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Roxanna's Weekly Message

November 30, 2020

Savor the Ordinary

After I finally sat down from a very long weekend, I breathed a sigh of relief on Sunday afternoon and put on a DVD that my cousin had edited from old family movies from the 1960’s filmed by my grandpa. My grandfather loved to take movies through the car window. Most of them look like an endless blur, followed by a random stop made to film someone standing by a sign. Grandpa also loved to film animals and endless shots of rivers or other forms of running water. Of course the reason that I am sitting through long stretches of shaky amatuer filmmaking is to see the precious minutes filled with family members who show up from time to time. They smile and wave. I can feel them smiling at me, even now.

There are new cars in grandpa's film. Dogs playing fetch. Vacation motels with vacancy signs. A lake in flood stage. Laundry day with sheets blowing in the wind. Birthday cakes, and holiday gatherings. Even some animal shows at the St. Louis Zoo featuring lions and bears. Most of the shots were taken long before I was born. The technology and the editing is unsophisticated.   But when family members long gone make an appearance, even for a brief moment, I am hooked. I remember how wonderful it was to be in their presence.

2020 has also felt like an endless blur with random stops and starts. A topsy-turvy movie that is surreal and with no real ending in sight. It, like grandpa’s movies, has featured all too brief encounters with other people. Long stretches of the mundane made bearable by special moments with friends and family... moments of togetherness pieced together with technology.

This year’s holiday movie (yes, even in the midst of a global pandemic, the family movie continues) featured me in my mask, explaining to my mother that my sister in law could not blow out candles on her birthday cake. Virus protection is necessary, even when it means disappointing your mother. It was probably a good thing that mom’s reaction was also covered by a mask. Just one more familiar tradition put on pause by COVID-19. 

I know from seeing the many social media posts by MRH staff members and families, that many new traditions have started as a result of COVID-19. While the Thanksgiving holiday looked different this year, I hope you had time to make memories anyway. I hope you remembered  to enjoy the ordinary. To celebrate and enjoy the dog playing fetch or even just doing the laundry. In the future, someone may be sitting in a darkened room eating popcorn and waiting to see your smile appear on film (or whatever media is available in the future), because you were the best part of their holiday. They won’t be watching to see the fancy new car, the trip, the park, the food, the decorations. They will likely fast forward through those… trust me. They will be waiting to see you and to remember the way your smile lit up the room.

 

 

Roxanna Mechem, Acting Superintendent

Maplewood Richmond Heights School District

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November 23, 2020

The Value of Productive Struggle

Roxanna's weekly message, November 23This week I’ve been thinking a lot about family. My uncle passed away earlier in the week and my dad, who is immune compromised and unable to be with family members, has been sending a lot of pictures and old family movie clips. It makes me smile to see the images of all eight of the siblings teasing each other and laughing across the decades. Somewhere in the background, my grandmother (who had the patience of a saint) is usually smiling or hugging one of her children. The light in her eyes always brings a smile to my face. 

On every occasion, when the eight kids, their spouses and children were crowded into my grandparent’s small house for a holiday, rowdiness would ensue. Playful teasing is both an Olympic sport and a perfected love language in my family. One sibling would accuse my grandmother of favoring another sibling. She would laugh until her whole body shook and then say, “sometimes some of your kids just need a little more love to get them through.”

I didn’t really know what that meant until I had my own children. The daily decision making started at birth. Do I let them cry themselves to sleep or should I sit up all night and rock them? How much extra support do they need right now? Should I make them persevere through this? What if I get it wrong? Now that they are adults, it really isn’t that much better. I now ask, “Do I just listen to their questions? Do they want me to give advice? Should I buy a plane ticket and fly to Florida to help them work it out?” It is difficult to know when kids need to work on resilience and independence and when they need someone to step in. I have had to learn to resist the urge to “rescue” my children when all they really need is for me to let them know that I believe they can do it.  

Heather Bailey, a wise and wonderful MRH teacher, once told me that she really grew as a teacher when she realized that she was sometimes depriving kids of “productive struggle.” She indicated that early in her career she would sometimes, in an honest effort to help her students, step in too quickly. The unintended result was to have her students become more dependent upon her rather than more independent. She understood, as did my grandmother, that sometimes kids need to wrestle with ideas and to figure things out. Kids need to understand their incredible ability to learn and grow when they persist. They also all need a person in their corner to let them know they are supported, valued, and loved. 

I’d like to think that I have managed the right balance of support and independence for my own children and also my students over the years. Like all parents, I’ve sometimes gotten the balance wrong. So now, my children tease me. I usually hear, “you let him get away with everything” or “you never let me quit the things I didn’t like doing” or “how come she got to do X but you didn’t let me do Y”. I guess I’ll have to trust, as all parents must, that I did the best I could in giving them the right amount of love and the right amount of responsibility. I still want to get on a plane every time I hear that one of them had a mishap. But I am confident that they have the skills and resilience to take care of their own problems. I am also confident that my Mom likes my brother best because she let him get away with everything. (In full disclosure, I just wrote this part because she hates it when I say that. Somewhere she is rolling her eyes as she reads this. Remember: playful teasing is our love language.)

Roxanna Mechem, Acting Superintendent

Maplewood Richmond Heights School District

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November 16, 2020

Grateful

Roxanna's weekly message.Last Friday, after the stress of the week, I drove to a Missouri state park for a few days of camping. I sat by the campfire alone for several hours and watched the stars. I was mesmerized by the flames. I fell asleep happy. By Saturday morning, I felt like the weight of the world had dropped from my shoulders. I was grateful for the time to myself.  

