How Would An Advocate Help?

So, if I want to be an advocate and I think that an advocate is necessary, how would an advocate help?

What I have learned in the last few years is that there are many programs, organizations, and individuals working to help teens. There are so many great people in schools, churches, youth centers, and other places to help teens. However, nearly all of us work in isolation. We work within larger organizations that focus much more widely than teens so we and the teens we work with get lost in the shuffle. Many of us work alone and try to create programs and gather resources from the ground up and wear ourselves out in the process.

I believe that a larger effort focused exclusively on teens could coordinate these efforts, connect the advocates, locate resources, and research the most successful programs. We could be more successful together.

Here’s how I would like to help:

Voter reg at YA Book Fests and other spaces.  

-I have contacted 2 Teen Book Festivals myself to ask them if they could have voter registration available and have been told that all of their exhibitor space was taken.

Help to find legal resources for teens.

Advocate for better and more widely available mental health services and health services.

Research the best ways to help kids make the transition from childhood to adulthood happily, sanely, and confidently. How do they do it in other countries?

Coordinate and more deliberately program events and opportunities for teens to hear from the people who care about them – i.e. YA writers, educators, youth advocates. Events where teens can learn about opportunities and get support from each other.

Help with employment and financial security resources- also with child care resources and food security which are a major concern for so many teens.

We could be more successful together in a community of advocates if we were connected.

That’s what I want to do.


Donate here:

Help Me Become a Teen Advocate


Why Do Teens Need An Advocate?

So, I’ve been thinking about this for such a long time. I’ve worked with teens for years and I’ve raised teens and am doing so still. Teens are unique. They need a voice and adults who will raise their voices.


Here’s why:


First, teens are different than children. In my experience, children are “easier.” They’re an easier sell because they’re small, they’re cute, they’re funny. They can’t make decisions for themselves. Their parents, guardians, teachers, and others make decisions for them. As long as they’re safe and can play, they’re usually happy. They have many advocates. Expectations for them are flexible and their path to happiness is varied. They are allowed to try many activities and are praised for their efforts.


Teens are not children. Do they have things in common with children? Sure. They no legal standing until they’re 18 when nearly all adult responsibility is dropped on them in one fell swoop. Unlike children, they’re not willing to accept “because I say so” as a reason anymore. They have way more responsibilities. They can drive, choose some of their classes, decide on their career and college interests, and have sex. They are big. They sometimes smell bad and sometimes say ugly hurtful things that they really mean. They have very few pure advocates and they face multiple gatekeepers in every aspect of their lives.


Second, teens are not adults. They can’t truly make decisions for themselves. They have increased responsibilities, but their freedoms don’t increase at the same rate. They’re told that they have to have their whole life’s path figured out by the time they turn 18, and at the same time face the pressures of high academic and social expectations. They have complicated families and family responsibilities. They’re not usually free to do what they want or to say what they want because their spheres of expression are usually limited to home and school. They don’t have their own spaces.


The usual response to the challenges that teens face is something like, “Ugh, everybody is miserable in middle/high school.” The greatest expectation people have for adolescence is that a kid survives it to actually “start their lives.” There’s no transition period. A kid goes from the fun and play of childhood to the control and stress of middle and high school to the freedom and dangers of adulthood/college with no gradual release or official expectations for increased responsibilities.


How can we be surprised when they struggle? Why do we just accept that they will struggle as a matter of fact?


I really want to change the way we view adolescence. I want to do it by working with teens and asking them what they need. I don’t have any interest in telling them what to do. It’s time to be an advocate and an ally, not an authority.


I need your help to get there.

Please share the link below. Please donate. We’ve raised $220 so far. Let’s keep it going! 

Donate Here to Help Me Become a Teen Advocate
Please Donate to Help Me Become a Teen Advocate


About Last Week…


I have shied away from writing about my own teenage children that I made myself in this space. They have a right to their privacy and I don’t want to violate that. I love them and respect them and their independence, even if they are THE WOSRT™.


