The Everglades Agricultural Area: Where, Why and How?

For those of you who may not know me personally, I’m passionate about the outside world and limit my time in the digital spaces like the newly marketed “metaverse”.  When teaching my children about the Earth, I take them out in our backyard, the beach or wherever we can manage to meet with the soil or water and see the brilliant design with plant and animal life interacting.  This past week I was blessed to go on a field trip of my own with my peers and am attempting to share with you what I learned in this blog article.

2022 Ramona in the sugarcane fields.

The Why: Lake Okeechobee and the EAA in Palm Beach County

As part of my Leadership Palm Beach County (LPBC) Engage Agriculture class day this past Wednesday, we embarked on a full day of everything agricultural that can be found in the western portion of our county.  The approximately 1160 square mile area to the south of Lake Okeechobee that is home to a place called the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA).  It was a wonderful day put on by LPBC and their partners.  Personally, it was my second time physically out there in the farm fields as the first time was when I was a high school student in 1995 and part of the Junior Leadership program (today known as Leadership Grow). It has been some 27 years later now and I was not disappointed and in fact was amazed that there was so much more for me to learn. For more information on all the Leadership Palm Beach County programs you can go to www.leadershippbc.org

Old Florida map that highlights the Everglades of old.

If you’re not familiar with Lake Okeechobee, it’s the big blob of water that you usually see in the southern portion of Florida’s peninsula on a map. Some immediate facts about our Lake O include it being the largest lake in the southeastern U.S. and the 2nd largest freshwater one that is entirely within the boundaries of our nation.  The word “Okeechobee” is a Seminole word that means “big water.”  It is also sometimes referred to as “Florida’s Inland Sea” and known for its fishing and boating amenities. For anglers, the largemouth bass and speckled perch are among the favorite catches found here.  If you’re not interested in going on the water, you can participate in a trail walk/run around the lake for either part or all of the 110-mile trail of a 35-foot dike that is somewhat humorously named the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST) https://floridahikes.com/tag/lake-okeechobee-scenic-trail.

Originally Lake O was saltwater and is believed to have started some 6,000 years ago.  Over time rainwater replenished it and as today nearly 40% of the lake is fed by our rains and the rest from freshwater sources like the Kissimmee and Harney Pond.  Notably, in the early part of the 20th century Lake O could be on average 19 feet deep but the hurricanes of the 1920s caused such heavy human and animal losses that the decision by the public and policy makers of that time and following was to redirect water from the lake and also dike up portion that usually flooded on a seasonal basis.  The Herbert Hoover Dike was installed in 1928 and has since kept Lake O’s waters at bay, one of the results was the revelation that much of the soil surrounding the southern portion of the lake was rich “muck” that was a boon for farmers familiar with this “black gold”.

Since the early 1990s, the depth of the lake can hover around 9 feet and measures are taken to reduce its “height” when needed after a particularly rainy season or prior to a major hurricane event that is forecasted.  Although the bottom of Lake O used to be sand, it began to transition into a state of muck as well. The presence of increased phosphorus made it challenging for many of the bottom creatures that thrived in the sandy bottom to survive, and the resulting losses in organisms and plant life rendered the organic decomposed layers (muck is a by-product)—the heavy phosphorus levels that grew over the years negatively affected snails, worms and other insects.  At the same time, there are some plants that enjoy phosphorus and can include non-native species like the cattail (they look like hot dogs on a stick at the water’s edge).

Note: Thankfully we learned that our farmers in the EAA have taken great steps in the last two decades to help decrease the phosphorus levels that include participation and implementation of Best Management Practices (BMP) and University of Florida has been a great partner with this: http://www.lakeoalliance.org/everglades-agricultural-area

Palm Beach County’s Role in America’s Food Production?

Leadership PBC Engage Class of 2022!

One of our key issues to learn during our LPBC Engage Day was how our county participated in the food production for much of our nation east of the Mississippi River.  It turns out that the signage at 20-mile bend that we took our first photo as a group at reflects the crops that are currently grown in the EAA.  Among them are sugarcane, rice (yes, rice!), celery, romaine lettuce, radishes, mangoes, green beans, sweet corn and cabbage. In short, when much of our nation is in the throes of winter and early spring thaw/freezes, our EAA is supplying fresh produce in spades.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that this Leadership PBC Engage Agricultural Day was made possible by the cooperation and access granted by the family-owned businesses like Everglades Equipment Group, Wedgworth Farms, Hundley Farms, TKM Bengard Farms and Florida Crystals. Did you know that Palm Beach County continues to be the largest county that produces at least 30 types of vegetables, commercial sod and sugarcane?  At least 700,000 acres benefit from organic or muck soil content.

After a few introductory speeches we boarded our bus and headed out to the farm fields that included radishes, sugar cane and romaine with other lettuce varieties.  The ride itself reminded us of the soft soil composition out here in the EAA as the paved and unpaved roads have their own unique contours to them–speeding not recommended.

The radish harvesting process, complex yet efficient.

In the radish fields we learned that if there are radishes left in the field after the harvesting equipment has gone through then it’s because of their non-marketable size. Therefore they are re-incorporated into the soil and in essence become compost for future crops.  It was fascinating to watch the operator drive the radish harvester as it picked up the radishes in their respective rows, cut off the tops and sent them backwards into a trailer that would take them to the packing house eventually.

The best way for us to learn is to touch the soil and feel the produce through the act of hand harvesting.

Our romaine/lettuce field stop included hair and beard nets being handed out and worn before we could embark into an active harvest at one of TKM Bengard Farms’ fields. The smooth orchestration of the workers and the machinery assisting them was mesmerizing.  Equally impressive was the outdoor conditions of windy heat combined with the newfound knowledge we had acquired about the workers’ 6 days a week schedules that yielded pay per hour several dollars less an hour than at a local Target or Walmart.

Romaine and lettuce fields at TKM Bengard Farms.

The sugarcane fields were especially enticing as we were able to gnaw on various stalks that were cut for us by Keith Wedgworth as he explained to us the process of growth, harvest and sugar mill operations—he was equally generous with his patience and time as he answered all the questions we had about this sweet crop. As we rolled away in our bus, Keith also pointed out boxes mounted on poles throughout the sugarcane field that accounted for the barn owl housing.  Mice can be problematic for this crop and instead of using poisons the owls have been the natural deterrent. I learned for the first time in my life that all parts of the sugarcane are utilized: including some portion that becomes a compostable plate product called Tellus: https://www.tellusproducts.com

Keith Wedgworth and our LPBC Engage Class of 2022 members listening to his sugarcane tutorial.

We also benefitted from Florida Crystals’ Caroline Villanueva who was able to explain all the various processes that the derivatives of the sugarcane would endure after it was cut and put into trailers out of the field.

Caroline Villanueva of Florida Crystals alongside Jeffrey Willis Jr. of MCA Fishing. Photo credit LPBC.

After we left the fields we were able to witness one of the mills that helps the Sugarcane Growers Co-Op process the harvest.  This included our bus going through a warehouse building that housed raw sugar that was unfit for human consumption but would soon go through the necessary refinement to make it worthy and safe to eat. We may or may have not tried a few granules out of our collective insatiable curiousity about how it would taste: sweet and gritty.

