Using My Voice for Change: Published Essays

This month, in honor of activism, we are highlighting a story by Renee Sklarew about the power of one person to effect change through every day action; in her case, by reusing her grocery bag.  Read “Who’s that old Bag?”

I’m in line at the grocery store, and everyone’s avoiding me.  I am one of those people who slow the line down by asking the cashier to use bags I brought along.  Normally I find someone like me annoying too. Still, I would rather be a social pariah than waste those plastic bags. Seeing them metastasizing in the outdoor bins.  Where do they go? What use do they have? Are they really made into sandals or roads like they say?

This small effort to recycle has become a source of shame for my nine-year-old. She cringes when I explain to anyone who will listen, that I like to reuse my bags. A  lot. That’s my tiny contribution to protecting the environment, and wouldn’t it be nice if everyone made that effort?

The nine-year-old pulls on my arm with embarrassment. “Don’t talk about it, Mom,” she begs. Maybe it would be less obvious that I am holding everyone up, if I actually kept my mouth shut. But that’s not likely, since my days as a cashier are permanently embedded in my memory. I refuse to treat people the way some people do, making you feel anonymous and devalued. It’s against my principles, so I basically have to have that conversation. What else can we discuss, besides the weather? Describing our position on bags is a great ice breaker.

Last year, legislators in my home state of Maryland decided not to pass a law that prohibits distributing plastic bags at retail outlets in that area. The inspiration behind the bill was to curb the problem of bags polluting the Chesapeake Bay.  Fortunately, it brought to the citizens’ attention the basic question of paper or plastic? What is truly better?  The truth is neither. Just bring your own, and no one will get hurt.As the pre-Thanksgiving crowds pushed through the store, I asked my favorite Safeway cashier Helena Funt, about people who ask to reuse bags.  She says, “Customers want you to put a lot in, but they don’t want the bag to be too heavy. That can be hard.” There’s always a line to have Miss Funt process your groceries, because she is efficient and tries to honor every request. “Customers tell me – I look for you, because you can pack it perfectly,” she laughs.

For the sake of my little girl, if others join in, her mother won’t seem nearly as weird. We would also contribute to the friendliness factor at the grocery store.  Eventually, people waiting behind you won’t get as frustrated waiting for this anomaly to occur.  Furthermore, we might hasten impending doom promised by scientists working their little hearts out to slow down global warming. See how easy it is to make a small difference? So today, when you leave the house, take an extra bag to the store with you. Start a revolution!

**In 2012 the Montgomery County Legislation passed a bill that required customers to pay for every bag they use (.5 cents). Now, it’s standard procedure in many counties in Maryland and DC!

“Why I Love My Hometown” Voted Top Essay in “What Does it Mean to Be a Washingtonian”  by Renee Sklarew in John Kelly’s column in The Washington Post January 26, 2009

Living in the nation’s capital feels like sharing an apartment with a daunting giant who rules the world, while we, his roommates, go about our business. We live in the shadow of power. While some of our neighbors make decisions affecting the globe, others work to keep up with their groceries.

Mostly, we feel safe here and dine in restaurants of every ethnic cuisine. We care about the environment and raise our little Washingtonians to appreciate the rainbow of people they encounter every day. We willingly share our good fortune, even if we grumble about it occasionally.

Generally we obey the laws, try not to endanger others, and respect nature when we have the opportunity to enjoy it. We want to learn, long after our formal schooling, by reading and visiting our magnificent museums. We like the change of seasons, except when the humidity makes us weak at the knees. We love Metro and hate driving, but we do it a lot. Close by we have geographical choices — rivers, oceans, mountains, beaches, along with parks, urban and suburban. We can enjoy sports as individuals or as spectators. While we indulge our pets, we share our town with wildlife like squirrels and deer.

It costs a lot to live here, but we think it’s worth it. We struggle to afford our homes and lifestyle. We’re giddy when the cherry blossoms bloom, no matter how many times we walked among their cotton candy petals.