Last week, though was out of control and this story is more about the world that teenagers have to face than my kids specifically.


Back in the olden days of the late 80s, the biggest threat I faced while attending high school was getting caught up in a hallway fight, or being written up for being tardy to class. My friends and I faced all the normal friendship and social challenges that every adolescent faces and I had to stare down the dysfunction of my home life, but school was predictable, regular, and even boring. Go to class. See friends. Take tests. Repeat.


Today is very different.

My boys Carl 17 and Lance 14 attend a suburban Virginia Secondary School. The school houses students from grade seven through twelve and has over nearly 4,000 students in total.


The boys like the school very much, are involved in activities, sports, and clubs, and are generally happy there.


Last week though….


Monday – 4/16 No school. There was a workday for teachers to end the third quarter. The boys slept late and relaxed.


Tuesday – 4/17 A student was on PCP in the library.


Wednesday – 4/18 A student brought and distributed pot brownies to friends. Lance, a freshman, came home and told me he had heard that a student had brought a gun to school. I assured him that we would have heard something from the school if that were true.


Thursday – 4/19 The boys arrive at school to find a huge security presence. Security staff, police officers, and others are all over the building. The word is that some boys had told friends that they planned to shoot up the pep rally that was scheduled for that afternoon. (Why would any school hold a pep rally on a Thursday at the end of the day?) I start getting frantic and panicked texts from both boys. I start calling the attendance line at school to tell them that they boys are leaving school RIGHT NOW. I’m communicating with the boys and my husband through frantic texts and phone calls. April 19 is the anniversary of Waco and the Oklahoma City Bombing, so I am always nervous that day. The boys leave school at 9:30 am along with many of their fellow students. It’s not remotely worth risking their lives. We receive an email late that afternoon from the school saying that there was a threat, but that it’s been investigated and deemed not credible. We are not reassured.


Friday – 4/20 After much consideration and trepidation, the boys go back to school. It’s the anniversary of Columbine and the day of a national walkout to protest lax gun laws. I get a call from Lance at about 9:30, “Mom, there’s a fire at school, and I can’t find Carl.” He found Carl and we found out that the fire was the result of a student setting fire to a toilet paper dispenser in one of the bathrooms. The students are terrified and angry, and those feelings are going to get discharged somehow. Setting fire to some toilet paper seems pretty mild.


How much do you think these kids learned last week? Academically? Absolutely nothing.


However, they did learn again that their school is a place to be fearful. It’s a place where violence is threatened. It’s a place that they need to flee to avoid dying.


I don’t ever remember feeling unsafe at Hampton High School. Never. The only thing I remember fearing was embarrassment and getting poor grades. That’s it. I only fled the school to go to McDonalds or 7-11 for something incredibly unhealthy to eat or to take my friends to a comic books store or home.


I do know this: My sons have been changed by last week. They have been stripped of any sense of security in the place where their minds should be open and relaxed to learn. Their teachers and other adults cannot keep the safe. We have let my kids and all the other kids in this country down. No school has been untouched by gun violence. Schools are now all places where a shooting might happen. They are places where angry, frightened children and teens spend much of their time focused primarily on surviving their day. They are buildings full of people who don’t have control over their safety or their emotions.


School is absolutely and fundamentally not safe.


My husband asked, “Why can’t they just Skype into their classes from home?”


My sons want to know what to do with their overwhelming emotions and they want to know why these things are allowed to happen.


I don’t know what to tell them.


I got in touch with my local Moms Demand Action for Common Sense Gun Laws chapter and told them I want to be more involved. I’ve joined the Events Committee and will be pursuing more places and spaces to mobilize people to demand that lawmakers protect our kids and their schools.


It’s a start.



I Need Your Help To Change the World

So, what have I been doing?

I certainly haven’t been posting here.


I’ve been bogged down in the “daily-ness” of life and have’t put in the time to be here and say what I want to say.

