Update – first, how’s the family?

Disturbing all of about two people, I took several months off from blogging.  I just needed a break; call it writer’s block, busy mom syndrome, or whatever.  After a while, it seemed like the quality of my thoughts and inspiration had degraded to the point of not being worth writing.  I hope I’m past that now.

In those months, we’ve celebrated Alpha’s graduation from UT (BS in Mathematics).  She has accepted the Dean’s Distinguished Fellowship at UC-Riverside to pursue her PhD in Math.  That’s a lot of fancy speak for “one child off the payroll.”  Lest that sound dismissive, make no mistake that I’m incredibly proud of her — for her academic achievements, and for her personal growth.  She truly is ready to move on to the next step, and I know she’s going to do well.

Beta just completed her sophomore year as a Physics major at UT, and landed an internship with the Physics department for the Summer.  At her first meeting with the prof she’s working for, she was told to get a passport.  They sent her to CERN for two weeks.  Now, this is Oak Ridge, so there are a few people around here who know what CERN is.  I’ve been told repeatedly that undergraduates just don’t get that kind of opportunity.  But she did, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I had a little fun joking that re-creating little black holes might not be a good thing, but she’s safely home and the world is still spinning.

Gamma spent most of her senior year working with some folks from her physics C class on their “Lemelson Project.”  In that picture, she’s in the back row, 4th from the left.  Far left in the back row is HWTFM, who took on the role of advising the team, along with a couple of other professionals from the community and the world’s greatest high school physics teacher.  They presented their invention at Eurekafest at MIT at the end of June.  She had a wonderful time hanging out for a week with other physics geeks from all over the country.  Next month, we’ll cart her (and all her stuff) off to UT, to presumably begin her major in Materials Science & Engineering.

That will leave me, for the first time since mid-1990, with only one child at home.  One child who, come October, won’t even need me to drive her around.  Delta’s a lot of fun to be around though, so I expect it will be an entertaining three years as she makes her way through the rest of high school.

33 Days

In 33 days, Beta will move into her dorm room at UTK and begin her college career.  I can’t imagine a 6-year old exuding more excitement than this child has.

Yesterday — in between helping her father reassemble the engine for her vehicle — she spent hours agonizing over whether to enroll in both honors calculus and honors physics in her first semester.  Without question, either one will be hard; two will be quite demanding.  Fortunately, since her older sister is already there and acquainted with a number of people in the math and physics programs, a quick call to Alpha yielded some useful information.

On the UTK Physics website, Beta noticed a couple of Alpha’s friends in one of the pictures that rotate across the department’s web page.  She also noticed a student in a t-shirt proclaiming "I survived Soren’s honors physics," which made her a bit nervous — Soren Sorensen, the department head, is teaching the class in which she enrolled for the Fall.  So, she had Alpha place a quick call to one of her friends that is a physics major and ask whether the honors course would be too much.  The friend hadn’t taken it, but said it was his biggest regret to date.

So, it’s settled.  She’s starting off with a pretty hefty course load, but I think that’s probably best for her.  She needs to learn from day one that school comes first, and material that really challenges her is most likely to keep her engaged.  She’s planning to pick up her physics book this morning while she’s in Knoxville on another errand, so that she can begin getting familiar with the first few chapters.

Beta is a difficult child, but one with great potential.  I’ve always said that the traits that make her hard to parent will make her a strong, capable, confident adult.  She doesn’t give up easily (though having her cell phone disconnected has proven to be rather effective as a catalyst for behavioral change).  She has the intellectual ability to succeed in a difficult major; I hope that I haven’t made a mistake in encouraging her to stick with a tough first semester’s course selections.

There’s a whole lot that I hope I haven’t done wrong.  But, it’s almost time to let go.  33 more days.

ketchup time

I’ve been gone for a week, and busy beyond belief both before and since.  So, this will be less than eloquent, but a catch-up of events to date:

  • Robertsville TSA had a great time at Nationals in Orlando, scoring several trophies and a number of finalists.  Delta was not among them, but she did learn a lot.
  • Gamma got home safely on Wednesday night.  She’s still on German time.
  • Delta and I left Islands of Adventure at 9 p.m. Wednesday, arriving at home about 7 a.m. on Thursday.  Yeah, I drove all night.  Alone.  Was tired.
  • Brother-in-law PJ arrived with his two kids about two hours after I got home on Thursday.  No rest for the wicked.
  • Although HWTFM lived alone for several years before we married, he apparently forgot how to do dishes.  Or even where the sink is.  The house was a mess.
  • We spent two days on the lake with RealtorChick and family; she is a saint for putting up with my extended crew for that long.  The fireworks were lovely from the middle of the lake.
  • PJ and pals left about 1 a.m. to head back to Maryland, but got seriously sidetracked along the way when he lost his wallet sometime in the middle of the night.  Trying to get two kids home with no cash, no cards, no driver’s license… just a checkbook and a work ID, must have been incredibly stressful.  It was stressful for me, and I wasn’t even in the car.
  • Beta’s cell phone has been shut off following repeated defiance of her curfew — by several hours each time, three days in a row.  Thursday night, she didn’t come home at all.  I’ve totally run out of ways to discipline her — no car, no cell phone… she just doesn’t care.  She’s still 17, or she’d be evicted.
  • That said, she did score a 5 on the Calculus AP exam.  Nonetheless, I’m not in a celebratory mood.

