An Open Letter to My School Board and Superintendent

Dear Board of Education & Superintendent; 

      I am writing to you today as an experienced city educator, a mom and as someone who holds a PhD in education. I have worked in the area for 12 years. I also teach at a college that services a large portion of our graduates.  

      Our students enter schools behind their suburban peers and often graduate behind them as well. When you add the shutdowns, the year of virtual school and now, the continuation of masking and COVID protocols that prevent me and my colleagues from performing many needed intervention strategies, we are setting our students up to fail even more. I have taught 8th grade for the last nine years. This year, my reading scores are showing the lowest growth if there is any at all. Socially and emotionally, most of my students present more like 5th graders—the last year that they had in school that was normal for them. They are struggling in ways I haven’t seen before.  

      I was shocked to hear you announce that we were going to be continuing with these measures, especially when Mercer County is listed in green—which purports no need to wear a mask. As the body of research grows in terms of how covid protocols, including masking, have affected students and driven learning loss while the pandemic went on, there are already studies that show the impact on student literacy and the impact on their reading abilities and effects on their education: 

There is also growing research on how masking has affected younger students in their language skill sets and have caused speech and language delays in pre-school students—many of which do not know a world without the pandemic: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8595128/

  • Study on nonverbal communication and children: 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8383324/

  • Study on cognitive decline, speech and language delays in children 0-5 due to COVID restrictions (including masking): 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34401887/

While we had to learn what COVID was and what the best ways to fight the virus would be, we sacrificed in many other areas, including our children. However, we are now at a time where we know how to prevent and treat. We are also in a much different position than we were two years ago, and it is time to start addressing how to begin supporting our student’s growth forward following three school years of disruption, loss of services and the side effects of masking.  

      Respectfully, I request that you please think over your decision to continue this mandate next week. Many of my 8th graders were looking forward to taking off their masks, some even exclaimed they were ready to burn them or cut them up—never wanting to see them again. They are hungry for a normal school life…one where they can see their friends and teacher’s faces. 

Thank you for your time and consideration.  

Sincerely,  
Dr. Katherine Kuzma-Beck Hart, PhD

Book Review│Batten Down the Belfry by Diane Kelly

Whitney Whitaker and her cousin, Buck, are back at it flipping houses in this fourth installment of Kelly’s house-flipper mysteries. This time they have their eyes set on an old church. Whitney is drawn to the abandoned church with its beautiful stained glass and is eager to make the abandoned space come alive again. They want it to become an entertainment venue.

Only, the owner of the farm next door, Nolan Sibley, is not too supportive of their plans and asserts a legal claim over the church property that puts Whitney’s and Buck’s flipping dreams in jeopardy. As the legalities play out, Whitney and Buck decide to move ahead with renovations despite the harsh welcome they received from Nolan– greetings with a cattle prod and a church full of horses! Things only get worse when Whitney’s cat, Sawdust, finds a body in the bell tower. It is the body of the man who had only recently delivered their replacement windows.

Whitney’s boyfriend, Colin, is assigned the case, but it becomes a complex case to solve after a second murder occurs nearby. This mystery will definitely keep you guessing until the very end while still maintaining the cozy-mystery feeling that the earlier books have done so well.

Book Information

Batten Down the Belfry by Diane Kelly will be released on February 22, 2022 from St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250816030. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Island House by Amanda Brittany

Get ready to be immersed in a atmospheric, Gothic-esque tale of a young girl who is struggling to remember the early years of her life and the lives of two siblings, Verity and Hugh, living in their strange island home with their ventriloquist/magician father who has hired a trail of nannies to care for them, only they never last too long…

In the vein of And Then There Were None, Alice arrives on the island following the hit and run death of her mysterious father. She is eager to solve a family mystery and purposefully travels back to her family’s old home, now a hotel. Only, once she arrives everything falls apart. Guests start being murdered one by one and a storm sweeps in, trapping the survivors in the hotel. This creepy and anxiety-filled setting lends well to the mental state of the main character as she navigates surviving as well as uncovering her family’s story as well as their lives.