I’ve been frustrated.


While I love blogging here and communicating with you all, I’ve been frustrated that I haven’t been able to affect any REAL change.

I want to do more, say more, and make a difference. I want to make change, be a voice for teens, and more importantly help them find their voices. I can’t do it alone and I can’t do it by wishing I could. I need your help.

For several years, I have dreamed of attending the  Children’s Defense Fund’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry in Tennessee. Here is their description from the website.

“Movement-building is hard work. We can’t do it alone. We can’t do it virtually. One generation alone can’t get it done. We need each other and deep spiritual sustenance to keep going and create the just world our children deserve. CDF’s Proctor Institute is where we can sing and pray, strategize and struggle, organize and advocate, and share our stories—our hurts and hopes, pain and passion for justice, in Beloved Community. The spiritual home of the children’s movement, the Proctor Institute on the storied grounds of CDF Haley Farm is where we refresh and renew to that we can continue the hard, hopeful, sacred work of realizing Dr. King’s vision for every child and ending child poverty. Plan now to join us, July 16-20. We can’t wait to welcome you home.”

If I want to build a movement, I can’t do it alone.

I need allies and mentors. I will need connections to the world of advocates and movement building.

Every year, I want to attend and every year, money is short. I want this year to be different.

I’m taking a risk and asking for your help. Please consider donating to help me attend this incredible Institute where I can learn and gain skills to begin and sustain a movement for teen voice.

I promise you, I will make the most of it.

But I need your help.

Donations are greatly needed and so is sharing. The more people who are involved, the better!

Thank you so much.

Help Me Become a Teen Advocate


Weekly Inspriation 9/10

Image result for be the person you needed when you were younger

I am not sure how I have not seen this quotation until this week, but it definitely inspires me. I don’t know if it’s attributed to anyone in particular, so I can’t properly cite it. If anyone knows of its origin, please tell me.

What a fantastic edict to issue. Working with and parenting teenagers can make me feel rather helpless. I’d like to step up like a superhero, put my fists on my hips and strike a power pose. Then announce, “I am here for you, young person! How can I solve this for you?”

Of course, that would be nearly the worst thing I could do. Instead, living as a steady presence, being available, and taking the time to form a relationship with teens is a much better way to help them. If you’ve done that, you can easily step in and help in a crisis, since you’re trusted. Just showing up every day and doing something to say, “I see you there. I have noticed that you are here. You are not invisible.” makes a huge difference.

Go forth this week and be the empathetic, understanding, accepting, and kind person that you wish you’d have encountered when you were young. We’ll make the world better that way…

I found this image here https://www.creativefabrica.com/product/be-the-person-you-needed-when-you-were-young/ through a google search



How Are Teens Supposed to Transition to Adulthood?

Hi there! I haven’t been posting here at the Hippodilly Circus lately, I know, but I have been thinking, which is always dangerous. Recently, I’ve experienced something of a eureka moment, and has given me a focus for writing here, which I plan to do much more often.

In my work as a teacher and now librarian as well as my life as a parent of 20, 16, and 14 year old kids, I have been thinking more and more about the “culture of teenagers” and how Americans think about and treat teens. Most American adults think little of or about teenagers. One search on google of “Teens” returns results about drugs, pregnancy, crime, and prison. Teens in groups are nearly always seen as threatening and to be avoided. Teen’s interests: music, books, films, and activities are dismissed as frivolous and childish.

I believe that this systemic judgment of people just because they are too old to be considered children and too young to be considered adults is patently unfair and has real and damaging consequences for everyone.

This is the “big idea” that I want to address here on this blog. Having a kind of essential question I believe will focus my writing and research and help me process the frustration I feel about how teenagers are treated.


Here are some of my thoughts.