Raw sugar in holding before going through refinement process.

Torry Island, Belle Glade and an Introduction to the area including South Bay & Pahokee

King’s Catering, great food for a wonderful and educational day! Photo credit: Ofelia Utset

The lunch was hearty and included fresh produce from our EAA—many of us including myself enjoyed seconds of the chef’s dishes.  A special thanks to Jessica Clasby and her team at the Florida Sugar Cane League for securing King’s Catering for our meal. We enjoyed a quick respite in this outdoor pavilion situated on the edge of Lake O and listened to remarks from elected representatives of Belle Glade, surrounding areas and others who served as city staff or community partners.  Their introductions and speeches were refreshing as they reflected the culture of the area and they spoke to both the challenges and hopeful progress of Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee. For more information on the area you can check out their municipal websites: https://www.bellegladegov.com , https://www.cityofpahokee.com , https://www.southbaycity.com .

photo credit to Ofelia Utset

While I could say that my favorite part of the day was going out into the various farm fields physically, our post-lunch “Round Robin Stations” with representatives from businesses, farms, University of Florida’s Everglades Research and Education Center and other community partners was a priceless intellectual exercise for our diverse group.  Our class was broken up into smaller segments and instructed to start at one table and then move around every several minutes as told over the microphone by one of our program chairs like Ofie Utset who also helped capture our day through photographs like some of these I’m sharing in this blog.

Photo credit to Ofelia Utset

I’ve never participated in speed dating but this Round Robin experience reminded me of the concept. We were able to hear each person’s pitch and then our small group would ask questions that would inevitably spark discussion and debate about a particular theme or problem seeking a solution from the exchange of our ideas.

Without naming the members in my small group I can share that we found a consistent theme as we spoke with our respective speakers:  it has been difficult to find motivated workers to fill in the needs of the EAA and communities therein.  This is especially true when it comes to the youth growing up in the area.  The consensus was that the use of technology like video games and general overuse of screen time on social media apps has taken away the hours that many children usually spent playing outside and therefore grow up unaware of the industries and issues that keep Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee rolling with its economy and community efforts. The other repetitive theme that came up was how so many people in the eastern side of Palm Beach County have numerous misconceptions about Belle Glade, Pahokee and South Bay. Locals here encourage those who’ve never visited this area to come out and experience the area and its culture.  Annual events like Black Gold Jubilee are upcoming on the calendar and a great way to take a day trip to learn more: https://blackgoldjubilee.org

While we couldn’t find final solutions in such a short time, I do believe that these Round Robin talks helped to open up some of my classmates to how their own personal experiences could help effect change and inspire creative methods to incorporate our youth and unemployed to consider either working in the EAA’s industries or support the communities by engaging in other ways through training and employment.  There is no doubt that there is benefit to teaching K-12 students about what is in their area in terms of employment opportunities to help them start to conceptualize what they would be interested in when they are of age to begin internships or apprenticeships. Lastly, I know where to go take my children to learn about fishing in Lake Okeechobee through meeting Jeffrey Willis, Jr who is giving back to the community through his fishing and outdoor recreational knowledge with his tour guide services, www.builttolast21.com

Edge of Lake Okeechobee at Torry Island, also near the only hand-drawn bridge left in Florida. https://www.thepalmbeaches.com/explore-cities/point-chosen-bridge-selfie

Post-Harvest, Packing House Tour

Lettuce washed and packaged for salads.

TKM Bengard Farms (http://www.tkmfarms.com) was our host for the packing house tour where we got to go inside to the heart of their packaging operations and witness first-hand the speed and efficiency demonstrated as the respective harvested produce arrived.  Each crop has specific needs once it is cut from the field and romaine and other lettuce greens are the most time-sensitive.  For instance, it was awe-inspiring to watch in the field when workers first picked up the produce and cored the lettuce, then placed it on a conveyer to get washed and packed and then placed into refrigerated trucks that went to the packing house for further inspection and final packaging before loaded onto ready trucks for immediate transport.

Cold, careful and concise packaging in preparation for transport.

Simply walking through the large, warehouse-sized cooler gave us the true rendition of how hard every employee worked to ensure safety, cleanliness and a thorough tracking of product from its departure in the farm fields to when it was labeled, secured and packed into the trucks for transport to stores like our very own Publix grocery supermarket.  If you live in Florida or in many parts of the southeastern U.S., chances are you’ve consumed farm products like sweet corn, cabbage, romaine and other salad products like pre-packaged “Fresh Attitudes” salad mix from TKM Bengard Farms grown right here in the Everglades Agricultural Area!

The Bookends of the Day: Everglades Equipment Group

The family-owned and operated Everglades Equipment Group (www.evergladesfarmequipment.com) hosted our group for our morning meet-up and breakfast and also served as our closing tour of the day with remarks from some of their team members: most significant to our hearts was hearing from Alleigh Reitz’s grandfather who gave us some background on how his family first came to the area. This included sharing that their family had initially suffered from tough losses but persevered to create their company and lasting legacy to this day of helping the EAA conduct its work today.

Fully Autonomous sprayer.

In addition to seeing all the big and beautiful John Deere tractors and equipment, we were introduced to an autonomous sprayer that is operated by remote control that looked similar to many consoles for video games.  The random thought struck me that there is a way for some of our youth to get involved with farming operations through the very equipment that ironically keeps them away from the outdoors—their skill set may bring them back to the world that helps feed us all through this technology that is here and growing by the day. Thanks again to all those involved at Everglades Equipment Group giving us the tour and fielding our inquiries, including Alleigh Reitz, Jason Tucker and Jackson Autry.

The businesswoman in me was also pleased to see how well-rounded this particular business is with its involvement in helping the local community through charitable contributions to kids’ sports teams and other non-profits and community partners.  It’s a benefit to the community and businesses alike when there is continued interaction.  As needs arise in a municipality, a strong connection between the business and non-profits can find help find solutions quickly.

Our final group photo of the day with Everglades Equipment Group in Belle Glade.

Philosophical Postscript for Agriculture Day

The Leadership Palm Beach County Engage current class experience is quickly coming to its completion for my 2022 cohort but I know we’ll be able to give back through helping others to have a productive and educational time when they participate in one of LPBC’s programs in the future.

I have found that at least half of this experience has been especially powerful through the connections that my classmates and I have made with each other and everyone we “engage” with during our various class days with themes like “Business Day” and “Agriculture Day”.

1995 Ramona in the sugarcane fields with Junior Leadership Palm Beach County.

Standing out in the sugarcane field I had a flashback to my high school days when I was just starting to learn how to introduce myself and get to know people through dialogue and sharing experiences. Another reminder of how it helps our youth to give back to them through mentorship and programs today like Leadership PBC Grow.  Like the teenager I once was, I continue to enjoy meeting new people and constantly learning about the community I reside in—my classmates have taught me more about certain sectors that I was fuzzy on and making new connections through our LPBC Engage sponsors and hosts has also given me opportunities to help others with my experience and colleagues. 