The story moves from the present day back to the story of Hugh and Verity and their upbringing at Flynn House. Their story lends well to the creepy, dark feeling of the hotel, the island and the murder mystery unfolding before us.

This was definitely one I could not out done and eagerly finished in one sitting after I put my kids to sleep. It’s a perfect locked-room mystery for a quiet Friday night with a glass or two of wine.

Book Information

The Island House by Amanda Brittany was released on August 11, 2021 with ISBN 9780008362898 from HQ and HQ Digital, an imprint of Harper Collins UK. This review corresponds to an electronic galley supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home │Thrice is Coming!

I meant to share our news over a month ago, but life has just had a way recently of going faster than I would like it to. It doesn’t help that I feel like everyday I am fighting a battle for my kids and trying to keep my own sanity together as I am faced with growing uncertainty over being able to teach in this state…a PhD in education and I am wondering if my teaching career will go beyond the next couple of years because of state politics.

Despite of that, the sunshine of this year will be getting to welcome out third baby this summer. We are beyond excited.

Government Mandates are Causing Speech and Language Delays in Children

What this pandemic has done is take a group of people and have given them all of the power to harm some of our most silent victims: our children.

My older son was 18 months old when lock downs began. This is a pivotal time for speech and language development and it has harmed him immensely. While I have kept his story quiet out of respect for his journey and ours, I feel it is time to share it because something needs to change in this state.

My son has been called “retarded, “slow” by “family” and we were spoken about among the same ignorant group of “family” that we were bad parents. Meanwhile, quietly, we were waiting up to 6 months to get our son seen for a myriad of tests that I didn’t even want him to go through because I already knew the outcome: he would be negative for all of it.

And at the end of it? He was negative for all of it. And part of me wanted to have a billboard made and put up with the headline “NOT AUTISTIC AND NOT RETARDED” since it took a lot of self control not to lose my mind on these women who should have been large, supportive facets in my son’s life but instead showed me what they truly are and what they truly think of me and my family.

I digress. He now has two diagnoses and a medical exemption for the mask. He qualifies for service through public school. We are now in week two of him not receiving services because the supervisor of special services along with her board physician want to deny my son’s exemption even though it works within the governor’s mandate and they will force him to be bothered all day by adults putting this magic fabric over his face. Can you imagine how frustrating that must be for a 3 year old? He doesn’t understand why people wear them, we tried to have him do it at home– doesn’t work–all the while you are already so frustrated with trying to get words out of your brain through your mouth and not being able to, and now you have these people who you really don’t know touching your face and putting this fabric over your mouth every time you take it off. I even wanted it amended into his IEP because of his inability to understand and all I got met with is the usual “for my safety” and “oh we’ll work with him.” Even though, if this was written into his IEP, he would not have to wear a mask per the EO. And for any teacher that cites “safety”…let me ask you, do you mask yourself and your own children when you go to Target? Grocery shopping? Out to eat? I highly doubt it.

In the same breath, once the lawyer I hired got involved I then get an email from the superintendent saying how they’ll work to accommodate him and the board attorney will be in touch. That was a week ago and there is no response from their side. My son still does not have adequate services and it is now going to be some back and forth because these adults just want to cite a mandate that I am not even working to challenge, but ALLOWS for this and scream FOR MY SAFETY as they go. All that this is doing is discriminating against children and people with disabilities.

My son is not the only story. There is a huge increase in childhood delays and in speech delays. We had to wait months to get in for private speech therapy and then even longer for him to get ENOUGH private speech therapy on top of all the trips to doctors, specialists and hospitals. Even now, it has been choppy service privately as well as the place opens and closes for COVID exposure. We have really good insurance and even with it, they will only cover 30 sessions which is nothing. After that? We can look forward to a $600 bill a month to continue the support that he needs with a therapist that he loves. Now, imagine, someone who does not have good health insurance and has absolutely no way of covering a $600 a month bill. What happens to their child? Only further behind do they fall. It’s exhausting and we are failing these kids.

