Monday, January 19, 2009

What a Weekend!

This weekend I have taken part in three amazing activities that I need to share and reflect upon.

Leadville, Colorado – The Coffee Shop
First, this Friday through Sunday morning everyone in the apartment traveled up to Leadville, Colorado (Elevation: 10,200 feet). It was quite an experience for me traveling through the Continental Divide and the Eisenhower Tunnel to the other side of the mountains. Frankly, it was really cool to get outside of Denver and actually be able to see the stars in their beauty. They twinkled bright and reminded me of my time spent in Montana last summer. Saturday morning I was finally able to see the mountains from that elevation and let’s just say it was beautiful. I was right at the start of “Colorado’s Fourteeners,” the stretch of mountains in Colorado that are all over 14,000 feet. The sight was fantastic, although at times I was a little out of breath due to the elevation. When I get pictures back from friends I will be sure to post them or link them here.

Many of the students spent the day hiking, skiing, or just sledding up at the elevation; however, I decided to spend the morning outside and the afternoon inside at a nice little coffee shop in downtown Leadville. There another student teacher and I holed up for a good five and a half hours of grading, studying, and conversation with friends back home. Sitting in this coffee shop was quite an experience. First of all, as we sat there through the morning and the afternoon I noticed how the people changed. It went from just a few friends have coffee in pairs in the morning hours to groups of people as large as twelve coming in to have coffee and a snack around lunch time and the afternoon consisted of pairs once again coming in. What I was really focused on was getting my school work completed, which at times is hard in any coffee shop, but this time I managed to get everything done I planned to. What really intrigued me about this place was the amazingly western feel to it, but at the same time the aurora of the old mining town attached to it also. Their was a hard wood floor that was well worn in parts, but a nice XM radio system provided good mix of music throughout the day. On top of that the new kitchen facilities were paired with the wood furniture throughout the shop. What really amazed me was that this was a coffee shop at 10,200 feet and I could tell it by the cliental that walked through the door. People came in dressed like they just got off the snow slopes or skied right up to the front door with their jackets and layers on with their hats and sun glasses. Even on top of that, some of the guys were wearing snow pants with snow on them, reminding many that they recently got off a snow mobile (which is a common mode of transportation up there). Then there was the ranch couple. He was wearing a cowboy hat and work clothes and she was wearing a ranching jacket that had the name of their ranch embroidered on the back.

Over the time I spent there this past weekend that coffee shop was a nice place to hang out. It was a great atmosphere and I was happy to write and get my work done. This experience was a great opportunity for me to live and experience a situation that is not possible here in Denver. The people were friendly and many of the customers the staff knew by name. Before they ordered it was a friendly conversation and then the order, not just the order as it is in many other coffee shops around the country. Up there at 10,200 feet the regulars are known by their first name, the beauty of a small town up at elevation. This experience will lead me to act in a different way when I go somewhere new, like a coffee shop. I am usually pretty open about the type of people I meet and give them more than a second shot based on their a first glance, but this type of a setting where the staff and people were friendly really reminded me to give people the benefit of the doubt. Yes, I was a little skeptical of some of the people there and my first impressions of them, but all in all they were very nice people with awesome hearts. What this means for me is that students deserve a second (and sometimes even third) chance to redeem themselves and show that they can do the work. On the flip side, that often involves the teacher, me, providing some extra help even when I don’t feel like or want to. In the end, the coffee shop at 10,200 feet provided me with a unique look at small town west through a new lens of teaching while giving a second and sometimes third chance to students.

Denver, Colorado – The National Western Stock Show
Sunday night I got the privilege of going to the rodeo and stock show here in Denver, thanks to a generous donor who managed to get everyone out here from Wartburg first or second row tickets. Going to a rodeo is such an experience, especially one of the largest ones in the country. Thankfully I had my entire outfit ready for the experience (boots, belt, belt buckle, jeans, and shirt) from my time spent in Montana last summer, everything except for the hat. I was promptly informed when I arrived here in Denver that a cowboy wears two types of hats depending on what season it is. Being that I am completely new to this whole riding a horse, roping, and cowboy thing I think I need to get the newest edition of How to Be a Cowboy for Dummies at the local bookstore, but that’s what friends are for. So I was informed that a cowboy wears a straw hat during the summer and a felt hat during the winter. I only had a straw hat and it was the winter so I was out of luck. I needed a new hat – bummer I’d have to get a new one.

So we went to The National Western Stock Show and I just had to find a hat, so naturally it was one of the first things that I did (and I had luck landing a nice black felt hat). Now I looked like I totally fit in and to some degree I did think that I fit in – let’s be honest I looked and felt the part of a cowboy going to a rodeo. In fact, I even knew what all the events were and what the point totals and scores meant. I could even guess almost correctly too. What amazed me about this experience, though, was that I was right at home with a unique segment of the population. I looked like those people that walked around the new Dodge Ram and eyed all the newest in tack and apparel for the ranch. In fact, even the John Deere equipment caught my eye and then I remembered that most of it is manufactured and designed right near Wartburg anyway! The rodeo itself was quite an experience. The people I was with from Wartburg had never really been to a rodeo before so the smells, the people, the boots, the hats, and the crazy rodeo banter between announcers was really different for them. I was on a different plane though. I knew what was going on and I felt at home almost in that arena, so I spent a lot of time explaining what was going on to the rodeo newcomers. It was a great experience and a lot of fun.

