Friday, February 1, 2013

Meet Leo, in blue, and Sebastian in the red shirt. Loved that they had their own tiny table and chairs in the kitchen.

I was visiting in Arkansas recently and stayed with some friends I roomed with a couple of years ago in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Matt and Cortneigh lived full time in Tegucigalpa.  I would fly in to work with a fledgling media group, two weeks every month over a span of 18 months and I would stay with them. They generously shared their home and, most importantly, we shared and adored Juanita, our maid, who was very much a part of the family. Time passed. The project ended. We all moved on.

Matt and Cortneigh moved to Arkansas and added two sons to their family. Cortneigh, an elementary teacher, eventually launched a pre-k program for the KIPP schools in Helena, where Matt is Director of Operations. I left Honduras and continued my international media management consulting which took me to several countries in Africa; Tajikistan; Iraq; Yemen and Guatemala.  As offers became more localized in the middle East, where war and riots reign, I began substitute teaching, working as a consultant for a local school system and finding work on projects which would allow me to remain close to home. Our daughter was ill and this allowed me to help Heidi and her family, as she recovered from her seizures and accident.

I was tickled when Matt called one day recently to see if I might be interested in checking out the situation in Helena at his schools. The “situation” was defined openly. I was to take a look, ask questions, listen, observe and make some observations and recommendations for improving the schools’ efficiency and effectiveness. He wanted me to think like I had in Honduras. No evaluations, just observations and lots of digging to see what the opportunities are.

 Having been in our area schools, I was most interested, indeed. My son-in-law teaches high school math and has told me over the past few years how much kids, the environment, and the level of parental involvement have changed schools. Working as a trainer has been my passion and I have been blessed to be able to train wherever and in whatever I have been doing…whether in schools, at a newspaper or as a consultant. Figuring out what is needed and then, trying to come up with solutions to whatever issues are presented has been a treat.

Arkansas was no different. Helena is a rural, agricultural and poverty stricken area. KIPP schools are known for their ability to raise the standards, performance and abilities of youth in inner cities or rural areas of our country. I saw passionate young teachers and worn out administrators who were working more than 70 hour work weeks trying to meet the academic and social needs of their students. Support staffs were also working tough work weeks trying to support the faculty and the families they serve.

I was invited to stay with Matt, Cort and the boys at their home and that seemed so much more fun than staying in a local B&B. This meant more work for Cort, because she doesn’t have a Juanita anymore. We spoke of Juanita several times and how much we both missed coming back to the US and not having a Juanita to help cook, wash and clean for us. We were spoiled…just a bit! We both agreed that we love our homes, love cooking our own meals and being in charge.

Quickly, Matt remembered how important huge amounts of early morning strong coffee are to me. I was quickly reminded that though Matt gets up early (not MY early but earlier than most arise) he is not fit for human consumption until well after he has showered, eaten, had coffee and truly awakened. We re-learned living together; but, it was complicated by having two young boys thrown into the mix.

I am older and with grey hair; so, the boys thought I was, “Nene.” Grandma I have been and could be. So, when they called, “Nene,” I responded with a smile on my face.  We played together. Sebastian shared his cars with me and even told me I could take a couple home. I thought about that and decided to leave my favorites there with them so that I could play with them when I return. Leo, younger, was a bit unsure, but quietly settled into hugging my legs and sitting on my lap.

Our Kristin and her husband, Pat, have a three year old; so, I am comfy with little people, although I must admit, I do enjoy children more when they are completely potty trained and able to express themselves fluently using words. Leo and Sebastian were very verbal which helped considerably.  Busy parents made me welcome, and reminded me of the fun we had working together earlier in a tough environment. To be invited into the next stage of their lives was super special. Sharing their lives, seeing them grow into their new roles and being so happy together makes me smile and reminded me how special it was that a young couple was able to tolerate someone twice their age hopping into their lives every couple of weeks!

 I still miss Honduras and the friends I made there. Facebook and email make it possible to stay connected. Typing, or talking via Skype is just NOT the same. Maybe it is time for a side trip to Tegus… just one more time!
And here are the smiling Colburn family. So happy to have shared time with them.

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