If I enrolled my son where I work, they would have immediately taken his medical exemption and worked with it. If we lived a town over and took him there, they wouldn’t even allow him to have speech therapy without a mask on. How many kids have to suffer before something changes? Language is a continuum and by isolating and masking young children, we are taking away their ability to learn language within social settings and among their peers and teachers.

When does the nonsense end? When does this governor get these powers removed already? We are two years into this and the ScIEnCe is even showing how ineffective and overall DAMAGING this is to kids. Just yesterday, I was reading an article that cited a study that claimed a 350% increase in childhood speech delays. They are so far behind and the longer it goes the worse it will be. Now, when I listen to the radio and you have this governor saying he’s thinking about ending masking, but in the same breath just mandated BOOSTERS for healthcare workers and I am sure is gearing up to do the same thing to teachers? Please, when does the mandate get removed? My money is on or about June 1st so he can appease NJEA elites and think he’s going to win favor with parents who are ready to stand up and fight this insanity?

NJEA and this governor are the virus in New Jersey and it needs to be stopped, we are damaging generations of children for many years to come both through so much disruption to their education, the masking and also with forcing parents to pump them full of an experimental gene therapy to allow them to stay in school. Only to then again move even that goal post and say, whelp, now they need their booster! Even though none of this stops the spread or transmission of the virus. What is the point? We have really entered the point of it all being political control so those that have money can make even more money on all of this and it is disgusting and at the expense of our most vulnerable, often silent victims: our children.

The Hart Home │ And She’s Off!

It’s a strange time to be teaching and it’s an even stranger time to be working on getting your research on education and curriculum out there in this semi post-COVID world. This was my goal though, for the past two years, to begin to start getting my research out on integrative instruction. The shut down era of COVID pretty much killed that dream dead, but now things seem to be better aligning to move forward again with that dream…at least for now before the insanity begins again which I am sure it will since this state likes to shoot itself in the foot constantly and reelect idiots, but that’s a rant for another post.

I am excited to be sharing my paper, A Renaissance in Storytelling: Finding the Place of Literacy in Visual Arts Curriculum and a slightly tweaked presentation, A Renaissance in Storytelling: Finding the Place of Literacy in the Urban Visual Arts Classroom at two conferences in the coming months. The first will be at the Honolulu Education Conference and the latter will be at the Plain Talks Literacy Series at the Center for Learning and Literacy in New Orleans.

Due to travel restrictions in Hawaii, and Japan since this is being hosted by a Japanese organization, the conference has been moved to a completely virtual platform. You can register here if you would like to. You will hear my presentation as well as many other international educational leaders presenting their work.

As of now, the New Orleans conference is still in person and it is selling out FAST! You can sign up here and listen to my presentation as well as many other educational leaders presenting their research and best practices on literacy instruction.

Book Review: Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell

I had the pleasure of reviewing Michael Cordell’s first novel, Contempt, earlier this year. I was excited to receive this new galley not only because I had enjoyed his earlier book, but also because it was a paranormal thriller and it’s just the perfect time of year for that kind of read.

Cordell spends the first couple of chapters setting up the premise of his book. There are two brothers: Matthew and Jake. They share a special psychic connection even though Matthew had chosen to leave Nebraska and make a life for himself in New York, but has found it to be a dismal existence in recent years with dead-end jobs that cause him to struggle. The bond isn’t severed despite their distance and seems to become heightened when Jake dies, alerting Matthew that his brother is dead and has to come home in order to face his past and the mess that his brother has left behind.

While Matthew had been struggling in New York, Jake had been choosing a difficult life that came with very powerful enemies. Once Matthew returns home, he really begins to come into his own and is determined to right the wrongs of his brother while trying to solve his murder. He also wants to make a mends with his mother and Casey, the girl he left behind all those years ago. It also becomes quite clear the further Matthew delves into the mess his brother left, that his brother is in fact his real life evil twin who is paying for his life of pain in an even more hellish afterlife…and no matter how hard he tries to distance himself from their connection, it only seems to come back stronger leaving you with an unsettling, anxious feeling through out this thriller.