My last philosophical reflection to share from the EAA farm fields comes courtesy of a couple lessons our class learned from Hundley Farms when they explained to us that when radishes are left in the field due to their non-marketable size they are reincorporated into the soil.  Our tour guides further described how when produce is cut back into the fields, their decomposition helps feed the dirt for future crops. This jolted some of us but then I thought about it: sometimes we sacrifice through giving of ourselves toward the common goal in our families, work or public service and perhaps we don’t reach our own personal goals but we still retain an important purpose for future generations. The second part to this was the refrain of crop rotation and our class listening to the farmers share that it’s critical to the health of the soil to have crops moved around. My immediate reflection is that people too need to change up their routines to learn and connect more with others or risk stagnation and malaise.

R.V.S.B.

1995, Junior Leadership Palm Beach County Agriculture Day.

Sources:

http://www.visitflorida.com

http://www.tkmfarms.com

http://www.floridahikes.com

http://www.lakeokeechobee.tripod.com

http://www.lakeoalliance.org

http://www.tellusproducts.com

UF Everglades Research and Education Center:

http://www.erec.ifas.ufl.edu

http://www.discover.pbcgov.org

Note: A final thanks to LPBC’s Greg Quattlebaum, Brooke Cantwell and Millie Eyeington who have taken care of our LPBC Engage Class of 2022 throughout the program!

Ukraine, Seedlings and the Greeks of Oxi Day

Just Breathe

On Thursday, February 24th I took a walk outside to my small garden to the east of our home here in south Florida.  It was snack break time for my three children as we had just finished our morning lessons for our Eagle Palm Academy—the official name of our hybrid homeschooling program.  

Usually, I use snack break time to do some grading or get ready for the rest of the day’s activities but instead I needed to take some deep breaths to think and reflect.   Our whiteboard this very morning had a Ukraine flag made out of colorful cardstock and the date written out with the caption “Official End of Post-Cold War Europe and the Rest of the World”.

I was in upper elementary school when the Berlin Wall began to crumble in November of 1989 and I recall our educators trying to convey the critical importance of the history that was unfolding at the time. Today I was finding the roles reversed as I tried to wrap my head around the current events and translate their significance to my own children.  A walk outside without talking was in short order to help me calm my mind and heart.

The Field Reveals Life Loves Life

A walk outdoors has always been a balm for our human spirit and this morning had a nugget of philosophical wisdom I was not expecting.  As I traversed our grassy lawn to my hodgepodge of a vegetable and herb garden, my eyes were literally downcast and something caught my eye in the yellowish-tinged light of the sun highlighting it. Dill. A baby dill plant to be exact.  

Baby Dill Plant Procured…

Why did the dill catch my eye? Because it was in the middle of a weed-infested lawn that had just been cut by machines and yet here was this little dill plant the size of a golf ball and it was proudly standing and spreading its aromatic feathery arms skyward.  I bent down to pinch a tiny part of one of its limbs and raised the dill piece to my nostrils and took a deep breath.  Yes, it’s strong and resilient.  It has little hope of surviving this hostile environment but it is giving its all through the programmed DNA inside of it to make food with the sun’s energy, H2O and to interact with animals and humans like myself to take in its own life breath of carbon dioxide.

As the dill scent wears off in my senses, I began to look around on bended knee and start to see the other little dills along with cilantro and the occasional collard greens.  All three of these plants I’ve had in my garden over the past few years but several feet and in some cases even hundreds of feet away from where I see them now as I get up and walk around in circles.  Instinctually the nurturing mother in me bolts for my gardening tools and within minutes I’m bending over on my knees again and digging out these seedlings.  

There is a slim chance that these seedlings can survive being transplanted and becoming full grown in one of my garden beds, but I cannot bear the thought of knowing that they’re out in this lawn alone without support to at least try to bear more limbs and eventually their respective goals which is to continue on through reproduction as they bolt to seed one day.

Later that day I took my children to their extra-curricular activities but stopped at our local Home Depot store to pick up more enriched soil and some small pots.  I was determined to have the best available supplies at my disposal as my side activity for the rest of the week would be identifying any seedlings in the sea of our grassy lawn around our home and giving them a fighting chance at fruition of their destiny.

Tying Them Together: A Trinity of Democratic Destiny

Even as I type out this blog essay, reporters around the world like BBC in Great Britain are saying that the Ukrainians are showing defiance to the Russian troops and military attacks on their nation in the last several days.  Pundits and military planning specialists alike give their thoughts and theories on whether or not Ukraine can hold its sovereignty and at the same time the citizens of Ukraine are living in the moment and have made their collective decision to defy tyranny and put up a fight to say “no!” There is doubt about their ability to hold their nation from complete occupation by Russia.

As a proud Greek-American myself I cannot deny that our “Oxi Day” has come up in my mind lately as the world grapples with the showdown between Russia and Ukraine.  When the Greeks of northern Greece stood up to Mussolini’s encroaching soldiers, the world at that time thought them to be foolish and naïve.  Yet it was their small victory of showing defiance against the fascist regime that helped give leaders like Winston Churchill the courage to fight Hitler and his Nazis.  I direct you to John Kass’ piece on Oxi Day for a better review of what that event was all about if you’re unfamiliar as he has a personal connection to its history: https://johnkassnews.com/oxi-day-and-freedom-let-we-forget/

My deliberate morning walk last week helped me understand the trinity connection between the bold seedlings in our weed-choked grass, Ukrainians today and the Greeks of history’s marker of Oxi Day.  Hitler ended up going into Greece anyway and occupying them during WWII but he couldn’t break the Greeks’ spirit and the fight for freedom across Europe and subsequently the U.S.  The seedlings in my yard aren’t held back by logic and careful pragmatism or delicate diplomacy—they are breathing and beating the odds and can soar to full term if given some extra care from a humble home gardener like myself.  

We owe the Ukrainians our respect, prayers and energies toward whatever is in our capacity to assist them as they fight for their human driven instinct to seek freedom and sovereignty in their homeland.

May Love guide us all.

R.V.S.B.

Where the Dill and Other Plants reside, refuge plants below from the field…

For a musical break, an oldie but goodie for inspiration of how even our smallest actions can help the biggest events unfolding out of our control: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1rGlqV79xFA

Why Oppress by Suppressing?

Blocking, boosting

and suppressing.

Two years of fears,

and still suppressing.

Lack of smiles, so sadly,

we’re suppressing.

Inaccurate tests and why test,

to keep suppressing?

We tried to take a break,

with this suppressing.

The viruses don’t care, by connecting,

conquered suppressing.

When will we wake up?

Asleep, suppressing.

We fear death, stopped living, yet,

approved suppressing?

Slow suffocation of society,

accepted suppressing.

Our world churns with ingrown pains and chains,

all linked to suppressing.

Nature still wilds, can’t tame her variations,

despite this collective (damned) suppressing.

Decades from now, our descendants will wonder,

why did we endorse this suicidal suppressing?

R.V.S.B.

2021: The Year of Panic and Paradoxes for the United States

The end of every calendar year brings with it the fatigue of the months prior mixed with the hopeful expectations for the new year ahead.

This week I sense a weary dread instead and it is accelerated by this repetitive news cycle that is constantly focused on how many people are getting themselves tested for the endless Covid-19 variants — I personally like to call the variants themselves the baby offspring of the initially “novel” virus that has upended countless lives around the world.