-There is no transition for teenagers in this country – formal or otherwise. Teens go from having no choices – in their classes, the way they spend their time, etc. no real autonomy, to having full responsibility for everything when they leave high school for work or college. If they do have any freedom as teens, in their time and where they go, there’s nothing for them to do. There are no “places” for teenagers. The “adult world” wants nothing to do with them and doesn’t even want to see them anywhere. With nowhere to be and not much to do, many teenagers get into trouble or break rules/laws to entertain themselves. Barring that, they isolate themselves from the adult world and relate and spend time only with other teenagers. Some turn even more inward and mental health, relationships, and their self esteem plummet.


Then, many teens are punished and judged for not having the skills and temperament to navigate and be successful in the adult world.


As far as I can tell, nobody really thinks about teenagers, except as consumers and test takers to be managed. Yes, that may be a severe way to put it, but I really think it’s true.. There is a great deal of research, time and money spent on education – i.e. content knowledge shoved into them and “managing their behavior” i.e. alternative schools, discipline, and forcible conformity. There really seems to be no effort or interest in the structures that teens have to operate within and how those structures are set up for their failure.


I mean, high school has nothing to do with life. There are no programs to guide students into managing their lives and themselves, just a list of rules and batteries of tests. Then, after graduation, there’s nothing – no outside support, no assistance with managing and navigating the world. In a society where most parents and guardians work and no adult is home full time, eighteen year olds are just expected to move out and have their worlds organized without much support and without transition time.


I also wonder if other countries or cultures have processes for transitioning their young people through adolescence. I’d love to find out.


I don’t know where this idea or interest would take me. It could be a book, a thesis, or a presentation. I don’t have any solutions, but I think that it’s important. There are likely a million different factors that have contributed to our view and treatment of teens, and I am interested in finding out about them. There are also people who fight for and with teens, and I want to find them and learn what’s working.


It’s a lot, but it gives me a focus. I can start researching and finding out what’s going on “out there” and advocating. I think it’s the rabbit hole I belong in for a while.


I would really like your input. Let me know what you think. Let me know of programs, ideas, or people who are working in this



School Year Crunch…

We’ve reached the crazy point.  Teachers and students feel it acutely. Family members of teens feel it, too, though they may not know just what they’re feeling. Teens are sulkier, angrier, and more sleep deprived than they’ve been all school year.

The end of school is coming.

In elementary school it’s the most wonderful time of the year. The time of school plays, assemblies, field trips, and end-of-year field days and parties.

In high school, the end is nigh and none of it’s fun.

First, there are the grades. Grades are dependent on the end of term tests, state testing, and end of year projects. All of my kids seem to have roughly two thousand of these tasks due in the coming weeks. They are stressful and feel enormous. Kids learn fast how to BS to make the word count requirements, to read their teachers’ minds when the directions are painfully confusing, and to not get suspended for losing their patience with students who are supposed to contribute to their group projects.

Next, there are the outside of school activities which ramp up. Prom, which practically requires a bank loan and a full time event planner for some teens is stressful and a huge production. Then, there are after school rehearsals, practices, and other extra “fun” things like sports banquets and never ending awards ceremonies.

All of these activities and requirements, like seemingly all teen “milestones,” come with unreachable expectations for everyone. Teachers expect that their students will wow them with amazing research, presentations, performances, and writing. Parents expect that their children will take their opportunities to shine and make everyone proud. Teens expect to experience John Hughes’ film level “life changing moments” full of romance, best friends, bullies realizing their errors, and long held grudges – dropped.

We know what happens when the reality meets the expectation. There are all-nighters to finish projects and to study for tests. There are scrambles to retrieve forgotten concert attire to the performances. The sleep deprivation leads to everyone having greatly diminished coping skills and meltdowns. Nothing seems to go right. Everyone ends up stressed.

Except if they’re lucky, teens have families and friends who are ready to help them see the long game and celebrate the small momentary victories with ice cream sundaes for dinner or a movie night. They get to dance with their friends and sing on stage.  Their projects and tests may not set any new grading records, but they get finished. The school year ends, and we get to start again after the summer. Hopefully those without support at home will find a way. Hopefully they’ll find support somewhere or find the strength to push themselves through.