As the story unfolds and the action amps up, Cordell makes for many well-written, uber creepy scenes that show the dark side of humanity even in the most pious of people– the confession made by the Catholic priest made my jaw drop. Overall, it is a interesting take on the supernaturalness of sibling bonds, especially twin bonds, and the power of forgiveness and redemption. I finished the book with a few days and had I not had kids that do not allow for much free time, I probably could have finished this in a night that is how invested I was in the novel from the very beginning. It was a creative take on old themes and I enjoyed it.

Book Information

Our Trespasses by Michael Cordell was released on October 15, 2021 from TCK Publishing with ISBN 978-1631611537. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home│And We’re Back…

I think it was Stephen King who either wrote about or talked about the importance of having your desk where the life of your house is. During virtual teaching last year, I shoved my desk in our spare room because all I could think about was having the ability to close a door and keep my loud kids out when I was working.

Only now, we are back in school and my desk has sat unused since I went on leave in May. Funny, how that works. I took a break from everything this summer and I am glad I did. I focused on my kids and my husband, having time together as a family enjoying those fluid summer days, staying up late, watching movies, getting ice cream and going on adventures. We even took the kids to Pennsylvania this summer to go camping. We made memories and that is exactly what I wanted to do.

Now, I am back at work in my physical classroom and I find myself struggling when it comes to using that office space for what I need it to be for. I am writing a new book that I am so excited about. I think this one will be one of the best ones I have written to date and I just want to edit it and publish it. However, I struggle to find the time to get up to that desk after working all day and then immediately coming home and wanting that time with my boys.

I told my husband I think it’s time I moved my stuff to the “adult living room.” We have two living spaces. Our “adult living room” is our main floor living space and we did not put a TV in there. It is a place where we play board games, sit around our fireplace with cocktails (sometimes) and read. Our kids are always in there which is funny because in our family room, we put all of their toys and the TV, but they too favor our adult room.

In my mind, I know moving down there will allow my kids to get into everything of mine I don’t want them to, but I am also hoping by doing so I will be able to finally finish writing this and get my work out there again. It has been five years since I published a novel and most of that time I was spending on growing our family and finishing my doctorate so I don’t really view it as “lost time,” but I do view the time as now if I want to get back into my own dreams for my life.

Book Review │Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop

“Fourteen-year-old Peter Green woke up knowing only three things: the proper way to put on a tie, that lemon custard was disgusting, and that he was dead.”

Peter has died and he has no memory of it or his life before his untimely death. He has found himself with a ticket to a special school of dead orphans just like himself: Mrs. Battisworth’s Academy and Haven for Unliving Boys and Girls. There he finds many kids just like him– dead and forgetful of their life before. Now, as supernatural beings, all of the children are figuring our what their powers are as is Peter, but Peter can not seem to shake the feeling of having forgotten something extremely important. Is is someone that he loved? Is it someone who was important to him in life? Or, is it something more sinister…like someone that he has forgotten is in serious danger?

The students at Mrs. Battiworth’s won’t be allowed to have their memories back until the graduate, however. Peter’s adventure unfolds with magical creatures, teachers who are snakes and enchanted objects like the chalk…that BITES!Together with his unique group of friends, Pete is off for an adventure through his life in purgatory or is it his death? Either way, this novel is full of magic and adventure.

Even though Pete is 14 years old at his death, the character reads as several years younger than that. The novel does not explore big coming-of-age things or even romance that older middle and younger high schoolers tend to gravitate towards, but rather, it focuses on the friendships and the experiences that Pete and his friends undertake in the afterlife. Peter Green and the Unliving Academy is best suited for early middle school to upper elementary, in this teacher’s opinion.

Be prepared for a large cast of characters and a lot of action throughout the novel. Even the slow parts weren’t all that slow and this made for a nice Friday night read.

Book Information

Peter Green and the Unliving Academy by Angelina Allsop was released on November 18, 2018 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610643. This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.