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John Nippolt
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To Every Season
     Summertime here in the Hawaii can seem to be a year-round experience yet the changing of the seasons remains subtle but noticeable to the discerning Islander. Most of us here know that there is more to this phenomenon than meets the eye. As seasons change, I try to focus my connectedness with time and space.
     From the time I was a little boy, the complex range of feelings I associated with seasonal change shaped a part of my character as I grew older. Over time, I have discovered my most tenacious seasonal belief tells me there is something inherently wrong about starting school in July. I am convinced the middle of summer isn’t the right time of year to be heading back into the classroom.
     July boiled into August and August simmered into September, all the while I was teaching. The autumnal equinox as well as my 65th birthday came and went in a flash, much like the summers of my youth. It was during those early times away from school, I began to think that we learned more outside of the classroom than we did inside of it.
     I returned to school after summer vacations and saw significant changes in my friends and classmates. What happened to them? Some had grown, some had matured, many seemed to have gained a real sense about who they were and where they were headed. Girls changed so dramatically it was all I could do to learn how to approach them just to try to talk with them; being near them seemed so easy to do before. I never recognized those signs during school months. I began to understand that summertime involved a different type of learning.
     Summer was a time to be bored enough to invent things to do, or go play outside. Adults were not to be bothered with having to entertain you. Soon enough, playtimes would last into the evening. The waning light dissolved into the night and you didn’t have to go to bed early. For some, summer was the time to improve your throw and bats and gloves were strewn all over the place. For others it was getting a job to save up for a car. This also meant learning how to drive. Along with cars came those soft summer nights and girls. By the time summer ended most of us were ready and even anxious to get back to school.
     These days, for unknown reasons, there are those who believe learning only happens when you are in school. Now, we have children walking around who will never fully understand that rich blend of freedom and relaxation. Sure I know the agrarian society story, yet, when I compare the time I spent in school during my youth with the amount of time kids will have to spend in educational institutions of today, I can see what the future holds for those in our nation’s public school system. Can this be at the heart of what is dwarfing their imaginations?
     The disturbing back to school stories that hit the national news at the beginning of September (the real month intended for those starting back to school) are nothing compared to the situation now. Some sad news I received in July removed me from my position as head coach for our school’s varsity and junior varsity boys cross-country teams. I felt terrible because I had been building the program for two years. There were 16 boys when I started, and this year I would have 34 coming out for the team. It meant staying late after school for four months and I would be giving up my Saturdays for this period of time, but to me, it was worth it. The pay wasn’t that great...less than $1,000 dollars for all the time I put in, still, the Department of Education (DOE) had to find savings in every nook and cranny. Now, I’m starting to appreciate how important my free time is to me and I doubt that I will relinquish it for long hours and poor pay again
     My concerns about other programs related to general education proved to be true. Things were going to get worse before they got better. The catastrophic downturn in the U.S. economy had far reaching effects on all of us and was a principal cause for huge state funding deficits in Hawaii. Continuing budget cuts would see to it that the DOE would again be one of the first in line to face the axe.
     Huge slashes have the state DOE reeling, giving way to new teacher contracts that mandated an 8% pay cut for teachers for the next two years. The result of these pay cuts means that teachers will not work on days which would be pre-determined by the DOE administration. Schools would close on 17 days for each of the two years of the new contract. This caused public outrage, not because teacher’s wages had been cut, but because the best interests of Hawaii’s children were at stake. There has been wide-spread panic through-out the state about where the displaced public school students will go when the schools are shut down. (Furlough Fridays) Such concerns are valid for the younger students, yet one might consider that there are a great number of parents who can’t trust their kids who are old enough and should behave themselves while they are away at work. It is unfortunate that these parents have to demand their kids be under supervised watch. Who is to blame for this?
     I noticed there was no public outcry about teacher pay-cuts until it was determined that teachers were not going to work for free, and schools would be closed. The claim that the children will suffer because they will not have those days of instruction seems somewhat far-fetched in my eyes. Will the closing of schools seriously affect their learning and diminish their chances for success in school and the future? Not if they are good students. Maybe this time off from regular school could introduce some type of alternate learning exploration or be used for quiet hours to study, but I doubt that will happen.
     The “Season of the Witch” has shrieked away into the darkness, the “Boys of October” are rounding the bases and headed for home and the “Be like Mike’s” are already back on the courts. We won’t really pay too much attention to them now, though, until the last fan exits the stadium from pro football’s super event. We have filled the seasons with seasons and this has forever changed us.
     Meanwhile, I try to stay alert for the sights, sounds, and smells that will transport me to those special moments from seasons past, reminding me of who I am and why I do the things the way I do. The wheels within wheels will continue to turn, hopefully introducing new wonders of imagery for those who are fortunate enough to observe the significance of seasonal change.