So, I’m reminding you as much as I am reminding myself. Nothing that happens in the next six weeks will determine the rest of a teenagers life. Give yourself and everyone else a break.

You’re doing fine, and summer is coming…


The Road to the Library Has Been Full of Thorns and Potholes (and it’s not over, yet)    


It’s been a hard-fought journey, folks. Initially, all I wanted to be was an English teacher. I had some amazing English teachers in my high school career who let me explore literature and make up my own mind about what I read and how I “analyzed” it. I became an English major because I loved to read and nothing excited me more than a good book.

After my kids were all in school, I decided to go back to school to earn my MEd. In Secondary Education, English. It was long and expensive journey, and student teaching was a truly horrible experience, but I made it.

Then I found it very difficult to get a job as an English teacher. My first gig was teaching one 7th grade remedial reading class, one 8th grade remedial reading class, one Peer Mediation class (for which I had no interest or background), one 7th grade remedial MATH class, and one 8th grade remedial MATH class. I was hired two weeks before school started and I was given no classroom. It was completely crazy. I hadn’t taken a math class since 1988 when I dropped trigonometry to take painting the next semester with Coach Mann. I was the only option for them and they were the only option for me, so I took it on.

I don’t know if I did a very good job, but I jumped at it and I really enjoyed the kids. I even enjoyed the ones who drove me nuts. The rest of the staff at the school were fantastic, and I made some great friends. It was a fun and challenging year. Each class I taught was only a semester long, so I didn’t get to know the kids as well as I would have liked, but it was great. The next year, I taught the remediation reading classes and three sections of a remediation writing class. It was great. I taught remediation reading full time for the next two years. Then, I decided that I wanted a change.

What nobody told me about teaching is how bizarrely lonely it actually is. Because I was a remediation teacher of electives, I was not able to attend any department meetings where I would have been able to talk to adults and compare notes on what was working or not working and how to do my job better. I didn’t have any opportunity to collaborate with anyone. I cycled between time with 15 frustrated, energetic, and entertaining teenagers to time in my classroom completely alone. Everyone in the building was so busy with their own classes and planning that I ended up alone, unless… I ventured into the library. Ms. McKnight was often there and not too busy to talk books, gossip, or just listen. She seemed to know what was going on in the building, she always had ideas for teaching, and she got to spend her days surrounded by all those books!

I left public school and spent a year working in a private school that I thought would be revolutionary and different. It was one of the hardest nine months of my life. The school had only sixteen students and touted “individualized” education. Our Head of School was dramatically and for fabricated reasons fired during the second week of school. The whole school year was an exercise in working for under horrible, terrifying, and destructive circumstances while trying to work with students and parents. By May of last year, we were told that the school was bankrupt and couldn’t pay us our last 3 months of salary. The parents all gave more money than was reasonable and paid us directly, and the School for Tomorrow collapsed.

I started taking courses for my Library Media Specialist endorsement last January through UVA Wise online. I took two classes in the Spring and had three courses left for the fall. I spent August through December of 2016 taking three courses, through three Universities using three different course platforms – Moodle, Blackboard, and Collab – as well as completing a semester long practicum.  So, I had to take and pay for fifteen credit hours on my own dime.

It was so much work.

I also managed to get hired at an Elementary School as their librarian. There is a shortage of qualified librarians in Fairfax County Public Schools. I was the school’s only option, basically and they mine. I began work and training as a new librarian, but soon there were complications.

Because the school is a Title 1 school, I had to be hired as a substitute because I didn’t have my endorsement finished, I am not “highly qualified” despite my MEd. In Secondary Education – English. I was hired as a long term sub, but soon figured out that I was being paid as a short term sub – $14.63/hour. That’s a pay cut of enormous proportions, and I still had to pay for my courses.