What struck me odd about this past year is the large number of paradoxes that our American society endured. The Webster definition of “paradox” is: a statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true; b: a self-contradictory statement that at first seems true; c: one (as a person, situation, or action) having seemingly contradictory qualities or phases.

I’ve learned that going through paradoxical circumstances is exhausting emotionally. Our nation is suffering today from a high rate of undiagnosed “pandemic PTSD.”

For the sake of brevity, I’ve selected a few examples from the last 13 months to highlight some moments that we’ve collectively shared emotionally that makes 2022 a difficult new prospect to consider. At the end I’ll offer a couple of book recommendations (available as audio books too!) to help navigate our personal place in this complex chess game for “team human” that we’re all in whether we like it or not.

December 2020: Unfortunate Scarring by Post-Election Rhetoric

As if 2020 hadn’t beaten us all up with the inception of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, our nation had to face a changing of the guard from President Donald J. Trump to President-elect Joseph Biden. Unfortunately, shortly after the election in November 2020 there was an uneasiness that descended on all U.S. citizens because President Trump was not satisfied with the results and refused to concede the election to Biden. His words and actions continued to anger some people and enable others.

The paradox in this month is that there were more people who were caught in the middle of this argument who just wanted peace — this included many people who had voted for President Trump but were accepting of the fact that for now it was time for our nation to move ahead with a new president and keep up the near-impossible work of tackling the challenges that our nation faces daily which now included the 2020 pandemic fallout.

January 2021: Ouch, Ouch and Extra Ouch

In the first week of this month, most people were still nursing their hangovers or enjoying their detoxifying ways. When the day started on January 6th there was some concern of protests by pro-Trump groups over the official certification of the election results by Congress but the visuals that were broadcast on social media and other general media outlets were jarring. What was a boring procedural vote became the poster child for our nation’s political polarity that’s been brewing since before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our soil.

The paradox in this month is that there were people in one half of the nation who didn’t want Biden as our new president but were also adverse to President Trump acting out with public disdain in the manner as he was through every media platform within his reach — his speech in front of his supporters by the White House on January 6th was saturated with nuances and charged language.

While he may have not explicitly described how people should go into the Capitol building that day, his rhetoric certainly helped accelerate their courage to follow their passion into the climate of an unexpected conclusions. The saddest part of January 6th was that there were more Trump supporters who were peacefully congregated all day in Washington DC and not part of the mayhem by a much smaller group whose actions and words were broadcast worldwide that day. The voices of many were hijacked by the voices and actions of a few.

March 2021

Variant. This word would become the new word used to preface nearly every news update on the most current mutation(s) of the SARS-Cov-2 virus that gave birth to Covid-19 and its subsequent offspring. The Greek alphabet had been selected to help keep track of the different variants although the general public would only get to know a few at a time. March was the featuring variant was “Delta”.

The paradox I noticed in this month is that although vaccines were available, not everyone had access just yet depending on where you were in this country. I’m a Floridian and was not yet in the appropriate age group and was undecided on the choice of vaccine — I considered J&J and then the temple of the CDC lords decreed that there needed to be a momentary halt on the “one and done” shot as there were a few reports of recipients developing a dangerous blood clotting condition called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS. Never mind all the other side effects and problems with the other vaccines, J&J was the new patsy for rushed vaccine rollouts and its fate benefits the companies Pfizer and Moderna. Pay no mind that anyone with blood clotting issues or heart conditions had to consider avoiding the vaccine choices depending on the severity of their body combined with their personal doctor’s opinion.

Many people would contract the Delta variant and survive it. After they recovered and they still wanted to get a vaccine shot or two they were explicitly told to wait at least 3 months. During that waiting period they would endure the news cycles and social media universe spouting harsh opinions about those who hadn’t gotten vaccinated yet — little attention paid to the studies and evidence that even our NIH had posted on their website that people whose immune systems had already been exposed to the virus variants had the opportunity to help them next time they were exposed to any offshoots of Covid-19. The hope was always that the vaccines could hopefully match the the efficacy of the natural processes of our immune systems. Science! Unfortunately, selective science is the name of the game in this endless pandemic.

July 2021

If pandemic fatigue was already prevalent in our nation by this point, it was about to get much worse. Many people were now used to not having to wear the mask anymore and a significant amount of our citizens had received one or more of the Covid vaccine shots and were ready to move on with their lives. Then at the end of this month the U.S. health czars – such as they are – reversed course saying that the vaccinated should mask up again as they were vulnerable regardless of their shot status.

The paradox in this month was that while our nation had collectively made firm decisions on whether to get vaccinated or not (unvaccinated or previously infected taking responsibility that if they got sick it was their own fault), they were punished with the news that there were reports of break-through infections occurring amongst the vaccinated.

While this should have been a momentary pause for all of us to consider why this was happening and to clarify the record that the public had been told repeatedly: if you get vaccinated, we can stop the virus. It turns out that Americans may need to sign up for an online course in biology and virology to learn for themselves how false and misleading this message has been. Also, it has been a terrible disservice by our federal government to refrain from admitting that they were wrong about their initial claims.

From the faction who was comfortably vaccinated, there were some that went ahead and got booster shots without waiting for the FDA and CDC to finalize recommendations in August. Little did they and many others who got boosters know that within weeks their bodies would be vulnerable again just like everyone else.

September 2021

I personally love Septembers because they mark the optimism of a “new year” feeling as the school year starts for my own children who are home-schooled for over a decade along with many other educational add-ons. My heart was bruised, however, by the start of this particular school year as we witnessed a meltdown of decorum between the school boards and parents in school districts all over our nation.

Paradox here? While school board members and parents were arguing over whether or not they should force students to wear masks all day at school, the students were watching. They were learning that those people who were supposed to look out for their educational needs were teaching them by example how to be mean to those who you don’t agree with and for what? The fight was over masks and yet even when masks were worn, the variants of Covid-19 continued to proliferate. Social damage done to the pyches of young minds at the expense of a strained argument lacking logic — while you eat or drink there is no virus transmission right?

For the next couple of months, kids started getting sniffles again and many parents avoided getting their kids tested so they could keep them in school. The disruptions to the kids’ education and parents’ work had hit a fever pitch and many teachers, administrators and parents started to look the other way when someone sneezed. By the way, if using the modern Greek alphabet, there are 10 letters between “delta” and “omicron”.

December 2021

As I write this we are hours from the New Year in the Eastern Time Zone. At the beginning of the month most people were refraining from talking about Covid-19 issues. We had respectively gone through with most of our Thanksgiving plans and embarked on 2–3 weeks of nonstop work meetings and party engagements. Hugs, handshakes and maskless events abounded. Some wealthy elites even hosted social functions with rapid testing conducted prior to help assuage anxieties. The common cold, random influenza strains and a newly born Covid-19 baby “omicron” quickly came through silently as “Silent Night” played in countless Christmas playlists.

The possible paradox in this month is that although most of us know that being around each other in close proximity could yield outbreaks of all kinds of germs related to viruses, stomach bugs and so forth. It was unspoken but sensed that most people were ready to deal with it. People are tired of being constrained or shamed into doing whatever the CDC or Dr. Fauci recommends we do with our lives on a daily basis. Americans have the benefit of religious freedom in this country and yet most of our citizens are in the controlling grip of a new religion that has become tied to what the latest infection rate is based on a testing system that is flawed at best. Where do we go from here?