My favorite part was when a real stage coach came into the arena being pulled by a six horse team. It reminded me of the teamwork that is required throughout life. In that team each set of horses had a unique role. The two at the front had to be really quick with their turns and respond well to the master’s command, otherwise the horses behind would not follow. The second team was the swing team. It was their job to follow the lead horses and swing the group of six around a corner or some other sort of obstacle. Finally, the last team was the wheel team. These two horses were the closest to the wheels of the carriage and it was their job, as usually the strongest and biggest of the horses, to get the wagon rolling. All the horses did their individual jobs really well and there was success, if they did not, then there was defeat and the carriage would not go where the master wanted it. At one point the driver of the carriage had the horses going completely perpendicular to the carriage and the back left wheel stayed in one position and rotated around as the carriage moved. It had to be one of the most dangerous maneuvers of the night (you know besides getting onto a bucking horse or bull that is), because at any point if the horses did not trust the leader or the leader let the horses go then the carriage would have been pulled over.

It really spoke to me and the idea of trusting those in higher control and working together. Each of those teams has a duty to do their job, much like at AHS where the job of the 9th grade team is very different than the 10th grade team and so on. However, if we all do our jobs correctly and follow the leadership of the master, the principal in our situation, we can complete some amazing goals with our students, much like the maneuver with the carriage. However, for that to happen each team has to work together, trust each other, and really make an effort to get his or her job done. In addition, each team needs to trust the leader that he or she is doing their job and the leader needs to trust the teams, and individuals in each team, to do their job. What a great example of leadership in the 21st century (well minus any sort of technology at least). Overall, the stock show was just an awesome experience and a great learning opportunity.

Denver, Colorado – Martin Luther King Jr. Marade
In high school Martin Luther King Day was often a day that was looked forward to as the first day off of the second semester. I usually spent the day at home sleeping in, working on homework, and hanging out with my family. I assume that many of my students were spending their days off today like that.

However, in college Martin Luther King Jr. Day turned into something more than just a day off. It became a day of service. At Wartburg there is a really big push to turn this day into a day of service and learning. Classes in the morning are shortened, but there is still class. Then in the afternoon there is one of the best worship services at Wartburg every year, the MLK Jr. Chapel service. Directly concluding that service there are a variety of service projects that occur both on and off campus in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his dedication to serving the community and making it a better place. It was hard to miss this special day of service on the Wartburg campus, but I seem to have found something a little bigger.

Apparently in Denver Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is quite a big deal – to the tune of 20,000 people (Three times larger than ever before). Every single year people gather about three miles from downtown to celebrate the life of MLK Jr. and then walk downtown to City Park, which is right in front of the state capital of Colorado. I went, with most of the other people from Wartburg, to this Marade. They call it a Marade because it is both a time of remembrance incorporated into a parade and a march all at the same time – hence march and parade = Marade. We gathered and listened to dignified persons give messages of remembrance and hope of tomorrow, for most they literally meant tomorrow with the inauguration of the new president upon us. It was amazing to me how many people steadily showed up. Person after person came to the stage and got the crowd fired up and then we were off. Marching and parading down a well known street in Denver with banners flying high promoting peace, against the war, stopping violence, and supporting the new president-elect. Finally we were moving down the street along with thousands of others. We were marching in remembrance of The King, his words, and in a true hope for equality in the future. What’s even more impressive was that it was not just a few of us marching like this or even a few thousand of us marching, but there were 20,000 of us marching together as one. Hailed as the largest MLK Jr. celebration in the world I was proud to be a part of it. I could of sat at home writing lesson plans and reading, but instead I was part of a real movement – a movement of people that maraded down the street in the name of The King, progress, and the future. At one point I even looked behind me and it was an incredible sight to see the street behind just filled to the seams with people all walking together. It was quite a sight, see pictures here or the article here.

What I brought away from this Marade was not the fact of how many people were there, because that was truly amazing, or what we were all marading for either – it was the entire point of the day. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is hailed as a day off for many people, when in fact it should be a day on. Meaning, it should be a day to celebrate, a day to actually remember what MLK Jr. stood for, and a day to serve. Instead of calling everything off, why don’t we come together like the people of Denver and serve our communities and make them a better place. I think Wartburg has got the right idea – remember and then serve. The people of Denver are serving through their marading, like I was today, but what about the rest of the nation? Is it a day to remember? Is it a day off? Or is it a day on to serve and remember the legacy and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? It should be the last one and that is what my day was today. In fact, it is in that spirit that I look forward to spending every other MLK Jr. Day, marading instead of taking the day off, and I encourage everyone else to do the same.