I got up and accomplished my ritual of making coffee over the campfire. Feeling energized, I headed down the camp road for a brief walk. I noticed a man at a campsite across the way, and waved good morning. About the same time, a large German Shepherd came charging up to me.  It lunged at my shoe (luckily I was already in my hiking boots, so no bite), and knocked me down. I saw its snapping teeth close to my face about the same time I realized I had hit my hip, my elbow, and the back of my head simultaneously. Adrenaline was surging as I tried to decide what to do. Within minutes the owner had the dog, uttered a brief “I’m sorry” and disappeared.  Meanwhile, I picked myself up and tried to reorient myself to my surroundings. Another camper came running to check on me and to make sure I could get back to my campsite. I was grateful that I wasn’t seriously injured and grateful for the assistance.

Because I had gone to the woods intending to hike on Saturday, and because I am stubborn, I insisted that my husband join me. We managed only two miles, because I was pretty sore. So instead of continuing, we headed back to the campsite and decided it would be relaxing to sit in the lounge chairs and read. He had just fallen asleep and I was checking on our fire when a random gust of wind caught the awning of our camper, snapped the brackets and blew it over the roof. Suddenly I had a broken awning that was still attached to my RV (and inconveniently on the roof). We had no idea what to do. Thankfully, two neighbors appeared out of nowhere.  One was an experienced awning installer! They took charge, had the damaged awning removed, and confirmed there was no additional harm to our camper. I was so grateful for their willingness to step in and make sure we were okay and settled.

At that point, I really needed some stress relief, so I suggested that we go to the riverbank and watch the water roll by. We walked a while and stood on the sandbank and discussed our family and what Thanksgiving will look like for us this year. I was grateful for the many blessings we have received this year despite its ups and downs. I was grateful for the many years of celebrations we have had. True, I was still a little sad and a little anxious about the dog, about the awning, and about not getting to see all the family members this year or celebrate in the way we are accustomed. But at the end of the day, I was okay. I was whole. Somewhat battered, a little disappointed, a little overwhelmed, but still standing. Not only standing, but looking at a beautiful sunset by a beautiful river with the one I love. I was grateful.

In the coming days leading up to Thanksgiving, I challenge you to look beyond the immediate difficulties and practice gratitude. We have much to be thankful for.

Roxanna Mechem, Acting Superintendent

Maplewood Richmond Heights School District

 

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November 9, 2020

Technology

In my household, we have a love/hate relationship with technology. I am proficient in a wide variety of Microsoft Office and Google products to manage communication and workflow. I can use technology to solve problems and acquire helpful information. I view technology as a tool to get work done efficiently and effectively. I don’t, however, use technology very frequently for entertainment. I don’t need to have the latest technology on the market. In fact, I prefer the quiet, outdoor nature spaces as a way to relax and spend leisure time. The more unplugged I am, the better for me.

My husband is a gadget guy. He loves to check out the latest technology. We have a programmable coffee pot, a TV that requires three remotes to operate, all manner of novelty watches, phone apps, electronic gopher repellents (yes, we really have electronic stakes in our yard that emit high frequency sounds which I can hear every time I try to work in the garden), and various other items that he swears will make our lives easier. Most of the items I don’t know how to operate. If I’m honest, I’m not sure I want to operate many of them. Over the years he has made grand gestures of buying me trending technology. He is frequently disappointed when I am not equally excited or leave the gadget in a drawer. My daughter now has my smart watch, because it was too stressful for me to have my email delivered to my wrist. Right now, for self care, I need the separation. The last thing I want is more screen time, more passwords, more connectivity sequences to remember.

As I think about MRH families during this long period of virtual learning, I imagine that just like in my household, preferences and needs of individuals are very different. Based on feedback from families, we know that some individuals are thriving in the online environment and others are starving for a good old face to face conversation. I imagine that like me, many of you are finding a balance of life activities away from the television and computer screens as often as you can. Technology is currently a lifeline to the outside world, but it also isn’t necessarily healthy to sit constantly in front of a screen. 

Know that finding the right balance of online and offline learning opportunities is an ongoing conversation among your child’s teachers. While some form of blended learning environment (blend of face to face and computer-based learning) is likely to continue well into the future, our current reality of COVID-19 has made finding a balance more difficult. The U.S. Department of  Education has recently released a Parent and Family Digital Learning Guide. Since I just expressed that the last thing I would want to do at the end of a long day is deal with unnecessary complications, I’ll give you a very abbreviated preview. The guide suggests that digital learning is best when it is personalized, taking into account individual student’s learning needs. It should also be competency-based, setting clear learning expectations. Finally, the digital settings should keep students connected by providing opportunities for support and community.

We have worked hard as a faculty to make sure that our educational program meets these goals. We know that our efforts toward virtual learning are not perfect. In the next few weeks you can expect  to be asked to complete a survey about your first quarter experience, so that you and your child can let us know how we are doing. We truly want to know how we might better serve you. Additionally, you will receive a letter announcing the launch of the MRH itsLearning Parent Portal.  This new parent portal account will allow you to have access to information about your child(ren)’s learning from a single account. A video tutorial will also be provided to help you navigate. We hope this makes your role in supporting your child just a little bit easier.

This has been a hard year to be an educator and also a harder year to be a parent. But together, we are continuing to support our students to the best of our ability. We hope that MRH is helping to provide stability and care in uncertain times. In the midst of everything, remember that it is not only okay but necessary to unplug. Read a book. Take a walk in the woods. Turn off the noise and laugh together. Bake a cake. Unplugged time is necessary for me, and hopefully also provides a little joy for you. I will leave you with a final parting tip for a happier household. If your loved one buys you a gadget, you might want to make an effort to use it before it disappears into the junk drawer, even if, especially if, you have no idea what it is for or why you would ever need it. Because what can feel overwhelming and unnecessary was meant with love.

Roxanna Mechem, Acting Superintendent 

Maplewood Richmond Heights School District

 

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