Closing Thoughts and Book Recommendations

I’m an optimist and do believe that Americans have more in common with each other than we have disagreements. 2021 also featured stories that reflected strong opinions from different sides about the right of one’s body. Pro-abortion groups and anti-mask groups connect precisely on the level of what we should be able to do with our bodies. When someone brings up how we affect other humans both pro-choice and anti-mask folks are intertwined. While abortion can kill a human life that is helpless to the person carrying it, we’ve also been living maskless lives for hundreds of years — potentially exposing everyone around us to any number of deadly plagues.

For “team human” I offer the following book ideas as the authors are trying to educate and empower the reader to find the path forward so that together as a collective we can contribute positive changes in a world that may seem off-tilt and spinning ever faster.

A blessed year of strength and grace to you all in Peace’s guidance:

https://www.recapturetherapture.com

Grateful for God’s Grace in 2020: Last “CEO of the Home” podcast for the year

December 31, 2020

Today is the last day of the year and although it’s tempting to shout “we’re done”, most parents and caregivers are aware that the start of a new year doesn’t mean our labor of love stops for any breaks. 

My quick message to everyone that had to help their children with their schooling during a pandemic year is: good job! and please give yourself grace if you feel that you fell short.  This is every educator’s inner hardship, that struggle to feel at peace about how the school year has gone for their pupils under their stewardship. 

This blog post is mean to be short, I’ve included a link to the podcast episode in the format of a candid interview with questions by Thomas Bean:

Happy and blessed New Year to you all: may God’s grace continue to give us the endurance to embrace each day we have.

R.V.S.B.

New School Year in the Pandemic Prism

Education at home can be a beautiful mess

August 23, 2020

Palm Beach County, Florida

Tomorrow our county, considered the 10th largest school district in the nation, will embark on its Covid-19 pandemic inspired educational journey for many parents/caregivers and children as they log into their e-learning platforms.  There are some who have prepared to take their students into the select private schools that are offering in-person instruction with smaller classes and new physical distancing measures.  My hope and prayer for all my fellow parents is that the teamwork between you, teachers, and your children be strong and inspired by the hope of a new school year with so many new things to be learned for everyone. 

My personal Bean homeschooling plan is to start my students fully in the first week of September as I have in the past. For the last couple of weeks and going forward, my mornings are busily spent with the children doing small lessons, reviews, and cleaning out our educational areas.  My bed has been the staging ground daily for organizing countless piles of papers and projects.  If you find that your home is a mess in preparation for your children’s first day of school at home, it will get better and yes it’s normal.  If, however, your home is completely spotless then I sincerely applaud you and would love some tips on how to do better in this area.

Approaching the Big Horn mountains from the west after leaving Yellowstone

My second podcast for CEO of the Home was recorded and released in late July and then I took off on a sabbatical by myself—it entailed me driving from Florida to Wyoming and back.  In my haste to pack up and leave the household in good hands, I forgot to post it online for anyone interested.  Simply put, it’s a small primer on how to approach a “multi-schooling” methodology should it be an option:

Episode 2: https://ceo-of-the-home.simplecast.com/episodes/how-to-multischool

My sabbatical was 2 weeks in duration and afforded me the chance to let my mind rest from the constant barrage of COVID-19 news coverage, contentious social media platforms, and our local frenetic pace of life here in south Florida.  I deleted all my social media apps and news alerts on my iPhone so that I wasn’t tempted to scroll through during the quiet moments that this trip gave me.

Yellowstone National Park has a great trail ride available at Canyon

Also, I needed to rekindle my own love of learning.  Wandering about in Wyoming gave me the opportunity to seek out new adventures like driving to a privately owned quarry outside Kemmerer and chiseling ancient rock for fish fossils.  Picking up my paintbrushes to paint while sitting at scenic points in Yellowstone National Park gave me a renewed inspiration for playing with colors on paper.  I’ve ridden horses but only through flat forests and swamps, mountain trail riding was a brand new experience for this flatlander.

Along with the silent hours I spent alone, I was able to think about what new things to weave into my children’s educational experiences moving forward.  I had the blessing of commiserating with other parents who were traveling in Wyoming—it turns out that challenges my fellow Floridian parents have with this pandemic education prism are the same for other parents nationwide.

Tonight I also recorded my third podcast and I touch upon why I took this long break.  What I didn’t address in it is that although I took this trip during a pandemic, I had weighed the risk and knew that my mental health was of utmost importance as I’m getting ready for another school year. 

With that, I share my latest episode of CEO of the Home, Sabbatical and the New School Year:

Episode 3: https://ceo-of-the-home.simplecast.com/episodes/sabbatical-and-new-school-year

I wish you all the best as our respective school years begin this month and next!

In service of Love,

R.V.S.Bean

A Floridian Wanders in Wyoming During a Pandemic

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Today is the end of a 4-day drive to come back to south Florida after leaving Wyoming on Thursday, August 6th.  That departure date marked 2 weeks since I had left Palm Beach County, by myself to make the road trip out there in 3 days.  While my body is somewhat fatigued from the endurance of the driving feat, my spirit is invigorated and refreshed.

Sabbatical During a Pandemic

Are we still in the “pandemic” stage?  I’m not trying to argue with anyone because on Thursday, July 23rd, I deleted all social media and news apps off my phone so that I could take a mental break as I broke away physically from my family and state of residence.  I’ve just turned them back on today and it seems I’ve got a lot to catch up on unfortunately.

I packed most liquids and snacks I would need so that the only stops I made when driving was for gas, restroom usage, and to stay in lodging.  Driving through several states, it seemed the consensus was that masks were encouraged inside buildings and I acted accordingly along with a cleaning ritual each time I re-entered my vehicle.

It turns out that I made an attempt to journal my trip as it unfolded, so here are some excerpts to share with you as it’s my humble intention to encourage others to take a sabbatical even if it’s only for an afternoon or evening during one day of the week.  

There were times I was with others but most of the time I traveled away from home was on my own. There is a great healing and productive reconstruction that can occur when we get to be alone especially if we’re always with others.

Thursday, July 25th

Palm Beach Gardens, FL

A blessed sign from above that all will be well+

Awoke with a clear mind in the pre-dawn hours as I shifted under the sheets in bed.  Today was the day I’m leaving on my sabbatical.  What had begun as a trip planned months ago as a family getaway has now been reduced to me going away by myself to take a mental and physical break from all this COVID-19 year has brought us. 

I got up early to finish a couple of more cloth masks at my sewing machine.  As I ran the fabric through the sewing needle going up and down, I felt my heart pinch and sink with every heartbeat at the thought that I was actually leaving my husband, children, and a grandparent at home soon for just over 2 weeks duration.

Distant thunder rumbled and there was a part of me ready to just scrap the whole plan to travel.  As I finished up my sewing work, I walked outside and saw a double rainbow in the sky along with lightning flashing behind it.

I somehow knew in that electrifying and beautiful moment that I was making the right choice to go on this trip.  Shortly thereafter the children also came outside to see me and witness the beautiful sky and although they knew I was leaving, they didn’t dwell on it too much instead giving me hugs and relishing in the moment of that glorious sunrise and rainbow near an uncertain storm.

