Northeast Park (4630 East Bay Drive, Largo, FL 33764) is a City of Largo park tucked away from the busyness of East Bay. I can imagine the playground gets more use when parents are playing basketball or roller hockey on its concrete-jungle courts (they close at 11pm), but on a weekday morning we saw no one. Pine trees provided needed shade cover for the playground equipment, which varied from the usual swings and slides.
We loved the zip line swing that is the focal point of the playground. A challenge to get up the platform because of its steepness (teamwork with Henry allowed the ramping up to happen; he did a running Superman and then leapt and grabbed onto the rail, which allowed me to haul him up the rest of the way), it was totally worth it to hear the boys’s giggles as they swung down the first big drop and were whipped around the corners. They did a great job of taking turns.
They also ascended the yellow mountain climber, which required help for Elliot and panicking by Henry that he couldn’t do it (even though he did). It was a different type of climbing because they had to move sideways without great handgrips. A small jungle gym that looked older than the other equipment was quickly climbed, then forgotten. The boys liked the merry-go-round (safer than the one at Largo Central), but didn’t ask to be lifted up for the bigger kid spinner. Elliot, of course, loved the swings, but didn’t like only having baby swings as an option. I guess the zip line swing is supposed to provide all the swinging fun needed for bigger kids. Finally, my kids tested the workout equipment made for adults, which looks like it was recently installed.
Dislikes: On our most recent visit I saw an abandoned car in the overflow parking with a lot of gear (plus a bike). I saw no one else at the park while I was there. Previously (more than 3 years ago), the trails were overgrown and littered with needles and other trash. I didn’t try to take a stroll this time around because of that. Additionally, my kids ended up getting filthy dirty from the park because there is no mulch or other ground cover. It’s pretty much pine needles over Florida black sandy soil. Dirtiness doesn’t really bother me, but it was a LOT.
Overall, I’m sure we will return this summer because that zip line swing was so unusual and fun, but I don’t think we will regularly go (unless the boys ask).
Currently, we have an embarrassment of riches checked out from the local library. I tallied them up, and we have 25 children’s books checked out! Some are graphic novels/chapter books for Henry to practice his reading aloud, but the majority are gorgeous picture books I have been hoarding (but know I’ll have to let them go eventually). Isn’t it funny how fantastic books become part of your self? I think my kids are starting to grasp that, especially when they ask for certain ones to be read over and over and over and over again. Since summer vacation is rapidly approaching (last day of school is in less than one week – EEP!), I thought I’d share current books my kids are loving, and then do periodic updates this summer.
I’d love it if you shared ones your kids can’t put down. I’m always on the hunt for beautiful, thoughtful, silly, and empowering books for my littles. I hope you enjoy our picks, in alphabetical order by author’s last name:
Rot, the Cutest in the World! by Ben Clanton
Carmela Full of Wishes by Matt de la Peña
The Library Dragon & Martina the Beautiful Cockroach, both by Carmen Agra Deedy
I have a secret.Sometimes I want to not care about things happening in our world today. It would be easier. I’d have more time for fun. I could be frivolous at will. Maybe I would live in the moment more easily than I do now. Certainly, it would be a relief to live in a bubble free from deep thoughts and anything unpleasant that didn’t directly affect me. Society’s problems would not disappear, but it wouldn’t matter because as a member of the white population in the United States I’m super privileged.
But this indifference to others is not me. I hope for a more peaceful world, and understand that I need to actively participate to create change in it. I care beyond what’s happening in my immediate world.
I care so much it makes me cry tears of rage and sorrow when yet another white male perpetrates a school shooting and kids are killed in the line of fire or while protecting their classmates. The papers call the murdered ones heroes, but that’s not the right word – martyrs would be better. We don’t have to continue our complicity and keep allowing our children to be murdered in mass shootings. We can change the laws by providing better access to (and quality of) mental health care and limiting gun rights in the name of public safety. The Florida legislature’s response (besides its usual thoughts and prayers) to all this of arming teachers – it will not help. Kids deserve and need to feel safe and protected at school. If their teachers are carrying, they are inherently unsafe. Guns do not belong in classrooms with students.
Another facet of education that I wish I didn’t care about is the world of high-stakes testing. My kids aren’t old enough for the FSA, and the incredible pressure that comes along with it. I feel anxious for their future selves because I know how terrible it feels to bomb a single test that determines whether you get to move on to the next grade (or get into a top tier law school). I am a mediocre test taker when only given one shot to prove myself. I may know the material backwards and forwards, but my anxiety causes me to freeze up, misread questions, and panic. And I’m an adult. Now think about how kids feel when faced with the FSA.
We fail our students when we submit them to testing that is designed in the name of education reform but is truly created to destroy the great equalizer that is public education. Tests are rigged so a certain percentage of students fail, which allows the government to label schools as failing. Parents rightfully become upset and begin looking for a way out through vouchers and for-profit charter schools that are publicly funded with our tax dollars (siphoning off money from public school systems) but with less (or no) public oversight. I have family and friends who send their kids to these programs because they view the public schools as broken. They aren’t wrong. They want what’s best for their children. We all do. But as a collective society, if some kids are slipping through the cracks it is our duty to look out for them and lift them back up.
The current inequity in our public schools is astounding, but it can be fixed. Rozella Haydée White’s new book, Love Big: The Power or Revolutionary Relationships to Heal the World, contains a roadmap for seeking peace through moving toward justice. She “define[s] justice as equitable access to resources that provide people with the ability and agency to create a life of meaning. Working toward justice requires dismantling any system, ideology, or institution that promotes inequity….Justice becomes a reality when we recognize that we need one another. When we become justice seekers and peace bearers we recognize that our lives are inextricably linked. What one person does, thinks, or even believes affects another.”
As I read her words, it clicked that I have been actively working through this philosophy of peace and justice through my membership with FAST. Over the past two years I’ve become increasingly involved with its youth suspensions and arrests committee where we have researched and learned that if restorative justice practices (RP) are properly implemented in our schools, students and teachers succeed. Behavior issues are handled with student accountability and compassion, giving kids a toolbox to deal with the big emotions they feel on the daily. This in turn allows teachers to spend more time teaching the material and keeps kids in the classroom versus being removed, suspended, or arrested for disciplinary issues. Teacher retention rates in schools using RP methods are higher (but we still need to pay them what they are worth, an entirely different battle).
Changing the culture in public education is difficult, but I truly believe RP is the real game changer into creating an inclusive culture where all students feel heard and wanted as assets in their classrooms. Because I truly believe this transformation needs to happen, I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone and feel uncomfortable. With FAST, I flew to Louisville to learn about RP from a school district that is effectively implementing the initiative. Earlier this year, I spoke directly to school board members not only at meetings but also in front of a crowd of 2500+. This scared me because I’m uncomfortable speaking in public…not only the everyone’s eyes on me part but also my need to deliver my message perfectly using the correct words with the proper gestures and presence. I want to convince people this matters, and I know my discomfort is nothing compared to what kids face at school. So I woman up, lean in, and demand change to make the system more equitable.
I’m not an expert in any of this. I’m a parent who believes that public schools offer the best chance for all kids to become the people they are meant to be. I care, and I want others to take responsibility in creating change, too. Don’t you?