We care passionately about our government. We represent the pulse of the country and the founders of democracy. He’s our Lincoln, our Jefferson, and the Vietnam Memorial is our wall of perished veterans. We’re entrusted to keep them safe and well-tended. We welcome you to visit and share our pride. Though we complain about traffic, it’s still home.

Montgomery parents need to press for later school start times; The Washington Post December 4, 2012

This is my family’s first year at a Montgomery County high school, and my 14-year-old daughter is getting up around 6 a.m., before it’s light outside. She arrives at school by 7:10 a.m. and comes home as late as 7 p.m. (She’s on the JV basketball team; she’ll arrive home later if she makes varsity.) Then she has hours of homework and is lucky to get to bed before 11 p.m.

My other daughter attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in the county, and she arrives by 8:10 a.m. She also has homework and extracurricular activities. Getting up an hour later makes a huge difference to her attentiveness and attitude.

I think most Montgomery County families would support an investment in new buses, if that’s what’s needed to make possible a later school start time. Other area counties have managed the adjustment — Loudoun, Arlington and Alexandria. If large numbers of Montgomery parents want a change, it deserves consideration.

While some worry about a negative effect of this change on school sports and activities, we need to remember that the mission of our schools is to educate, not to train athletes or prepare students for stardom on Broadway.

Extracurricular activities are only relevant to a subsection of the student body. At-risk students often drop out because of tardiness, absenteeism and struggles to perform when sleep-deprived.

If Montgomery County wants to continue leading the way in public education, it’s time to innovate. Brain and sleep studies support the benefits of later start times for high school students.

Tweeted 10 times and liked on Facebook 50 times in one week. On the Sunday following my letter, The Washington Post editorial team published the response below. The following year, Montgomery County started high school 20 minutes later.

Accommodating Montgomery teenagers
By , Published: December 8

THE SIGNATURES on a petition calling for a later start time for Montgomery County high school students have yet to be delivered to school officials, but already the groaning has started, about the difficulty of working out the logistics and changing people’s habits. Given past failures to bring about change, why should any time or energy be expended on this?

Here’s one reason: There is incontrovertible evidence of the benefits to students, schools and communities of start times that are more in sync with adolescent sleep patterns. Montgomery school officials should, at the very least, undertake a study of this important issue.

More than 9,700 signatures have been collected on an online petition, to be presented Tuesday to the Board of Education, that urges a change in the current 7:25 a.m. start time to 8:15 a.m. or later. The campaign, launched in October, has tapped a groundswell of support from parents who, like petition organizer Mandi Mader, are sick and tired of seeing their children sick and tired. Ms. Mader, a psychotherapist who found sleep deprivation exacerbating the problems of her teenage patients, told The Post’s Donna St. George that Montgomery schools, which do so much right, are “behind the curve and not up to best practices on this.”

Clearly, it wouldn’t be easy to reconfigure Montgomery’s massive transportation system or to change long-held routines or to please everyone — factors that doomed Montgomery’s previous efforts for later high school bell times in the late 1990s. Those difficulties, though, cannot justify ignoring or tolerating the harm to teenagers caused by unhealthy start times. Those who would argue that parents simply need to do a better job of policing when their kids go to bed ignore the convincing body of research that shows adolescents have different biological sleep patterns that make it hard for them to go to sleep or wake up early. The sleep deprivation that results from having to get up before the crack of dawn plays out in lower academic performance; tardiness and absenteeism; and increased risks for depression or car crashes.

Such evidence has caused school systems around the country to find creative — and often low- or no-cost ways — of holding classes at later, healthier hours suited to adolescents. Indeed, one need look no further than Loudoun or Arlington counties. Fairfax County, similar in many respects to Montgomery, has set later start times as a goal and is enlisting a consultant to help devise a plan. Montgomery school officials should take seriously the concerns being raised and look for ways to address them.


6 Comments Leave a comment

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