Friday, July 24th

Signal Mountain, TN

Left Signal Mountain, Tennessee around 5:30am. As my body awoke around 4:53am, most of my physical body was all about just staying in bed and sleeping but I knew that I had at least 11-12 hours of driving ahead of me today. Today was my longest leg.

On my way out, I dropped a note to the children in the post office box off the side of the road on the mountain.

Yesterday the drive from Palm Beach County of Florida to family in Tennessee was largely uneventful except for rain and a vehicle fire off I-75 in Georgia.

Much of the morning I spent listening to the playlist that Thomas loaded onto my phone for me.  My favorite currently is listening to the Hamilton soundtrack and the song “I am not going to miss my shot”…

In the afternoon I had a meeting on zoom with my UF MBA team colleagues and one of our professors to work on one of our projects and ask questions.  Although it was surreal to conduct business in my car as I drove through Missouri at 70+ mph, it was well worth it knowing I was making good travel time.

Arrived safely at the Arbor Day Lied Lodge and was able to take a walk after the long drive in their forest trail and hazelnut rows. 

Saturday, July 25th

Nebraska City, NE

Awoke bright and clear around 3am (central time)…tried to go back to sleep but no such luck. 

So got up and readied myself—got my bearings for my upcoming MBA class later today and then checked my maps once more. Today I make it to Wyoming.

As I pulled out of the lodge area, I had to take a couple of roads to reach a state road that would eventually lead me to interstate 80 westbound.  “Pitch dark” is an understated term in this remote corner of Nebraska.  It was like driving in a black flannel blanket if that were a thing.

When I reached the state road, there was a semi-truck that I pulled directly behind and it happened to be the only truck or vehicle on this road for at least 45 minutes or more.  I was running low on gas and knew I’d have to stop soon. Made the mental note to not forget fueling up at the end of each driving leg during the day instead of waiting for the mornings.

I gratefully stayed at a safe distance behind the truck as the driver used their high beams and we drove in tandem up and down the rolling hills for about 40 miles until we reached Lincoln, Nebraska.  I used this opportunity to stop at a well-lit gas station and there was a police car there—giving me an added sense of security.

Once I left Lincoln, I caught up with I-80 and began the long trek westward across Nebraska.  As the light of dawn began and the plains rose higher upward, my body surged with excitement and expectation—as well as the effects of elevation increasing.  Finally, the digital map in my car’s front console showed the red arrow near Wyoming.

Made it in safely to Cheyenne, Wyoming in the late morning and checked into my hotel.  A full day of MBA online graduate classes and an exam was awaiting me. 

Sunday, July 26th

Cheyenne-Kemmerer-Jackson Hole, Wy

Recently renovated state capitol building, first state to afford women the right to vote!

Day began with the quiet recognition that I needed to get up promptly for my MBA class sessions starting early because they were at Eastern Standard Time and I was now on Mountain Time in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

My dreams had been fretful and filled with episodes with my children and hugging them.  When I awoke I felt guilt again that I was not at home to help with the morning routine of helping with everyone.  The demanding school schedule this morning helped me focus on proceeding with my classwork instead of dwelling on my misgivings of being gone from the children.

It was a bittersweet set of class sessions because our cohort does miss each other as we used to meet in person once a month in Gainesville prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. But at least one of our professors was doing a great job of trying to help us be more productive by putting us into virtual breakout rooms where we got to work with each other more intimately and fulfill our assignment requirements.

I had to check out of my hotel, however, as I was due to be in Jackson Hole by sundown.  Once our first class finished I was in the car again without a beat and was hurtling down I-80 westbound once again.

It was a little awkward logging into the Zoom class session from the road but thankfully except for a couple hiccups the Wi-Fi connection in the car worked well.

On the way to Kemmerer, I had to stop in Rock Springs at a Walmart in order to pick up a new camera since the one I was borrowing wasn’t working.  I was still logged into my class on my phone and so just went in, with a mask no less and purchased a camera and still listened in to class. Ah, technology. 

By the end of class I was pulling into Kemmerer and able to take a photo of the J.C. Penney mother flagship store in town and then make my way to a private fossil quarry where I was able to find some slabs of rock with complete fish fossils intact.  I got a little woozy driving up and a down a gravel road at 7000 feet to get to the quarry–once I was parked and walking on the ground of that particular quarry, I had a fun time breaking up rock with a metal chisel and hammer along with the bruises and scrapes to boot.

Stopped afterwards to enjoy a short trail in the Fossil Butte National Monument nearby and then started the drive up to Jackson Hole and made it in town before sundown to check into my lodging for the next couple of days.

A messy affair, but quite cathartic to chisel away at rock
Outside Kemmerer, no buildings for miles on end

Wednesday, July 29th

Yellowstone National Park, Old Faithful 

My spirit continues to wander and I don’t know much about how to tame it.

The wild mountains, meadows, rivers, and countless other wonders I’ve seen here at Yellowstone today have me wanting to let my soul wander free as well.

Thursday, July 30th

Yellowstone National Park, Canyon Lodge

The day flew: it began with trying to get my laundry done at the Canyon campground area and then heading to my horseback ride nearby. 

The ride went relatively well—although I was pretty tired physically having already endured a half day mountain trail ride on a horse earlier in the week while in Jackson.

I realized just how sore I was in an acute manner when the horse was going downhill and such.  It was then I also thought about the fact that I don’t want to really go through the physical duress of another mountainous horseback ride next week when I’m near the Bighorn Mountains.  If I were fresh, maybe, but not now.

Had some conversation through my mask and bandanna while riding, turns out there were a couple of families from Texas along with me the Floridian. Weren’t we the coronavirus hotspot misfits in this corner of Wyoming?

Although I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here at Yellowstone, I feel terribly guilty after finding out there is a hurricane brewing offshore Florida and husband is having to deal with work duties accordingly.  Of course, I leave on a rare sabbatical and there is a storm threat, thanks 2020.

As much as I feel this is where I want my spirit to be, I feel tugged to go back home and take care of everyone again.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Johnson County, Wyoming

Amazing. Here I have made it to the other side of the Bighorns and all I want to do is have a bison burger and a whiskey drink to take the edge off of a crazy day of road travel.

Began the day around 6:00am and driving out of Yellowstone.  Didn’t like that I had to part with my in-loves after spending a couple of days together hiking around YNP.

As I rolled out of the Canyon Lodging area, I saw Dad Thom Bean walking on the side of the road for his early morning walk.  Was grateful that I was able to give him a final hug goodbye.

Afterwards I took the left at the stop sign to head toward Yellowstone’s Fishing bridge. There was heavy fog but at a particular clearing where there was a great stag with large antlers. Most beautiful animal I have seen in my life this far because there it was in its powerful presence and behind him the fog was lit up by the fiery orange of the sun rising.  My iPhone couldn’t do it justice, it was incredible in person as I had “quietly” pulled up with my car and put my window down. At least I used my new Canon camera and it seems that it may have captured this rapturous moment of a stag in his solitude as the sky behind him was awash in passionate colors of the rising sun.  

