Olson: Public education offering up smiles

Published 9:30 am Friday, February 21, 2014

Generally, when out and about one tends to hear plenty of barking about the sorry state of public education. It hasn’t mattered where I’ve lived. As a recovering journalist, I have added my share of dreck to the media landfill about education over 20 years, with sorry stories about lousy school security, labor disputes, test scores, under-performing teachers, and the like. Over time, a person can internalize these events and consider them to represent the overall state of our schools.

That is why it is refreshing these days that I am able to interact with schools as a parent and not a pariah. Such was the case on a recent Friday night as I attended Fun Night at Ellis Middle School. For the past 24 years, the Ellis school staff has organized an evening of activities for the students.

It is simple but sincere. A concession stand, games, swimming, performances in the gym by the dance team and pep band. Faculty from both the middle school and high school were playing their instruments alongside students in the band.

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There was high drama during the staff versus students basketball game. Behind me in the bleachers, one boy was returning from the concession stand when his friend called out to him.

“Hey, you missed it. Miss Olesiak just nailed a 3-pointer!”

“No way!,” shouted the friend.

Another friend chimed in. “No, it wasn’t a 3. I saw it. Her foot was on the line.”

“Wrong. It was totally a 3.”

(Note: I saw it. She drained it for sure.)

The game was a joy to watch. It might very well have been the first time that the eighth grade students on the basketball court experienced their teachers as a group of adult competitors, and as opponents — a moment of maturation for sure.

It was fun for the staff, as well. Jason Senne, the Ellis principal, was a member of the faculty team and took the microphone as public address announcer. He introduced his squad of 12 teachers loudly, as would an announcer of a boxing match, using various nicknames, all of which brought laughter from the students:

“Here he is fans, David ‘The Punisher’ Rezny.”

“Tom ‘I’m not From’ Compton.”

“They are The Bash Brothers … Drescher and Tukua.”

“Travis ‘I am not Bruce’ Wayne.”

Now mind you, this is Friday night. At week’s end, these teachers and staff are willing to give the students one more special experience, capped off by a dance in the gym that will break up at 8:30 p.m.

“Oh, it really wasn’t too bad today,” teacher Eric Vaughn told me with a smile. “I got in at 7:30 this morning.”