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School Is Back in Session. How Can You Help?

by on September 03, 2019 5:00 AM

School started for State College students on Aug. 26 and for the first time in 21 years we didn't have a first-day-of-school photo with a Battista child. While our youngest son Ryan did start Penn State classes that day, it was a bittersweet morning shared only with our family dog, Barkley, on our front door stoop.  Where has the time gone?

It was in some ways a first day of school for me as I spoke at Philipsburg-Osceola Area School District that afternoon to deliver their in-service day kickoff speech.  My message to the more than 200 teachers, staff and administrators was simple: “You are difference-makers!” Everyone involved in the education process has the opportunity to make a huge impact on the lives of our local students whether its kindergarten or 12th grade.

This is a reminder that education is a team sport and it requires the attention and the efforts of the students, parents, school employees and the general public. Our educational institutions need our help if we are to help kids reach their potential. Our teachers need our support. Educating a child creates a return on investment where everyone benefits. The question is, how can you help?

Well here are some friendly reminders now that school is back in session in most school districts:

1. Stop for buses! This issue is so perplexing to me. Why would drivers ignore a stopped school bus with red flashing lights and stop signs extended?  No excuses, folks. It’s the law.

2. Watch for kids running out into the street, and not just when you are near school buses. Kids don’t always pay attention regardless of whether they are wearing AirPods, headphones or simply staring at their cell phones. Be on the defensive, especially when you are around school zones and bus stops.

3. Be supportive, encouraging, and get involved in the local schools — and I am not just talking about the parents of current students. Even if you don’t have a child in school you can still volunteer as a mentor, as a guest lecturer in a class, or serving on various committees. Make a book donation to the school library in somebody’s name. Volunteer for the PTO. When the kids show up at your door for a school fundraiser, make sure you contribute. Go and support the local school play, musical, academic competitions and athletic teams.

Despite not having a student at State High, we made the trek over to the temporary football field on the south side of the school to show our support for the Little Lions on Friday.  Because we took our dog with us, we had to watch from up on the hill behind the temporary bleachers and through the fence. Not ideal seats, but based on the number of students who came up to visit Barkley, it was the right decision to bring him along. The State High team didn’t disappoint as they came from behind to defeat St. Augustine Prep from New Jersey.  It was a classic back-and-forth high school football game with the Little Lions hanging on to win 20-17. Kudos to the State High athletics and operations staffs for pulling off the staging of the game on the South Track field while Memorial Stadium undergoes its renovations.

At the game we ran into Corl Street Elementary School teacher and long-time friend Pat Shoffner and her husband, Dan, walking their dog. We had a nice chat about our kids and how great Corl Street school was to them all. Pat relayed the story of how the code inspectors were literally at the newly renovated facility the day before school started. While not ideal, Pat did manage to get close to 30 boxes of supplies into her room and for the most part was set up and ready to begin.  She is a wonderful teacher and an even better person.

On Saturday, my wife and I went on a bike ride to get coffee and baked oatmeal at Good Day Cafe in Hamilton Plaza.  On our way there we ran into friend and Corl Street kindergarten teacher Katie Shoemaker. It was another chance for us to talk about days gone by and the wonderful times our kids had growing up in our neighborhoods. We are so fortunate to have had three children go through Corl Street Elementary. We are very happy that the district chose to renovate this neighborhood school so that future generations can experience what our kids did, and then some, in the beautiful newly refurbished building.

Why is it, you might ask, that I am so sentimental and supportive toward educators? Because I have never forgotten the many teachers who helped me during my formative years. I have written in this column in the past about my fifth-grade teacher, Mr. Frank Kologie, and ninth grade health teacher, Coach Bob Ford, what an incredible impact they have had on my life and that I am still in touch with them to this day. I am sure you can think of teachers and coaches who have had the same impact. That is why it’s so important to let them know how much of a difference they have made to you (before it’s too late).

Remember to thank the teachers in your life and teach your kids to have respect for their teachers and to say thank you often.  Don’t forget the cafeteria, operations and administrative staff as well.

Get involved! Don’t just sit back and gripe about school issues. Attend a school board meeting, learn why decisions are being made and speak up. Volunteer and consider donating to the school district in your area. Everyone benefits when our education system is operating at peak potential.  

For those of us fortunate to live in Centre County we also have the opportunity to support the local university. Penn State is always looking for volunteer guest instructors who can talk about real life experiences and to act as mentors for the current students.  We are also blessed with a wide variety of activities, shows, lectures, and sporting events to attend. For those of you that are 50 or older you can take advantage of one or more of the 300 Osher Lifelong Learning Institute courses offered on campus. 

Learning is for life. We should never underestimate the significance of a good education and the impact it can make on individuals and society as a whole. All it takes is for one person to care to possibly change someone’s life for the better and make an impact that lasts forever.

Don’t ask what your school can do for you, but what you can do for your school.

For the first time in 21 years, there was no back-to-school photo for the Battista family, just  morning on the front stoop with Barkley the dog. Photo by Joe Battista

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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