The drive out of the park started smoothly, although I keep forgetting how steep the grade is going through and downward from the Sylvan pass for the east gate of Yellowstone.

Stopped at the Pashuka(sp) tourist shop to pick up some trinkets for the children.

Cruised through Cody and headed toward Powell and Lovell. Passed the Heart Mountain area where Japanese Americans had been interred after the Pearl Harbor attack in the 1940s.

When I was approaching Big Horn Canyon, I stopped in to check with the park ranger there because I was feeling nervous about my plan to head up to the Medicine Wheel on Medicine Mountain. Not familiar with this pass and northern part of the Big Horns, I asked Austin the park ranger if he thought the drive was alright. Enthusiastically he remarked that he’s driven up there himself and tried to prepare me that there would be a “bump” or two as the construction signs would indicate. 

Armed with a few more maps and Austin’s tips, I started on the road up…and up..and like super up.  Like “up” on crack and steroids at the same time. The speed limit never went beyond 20-30 mph, another clue that this was a steep climb.

I felt like a horse that has blinders on as I purposely didn’t look around because as I kept going up each switchback—whether it was long or short didn’t matter the reality is I was aware of how very high I was going.

When I finally seemed to clear the climbing part – I realized that I was back in a place where doing 50-65 mph was acceptable and safe. 

Kept looking at my navigation and saw that the Medicine Wheel turn should be coming up. Sure enough, before long it was time to turn left and I was relieved to see the sign. What I wasn’t prepared for was the secondary sign to the right that told me the actual parking spot was still another 1.5 miles up, as in UP the gravel, rough road ahead that had no guard rails and above there was the large spherical FAA radar dome –no Medicine Wheel entrance in sight.

Resigned, I thought, “I’ve made it this far, I can go up this road at the very least.” Unfortunately, as I continued up the “hill” my body began to tense up worse than it had already been for the past hour or so of the climb up these damned Big Horns. It was near impossible to block out the fact that here I was climbing up this mountaintop—literally.

The open space on both sides expanded so far and wide with nothing but sky.  There was finally a space to the left to pull out and so I pulled over and a pickup truck was coming up behind me and passed on area and parked further up. 

After a couple minutes I went ahead and pulled out to follow where the pickup truck went and parked again and put on the emergency brake. I was still so shaky and just broke down in disappointed tears—I just could not go any further. It was solid. There was no way I could keep going.

Truth be told, I was nearly frozen solid in movement. Literally wouldn’t drive any further. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was wondering if I shouldn’t just call 911 and ask the dispatcher if the state troopers there could be sent out to come rescue me and drive me down this mountain. I guess 9,000 feet plus in elevation with no trees around magnified the altitude in full effect for my Floridian sensibilities.

So I sat there for a few moments and cried tears of frustration and despondency since I really wanted to visit this Medicine Wheel archaeological site but it was clear that I wasn’t going anywhere. For more information on this site you can google it or check out: https://www.summitpost.org/medicine-mountain/451567

Thankfully was able to text back and forth with someone and it helped me gather the mental courage and strength to say to myself that it was time to head down the gravel road back to the main road and head for the other side of the Big Horns. 

When I finally made it down to the Burgess Junction I took a right turn and evidently went through Granite Pass and didn’t even know it—that’s how steep that previous climb had been.

Thankfully the rest of the drive was pretty uneventful—especially as I was getting adept as using my lower gears to shift while driving downhill.

Saturday, August 1st

Johnson County, Wyoming

Today I ventured out to check out the parade in town in celebration of the end of the their week with the Johnson County Fair. I had my scarf and a mask at hand in case it was needed, thankfully most folks were staying spaced out and I only used it when someone came to speak to me in close proximity.

Went to the rodeo later and had fun watching the various events displayed, only the 3rd rodeo I’ve witnessed and have to admit that I’m hooked.

On the way back to the cabin I’m staying in for next few days, took the car through a drive-thru car wash—all those mountain passes in the past several days have definitely dusted up the vehicle!

Monday, August 3rd

Johnson County, Wyoming

It has been a wonderful day of lounging in to sleep late in the morning, especially given the full moon last night gave me little ability to rest well.  

Once I was up with some tea, coffee, and pancake in a cup ready—went outside to set up shop again with my paints and canvases. It is almost impossible to convey how peaceful it has been to just sit and listen to the Clear Creek, drink, and paint at my leisure.  I’ve even snuck in a couple of mini Romeo y Juliettas mini cigars to puff my cares into oblivion. 

Tuesday, August 4th through Thursday, August 6th

The last few days in town have been a blessed blur.  Knowing that I must gather up my paintbrushes, supplies, clothes, and spirit (or at least what I can salvage), it’s time to get ready and rest up for my drive back to Florida.

Grateful for the time away even with the COVID-19 taint on everything. Although the idea of leaving all my responsibilities was terrifying, I know I feel refreshed and strengthened with the days I spent out west and ready to tackle what’s ahead back in SoFla.

R.V.S.B.

One of many musical earworms: https://youtu.be/V5YOhcAof8I

Let’s Talk: My Podcast Launch and Why Education Continues Despite COVID-19

The Podcast

The Setting

Here in Palm Beach County, Florida, the last couple of weeks have been an unfortunate whirlwind of hot and humid weather coupled with dizzying numbers being reported with positive COVID-19 cases in our state.

Historically late July is the time when many of us Floridians have fled for vacation in cooler and drier weather elsewhere and are soon preparing to come back for the back-to-school rush of activity that follows in August.

Instead, I’ve fielded many texts and calls this month as our local public school districts have been unable to find a peaceful resolution on how they will conduct the education of over 170,000 children in our county for the 2020-2021 school year.

The How

Every state in our nation is grappling with this question: Do our students come back to school in the fall?

Despite the answer, their education continues even at this moment as we’re in the throes of a national debate on the matter of whether it’s safer to conduct classes in-school, hybrid, virtual, online, and so forth. We’re all learning every single day, our youth are doing so at an accelerated pace.

The trend I’ve noticed in my own social circles is that many parents and caregivers are taking matters into their own hands by making decisions to transition to virtual learning, homeschooling, transferring to private schools, creating learning co-ops, and other creative solutions to mitigate the collective chaos surrounding our American education system.

As a multi schooling mother of three children for over a decade, I’ve been happy to share my resources and whatever advice I can lend to others as they navigate what their children’s education plan should be for our upcoming school year. I’m also thankful to be part of organizations like the Junior League of the Palm Beaches as our women members focus on helping our community, especially those with the lack of financial resources to be able to help students grow.

The Why

Today I launched my first podcast, CEO of the Home, after years of thinking about it. Why now? Frankly, why not. Although writing out my CEO of the Home blog has been my way of sharing with others what adventures I’ve experienced or lessons I’ve learned, this frenetic paced world needs talk too. So before you hear me talk, perhaps I should give you some background on what I’ve done.

In my undergraduate years at University of Florida, my first academic love was Telecommunications and I enjoyed working radio hours as a production assistant and weekend disc jockey. I graduated with a B.A. in English and some education classes under my belt instead and worked in schools. After the attacks of 9/11, I began another career serving in Washington, D.C. as a congressional aide to a Florida congressman covering education policy and then a political appointee for Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, Jr. during President George W. Bush’s administration. I began pursuing a Masters degree in Education that was cut short when the U.S. economy took a severe downturn and with a newborn son in tow, my husband and I left D.C. to stay with family in Florida in 2009.