The fight began to get me paid as long term sub at $20.14/hour. It was confusing and long, but I am now paid at that rate, but of course only for the days we have school and for some reason I only get paid for 7 hours/day. My last paycheck was $495 because – Winter Break.

Anyway, so all of my paperwork for my endorsement (the additional license I need to be a librarian) has been sent to the Virginia Department of Education.  It’s been there for two weeks and it hasn’t been processed. I keep checking the website to search and see if they’ve added the endorsement to my license, but so far – nothing.

To say that I am frustrated would be a gross understatement. I want to be a librarian. I just want to work and be paid as a professional. I haven’t been able to do that for eight months now and I don’t know when I will be able to again.

It’s making me a little crazy.

Stay tuned.


Personal Achievements!

Work as an Elementary school librarian is never dull and is often hilarious.

One of the most “exciting” kindergarten classes came to the library today. It took me a while to get them to calm down and then I started reading a book to them. When I finished, I told them, “Wow, guys you did a great job. You really behaved well and you were quiet.”

One of the kids looked at me in shock and pointed his thumb at his chest and asked, “Me?”

I answered, “Yes, you too.”

He looked at his classmates ecstatically and said, “Guys! I was quiet!”


The lesson, take your achievements where you can, folks.


An idea so crazy it might work?

Well dear readers, it’s been a while. I’ve been working myself silly with starting a new job as an Elementary School librarian while at the same time, I’ve been taking three college courses from three universities which each use their own student work platform and I completed a 6 credit practicum/internship as a librarian. Suffice it to say, it was a stressful and a ton of work, but I have finished the courses and the endorsement paperwork is at the university and will hopefully be making its way through the Virginia Department of Education. Then, I will be a fully certified school librarian! Yippee!

Now that I have been working in an elementary school for many months again, I’ve started to think about preteens and kids who all become teens. In the past five years, I have been fully focused on teens as a unique age group with their own challenges and strengths.

The school where I work is a Title 1 school.  For our school, that means that 72% of our students receive free or reduced lunch and 54% are English language learners. It’s a diverse group of students in a diverse community. We have great programs that aim to help parents learn English, provide financial and counseling assistance to families, and soon we’ll have an after school program to offer enrichment to some of our students.

The library is right next to our Parent Liason’s office. She works hard every day to connect parents and students to community resources and coordinates a weekend food program for families to help them get the food they need over weekends and breaks when kids don’t receive free breakfast and lunch.

At the same time, I see parents who need more. Kids who need more support and more connection. Many of the staff at our school would like to do more to have students ready to read with a stable place to live, secure food sources, and parents who are financially secure.

What’s missing in much of this, I think is an intentional community resource. The Elementary school is where so many families who are new to this country learn customs and exchange customs with classmates and other families. It’s where some parents find help and others march on seemingly alone.

Why couldn’t our schools become centers for community resources? So many parents have to come to school to get help, ask questions, meet teachers, and other parents and even use our school based child care, wouldn’t it make sense to have a formal community center located in the school? I know that there are many resources throughout the community, but transportation to many places is so time consuming and difficult wouldn’t it make more sense to have one place that is at least a starting point to find resources? Wouldn’t that reach more families directly? It would build trust within the community and within the school community. I don’t for a second think I am the only one or the first one to think of this, but it did occur to me independently and now I can’t get it out of my head.

If we did this, we could then have similar services in middle and high schools. Resources to help families in financial need, but also to help with counseling, finding activities and mentors, and whatever else makes sense for the community where the school is located.

For one thing, many of these services already exist. One of the biggest obstacles is tracking down the information and then the people who can help.

Schools seem like exactly the right places to center family health and well-being resources. If it was the norm to go to a school to find the right help, stigmas might be erased and school staff and parents might see each other in a less adversarial way.

The more I think about this, the more strongly I feel.

We all need help. We can all offer help.

Sometimes finding each other is the hardest part.