms, to chopping, splitting, and delivering firewood. As I included in my first column about the teaching I do at Swain County High School, the per capita income in 2011 was $19,506. For 2012, the projected income was $19,089. Of the county’s 14,000 residents, 3,000 live below the poverty level, and of those, almost 1,000 are children, including my students. For most readers, these are merely numbers, but for me, as a teacher, they are numbers that have faces.

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