Plenty of teachable moments with Veterans Day this weekend

Welcome to my inaugural column! I am Leslie Schermerhorn. I was appointed to the post of regional superintendent of McHenry County schools on May 1, 2012, and elected on Tuesday.

“Teachable Moments” is a monthly column to highlight the great things going on in our schools and to help strengthen the bond between our community, schools and families. We are all in this to transform the children of McHenry County from toddlers to educated, happy and productive members of our community. Only with everyone working together will we realize the optimum potential of our children.

My background is: 1. A wife and mother of two, Hank, 27, and Claire, 25; 2. An educator for 14 years, nine years as a middle school teacher, five years as an assistant principal in Chicago Public Schools; 3. A degree in law; and 4. A resident of McHenry County during my high school tenure and for the past 11 years.

I am excited for this opportunity to serve a broader base of students and to combine both my education and law backgrounds. Although, truth be told, I miss being with children on a daily basis.

What is a teachable moment? This is the nano-second when a child’s eyes and ears perk up with curiosity. This is the time when a child is most receptive to thinking about and exploring a topic. Notice, I am not saying “absorbing.” A child learns best when he or she is able to think critically. Giving a child/teen all the answers just shows how smart the adult is, not what the child has actually learned.

This sounds like a lot of educator gobbledygook? Please allow me to explain. Here is an example: You have your 10-year-old in the back seat driving to soccer practice. You ask, “What did you do in school today?” He/she responds, “Nothing.” You say, “What do you mean ‘nothing’? Certainly you did something.” He/she says annoyed, “I don’t know, just stuff.” What might you do instead? Ask a specific question such as, “I saw red ribbons up all around your school today. What was that all about?” Or, “Is there anything going on at school about the elections?” This gives your child something specific to talk about.

The teachable moment for this month is a civics lesson. Have you ever asked your son/daughter why Veterans Day is celebrated? Many schools in the county are having Veterans Day activities.

Northwood Middle School paid tribute to our veterans on Thursday with keynote speaker Lt. Michael Keppen. On Monday, Marengo Community High School will host 2,000 students, staff and community members to honor local veterans. They expect at least 150 veterans at the program and veterans’ reception. WGN-TV Anchor Robert Jordan will be the main speaker. The public is invited to attend.

Ask your son/daughter: Why do we honor our veterans? Why is freedom so important that people will risk their lives and go to war to defend it? How do Americans choose their leaders? Is that better than having kings and queens? Why or why not? Now, you have set the stage for your next teachable moment – discussion on the recent presidential election. This doesn’t have to happen right away. It might be the next night at dinner or on the way to the bus stop.

Many schools in the county held mock presidential elections. If they haven’t already asked you whom you voted for, I guarantee they’re curious. So, do you tell them? How about asking your son/daughter: “If you could vote, who would you have voted for?” After they answer, ask them why. Then pose a challenge, “I think you need to do some more research on the candidates. Once you’ve gotten more information, come back so we can debate who would be the best president. Let’s see if we agree or disagree on who was the best choice for president.” Once the debate has concluded, go in for the kill: “Would you like to be president some day? Why or why not?” (This is a double bonus question because it gets your child envisioning themselves as a leader.)

Marengo High School has taken this civics lesson to a higher level with their legislative semester. Students align themselves with a political party, choose issues relevant to current events and have mock committee hearings. On Nov. 1, I had the privilege of watching students as they presented a bill to committee. The students dressed professionally, had done their research on the issue, and presented it to the committee members. The class was excited, engaged and well-spoken.

The students will be presenting their final bills from 8 a.m. to noon Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 in the Marengo High School Auditorium. The public is welcome to come and see these students shine.

• Leslie Schermerhorn is regional superintendent of McHenry County Schools.

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