There — now that all that’s said, we can move on.

Spending five days in a luxury hotel with three young teenage girls (Delta and two classmates who needed close adult supervision) was both fun and exhausting.  The Rosen Shingle Creek is a great place for a student convention because it is secure and not within walking distance of anything (deterring kids who might be prone to wander off), but it’s definintely part of the top-of-the-line luxury mindset, where they’ll nickel and dime (and quarter) you to death.  Why is it that at any Econo Lodge (or similar budget accomodations), parking is free, wireless internet is free, and even breakfast is free?  Not at this place, though.  Parking is $8/day in the cheapest spot, internet (wireless or wired) is $10/day, and breakfast is about $20.  It’s about the same gig as the Opryland Hotel in Nashville — really nice, but there’s an extra fee for everything that others provide as a courtesy.

Given my choice of the matter, I’d always stay at Embassy Suites — comfortable, with all the amenities (usually free), and a free cocktail hour every night.  Okay, not suitable for school field trips perhaps, but still where I’d rather be.  The fact that it costs about half as much (or a third as much, if we’re talking about the Opryland) is just a bonus.

All of our separate travels are over now (except Alpha, who’s still at UGA), and our only remaining trip for the summer is to the farm.  We’ll live in the camper, cook on an open fire, and time will be largely immaterial.  Time to sleep, time to read, time to fish, time to roast marshmellows.  Time to pick fresh cherries.  Time to visit Grandma.  I’m looking forward to that one.

Tired, but proud

Delta’s middle school returned today from the TSA State Conference, with trophies.

Two of the three events that I coach brought home hardware: 1st Place for Cyberspace Pursuit (students design and launch a website according to the design brief), and 2nd Place for Electronic Game Design (students design and build a working computer game within specified parameters — including no violence).

Also, three ORHS students — all graduates of the same middle school’s program — were elected to state office today.

Delta’s in the Electronic Game Design crew — third from the left on the front row.  She’s pretty tickled to bring home a trophy this year.

After four days in Pigeon Forge with 31 middle school kids, studying the school budget in between everything else, I’m exhausted.  There’ll have to be a stop at Starbucks before tonight’s meeting.  Even so, I’m really, really proud of all of these kids.

And, should you be a parent of one or more of these, you should be too.  These kids are our future, and it’s looking pretty sweet.

Higher Expectations

The Sentinel carries a story this morning about increased graduation requirements on the horizon for Tennessee students, as I’ve written about previously. A fourth year of math, a year of either chemistry or physics, an extra semester of PE and a personal finance course will all be required for today’s 7th graders to graduate.

I think the higher math and science requirements are a good thing, but do have some concern about further increasing the schedule compression — requirements are added, but nothing is taken away. The result is that students are allowed fewer and fewer elective options; it will likely be impossible at that point for a student to take four years of foreign language (two are usually required for college admittance) AND four years of band, orchestra, or art.
* * *

Not all electives are "cush" classes. Smitten with physics as a junior, Alpha used her remaining electives to take AP Chemistry, Calculus, and AP Physics C as a senior. That led to an engineering scholarship for her freshman year at UT, and due to her grades (boosted by the foundation she’d built in high school), she was awarded a second, more generous scholarship this year.

When UT moved the Computer Science program into the College of Engineering at the beginning of this year, she switched from Electrical Engineering to Computer Science. I still laugh when I remember how apprehensive she was about that first required programming course — C++ — but by the end of the semester, she’d fallen in love with it.

As the program’s move between the College of Arts and Sciences and the Engineering school was rather abrupt, they hadn’t yet had time to set all the non-CS course requirements, leaving students in this year’s catalog with maximum latitude in elective offerings. Alpha loaded up on math classes, considering that she might be able to double major in both computer science and math. Not a bad foundation for grad school, which is already in her plan.

This week, she learned that she’s been accepted into the Math Honors program, which carries additional scholarship funds, as well as a paid summer research experience. MathMan (my future son-in-law) is also a Math Honors major, and his research from last summer at Texas A&M is scheduled for publication.

Alpha figures that a math degree would be helpful in the field of theoretical computer science. I’m both proud and amazed.

* * *
Not all students are destined for the hallowed halls of geekdom, I know. However, I agree with the findings of the American Diploma Project that students today need similar skills to go straight to work as they would need to go straight to college. Higher standards are necessary and good. That doesn’t mean that every kid will or should take on the same courses that Alpha chose, but at least a basic course in the physical sciences would benefit everyone, and continuing to study math throughout high school simply ensures that they don’t forget everything before they graduate.

Yet, some requirements have got to ease, or there will be no opportunity for students to either pick up additional academic electives, or continue their studies in language or fine arts. Although Alpha has determined her career path to be something other than fine arts, she makes time in her rigorous schedule to continue her viola studies with private lessons. It serves as a release from the demands of her books and lectures. If not for her four years in the high school orchestra, would that even be a viable option?

The new standards are welcome, but as requirements are added, something must be taken away.