News, notes & opinions: August 2016

I suspect your family is a lot like mine—summertime is vacation time. I also suspect, a lot like my family, that you have a go-to summer destination that has gotten a little stale.

A Buckeye in Michigan territory

I suspect your family is a lot like mine—summertime is vacation time. I also suspect, a lot like my family, that you have a go-to summer destination that has gotten a little stale.

We changed it up this year with a group of friends that has been vacationing together for a few years. We had hit Hocking Hills a few years in a row, and while we still love it there, it was time for a change. While I don’t understand this, I’m told it gets boring for kids to hike the same trails year after year.

My wife had read somewhere about the Sleeping Bear Dunes area of Michigan, which is near Traverse City on the northwest end of the state’s lower peninsula. Last year, she had a few days off during Hall of Fame time—no way I’m off work that week!—and whisked the kids up there for a couple days. She called multiple times that week to say how awesome it was, and said we had to make it back as a family. Meanwhile, I grumbled about work and about Michigan being, you know, awful.

Admittedly, I was skeptical. Some friends had spoken highly of the Traverse City area, but as a lifelong Ohioan having grown up in an extremely pro-Ohio State home, pretty much anything about the state of Michigan was going to have a hard time winning me over. The kids joked all year about what to do on vacation if Dad passed out dead when we reached the Ohio-Michigan border.

(The consensus going in was, the vacation would still go on, Dad or no Dad. My body would be left along the border, on the Ohio side, and I would be picked up on the way home).

Well, I lived past the border. And Michigan turned out to be the best family vacation we’ve had in a long time.

It’s absolutely gorgeous up there. We found the perfect mix of activities for our family, which are (and not necessarily in this order) hiking, beaches and good friends. That area of Lake Michigan is pristine, with clear blue water and beautiful sandy beaches. It really makes Ohio’s Lake Erie shore look bad. The towering sand dunes on the coast (hence the name of the area) are impressive to behold, and a lot of tough fun climbing around. We also lucked into a cabin rental that was a great price and a perfect fit for our party of 15 people. Our five days flew by, and I’m pretty sure we’re on the hook to head back next year.

Breaking out of old habits is tough—and this was particularly tough for an old Buckeye codger like me. Yes, Michigan won me over. Lesson learned on keeping an open mind.

But I still hate those annoying “Pure Michigan” ads from Tim Allen that constantly play on Ohio radio stations. And don’t get me started on Jim
Harbaugh …

—Scott Brown

Educational success despite ever-changing standards

Understanding almost anything that comes out of the offices of the Ohio Department of Education requires an advanced degree, and sometimes even those who have lots of training and experience still struggle to decipher data from Columbus.

Take state report cards, for example. The release each year of district “grades” brings applause from the districts that scored well and howls from those that didn’t. Part of the negative reaction is a reflection of superintendents around the state frustrated with a system that seemingly never stays the same from year to year—a moving target hiding in a maze.

On the bright side, we are fortunate in Stark County, especially when it comes to our high schools. No fewer than 14 of them scored either an “A” or a “B” on the latest state report cards. Whatever it is the state is looking for, kids attending Canton South, East Canton, Fairless, Jackson, Louisville, Marlington, Massillon, Northwest, Perry and Tuslaw high schools are getting it at the highest level, according to Columbus. Students at GlenOak, Hoover, Lake and Sandy Valley high schools scored one rung lower.

For decades, The Canton Repository (a sister publication of About magazine as part of the GateHouse Ohio Media family) has recognized the best and brightest high school students through its “Teen of the Month” awards. For the 2016-17 school year, GateHouse Ohio intends to expand this program to include others involved in local education through a variety of roles at all grade levels. We also hope to take the program beyond Stark County’s borders.
Details are still being worked out, but for now, suffice it to say that we want to highlight more people making a difference in our kids’ lives.

Ohio’s education system and what it asks of our kids can confuse even the most involved parents. Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t understand.

Ask questions. If the answers don’t make sense, ask again. Demand accountability from your district’s teachers, administrators and support staff.

Be thankful, for we have many, many districts doing excellent work and getting excellent results.

That’s what Columbus is telling us—at least until the standards change again.

—Rich Desrosiers

Summer’s over, but at least there’s scented markers

The end of August is an emotional roller coaster for most kids. You are bummed because an amazing summer break is ending, but you also are excited to return to school.

Back-to-school shopping is the bridge between these two worlds.

When I was a kid, I dreaded the end of August. My arms and legs would become heavier, as if I could slow down time by literally moving more slowly. This never worked.

When it finally would dawn on me that summer vacation was over, I would think to myself: “It seems like it just began. I haven’t even forgotten everything I learned last year.”

I would also feel a certain amount of dread that I had not gotten to many of the things on the “must do this summer” list I had created in my head.

“If only there was more time,” I would lament. “Think of all the things I didn’t get to poke with a stick!”

For several days, I would sulk as if life was over.

Then I’d go back-to-school shopping, and life would turn around. There’s something about a brand new set of folders featuring your favorite cartoon characters that really turns a bad mood good.

From the type of pencil box I chose (red) to the type of backpack (green JanSport), I felt like I would be judged socially for every decision. Surely, the girl I had a crush on, who I hadn’t seen all summer, would return my love when she realized that I had a set of Mr. Sketch Scented Markers.

A slight hitch in my plan was that my dad was a pharmacist. This meant that many of my school supplies came from drug company representatives who left their branded goods with my dad in the hope that he would push their drugs over a competitor’s. He wasn’t so easily swayed. What really happened was it all went into a big box, and when I announced that I needed “one of those pens that’s like six different colored pens,” he would dig around in the box and throw me one that featured a name of a drug that I couldn’t pronounce.

This would not help my social standing, unless of course a specific brand of arthritis medication suddenly became popular among the elementary school crowd. It never did.

On a side note: The girl I had a crush on did like the markers, because everyone likes Mr. Sketch Scented Markers. This led to a long love affair that lasted a whole week and featured some pretty scandalous hand holding on the bus.

Every year, these things would define me—for a few months anyway. Then the markers would dry out, and things would get lost or destroyed. I would draw all over everything. And when the school year ended, I would shed myself of these comforts as if they were mere meaningless possessions. I would cast aside my “corporate” self, lose my shoes again, pick up my pokin’ stick and return to the wild where once I came.

—Dave Manley 

Make the minutes count

When we were kids, summer seemed to fly by. It was almost as if two time equinoxes existed. There was summer, where days lasted 12 hours. And there was the rest of the year, where days lasted about 28 hours.

Let me tell you kids, once school is over, it all flies by.

I have two teenage kids, one will be a junior at GlenOak High School, and the other a senior there. My son started driving last year. My daughter will have her license soon. I took my boy on his first college visit last month, and it was quite a bonding trip for father and son. It made me think back to his first day of preschool when he started in the “Star” class at his preschool. The younger kids at the same center were in the “Apple” class.

It seems like a few months ago I could hold both of my children in my arms. Now, any time my daughter wants to snuggle on a chair, I make sure to stop what I’m doing. When you get older, you have to steal those moments and hope there is another one like it … some day.

There will be plenty to read in this issue about going back to school. There are clothes to buy, trapper keepers to trap, backpacks to size up. There will be plenty of stress for parents and kids in the coming weeks. Take a deep breath because one day those anxious days just before the end of summer and the start of a new school year will be gone. Those first day of school pictures you see on social media will be posted by someone else.

Life flies by in a jiffy, kids. I just told my 11-year-old stepson the other day about how fast time ticks away when we get older.

“Why?” he asked.

Maybe it’s because at some point in our lives we stop counting the minutes. Instead, we make the minutes count.

He looked at me like I had a third eye.

Then he went back to playing his video game with a smile on his face.

—Todd Porter