I worry, as does any loving parent, whether I am doing enough for my children or am I screwing them up. My intent with this podcast is not to tell anyone how to manage their life, rather I want to offer hope, options and encouragement to make the choices that are best for them and their families.

R.V.S.Bean

A Hybrid Education: My Tidbits from a Decade of Experience

Many COVID-19 closure weary parents, caregivers and educators haven’t recovered from the late 2019-2020 school year crash due to lockdowns across the nation.  As many try to find a summer routine in the abyss of continuous coronavirus restrictions, school districts are having to formulate plans now for this upcoming school year 2020-2021 amid rising pandemic cases.  

The new buzz word is “hybrid” model.  I had no idea that my personal style of home education for our three children these last several years would be considered the new normal for some.

What’s a Hybrid Education and Will My Child Thrive In It? 

Every school district has their own specific models but they generally follow something like this: a couple days in the classroom, a couple days at home, and possibly more virtual learning sessions.  

Breathe in, breath out.  While it’s preferable that all our students can return to their pre-COVID school routine, the reality may be that a hybrid model will work in lieu of that routine even if only temporarily. 

The consensus by most parents (going forward, “parents” also includes caregivers/stewards) trying to facilitate their children’s learning during the last months of the 2019-2020 school year was that online learning doesn’t work.  My heart sank when I heard this over and over again as I understood their frustration and yet was sad for their lack of imagination.  What do I mean by that last part?  

Let me start by acknowledging how difficult it’s been for everyone to adjust to the rapid changes that occurred in all manners of our society.  The last thing many parents have been able to do is “embrace the moment” and try to participate in their children’s excitement for what each day brings.  Many are trying to survive whether because of their jobs or have simply not stopped to actually participate fully in their kids’ learning each day.  It is all-consuming to do so, there’s no way to sugar-coat that fact.

Whether we as parents like it or not, the COVID-19 pandemic has altered most of our regularly scheduled lives and that includes our children’s education routine. This amounts to a nearly total upheaval of what daily life was like for children and parents alike.  This is no small matter.  This is unheard of at least for the last century or so.

For a home-schooling parent like myself, nothing really changed for my own children’s daily schedules except for the fact that suddenly many of their peers now were joining them in this wide open expanse of learning possibilities outside of the “brick and mortar” school institutions. Granted, our extracurriculars were gone like swim team, dance, gymnastics, and Greek school.  Suddenly I wasn’t alone either, many of my mom friends were now on the “front lines” of their children’s educational needs and curiosities—and it is EXHAUSTING.

If your child is going to spend time at home again as part of their education going forward in this school year especially due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions, I want to share with you my experiences in the hope that you’ll be able to navigate this “new normal” in the short term until such time as the regular school program is back or if you may find that your child(ren) thrive in a new educational paradigm.  

The good news is that most of you should be able to use your current school’s distance learning or hybrid school options if your school district is not having students in session physically this fall. Also, as I’ll share later, there are so many educational resources to pull from as supplemental material for your children.

Please understand that this is what has worked for me and my family but it should only be seen as a source of ideas as you formulate what works for yours.  For instance, some families have found fellowship in co-op learning groups.  Although I’m a member of a local homeschool group for support and field trip opportunities, I’m a loner per se when it comes to curriculum instruction.  However, my children are enrolled in a Greek school that takes them (pre-COVID) physically to a school a couple days a week.  Again, this educational adventure is particular to your household needs and capacity.

Typical Bean Kid School Week

It has taken me years to refine the following schedule and every new school year I have to make certain adjustments as deemed necessary by the children’s maturity levels and interests.  This is how a typical school week went for us most recently in 2019-2020:

  • The Costume: As a personal rule, I wear a special suit jacket when it’s time to start our “school time” each day, along with funny glasses and my clogs or short heels to indicate that my school teacher uniform is now “on” and therefore I’m no longer just the children’s mama.
  • Monday – Thursday from 8:30am – 2:30pm.  Friday: Music lessons offsite w/teacher, local library visit, and Greek school.
  • Mon- Thurs, from 8:30am -10am: This time period is like our homeroom time when I start the day routine with the students.  In our particular case it’s the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer, and some songs.  Then we introduce the day/weather/announcements.  Given I have three students of different ages, I will have a topic of the day that I’m able to pivot from for the various grades in our home. For instance, if that month we’re focusing on daily themes that study plants and earth sciences, then we have age appropriate instruction for each student.  This past school year 2019-2020, I had a 6th grader, 3rdgrader, and kindergartener respectively.
  • 10am is Snack, Exercise, and Nature Time:  I have a physical bell I ring as it indicates it’s time for the kids (and the dogs) to go outside in the backyard and take a break from studies.  I take this time to prepare a snack for them in the kitchen if I haven’t already—I also treat myself to a coffee, tea, or even a cookie, etc in order to reward myself for making through the first 90 minutes or so of an intense homeschool day!
  • 10:30 – 11:00am is the time frame that I start calling the children back in.  When COVID-19 restrictions went into place, this was also the time I did a P.E. workout with them typical of elementary and junior high complete with a jog and exercises like jumping jacks and leg lifts.  Again, I adjust to each child’s level even during break.  The younger ones will linger with playing in the dirt and I’m okay with that as it helps their cognitive development.
  • Post-11:00am:  For our family, this is the time frame that I have the older students log into their virtual academy classes through Scholé Academy.  Many states like Florida also have virtual public school offerings.  For those students who aren’t in an online class, then I’m with them helping teach and moderate their basic curriculum work like spelling workbooks or a math exercise.
  • 12 Noon – 1:30pm: this is a rolling lunch sequence, meaning if a child just got done with their online class after break, then it’s a good time for them to have their lunch.  I keep a lunch menu list on our announcement board in the kitchen to show the kids what their choices are and they typically will make their own lunch unless they need help for safety reasons.
  • 2:00 – 3:00pm:  Depending on online class schedules is when our school day typically ends.
  • 3:00pm onward:  Pre-Covid pandemic, we typically would do dinner prep as we got ready to go to afternoon swim team practice or Greek school which is usually around 4pm until 6pm on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Each child is given one night as the chef where they have to pick the menu and execute it (with Mama as sous chef of course).
  • Wednesdays is STEAM, STEM, and all things SCIENCE: I typically reserve each Wednesday as our science lab experiment day.  It is a messy and yet necessary affair to conduct these science experiments and exercises with the students so I find it helpful to have a day dedicated to it for set-up and clean-up purposes.
  • Thursdays: Art day.  Thursdays are the days we start out with an art instruction and project/exercise first.  In my case, I was educated heavily in the arts and am an amateur artist in practice.  I believe the visual arts are very important for students and if a parent doesn’t feel capable, there are many art teachers/tutors and art centers around to delegate that instruction if needed.
  • Friday Fun Day: Perhaps it’s a throwback to when I was working in offices all week long, but I like to celebrate the end of the week with the children and so I reserve Fridays as the day for them to see their piano teacher (or FaceTime now in pandemic mode) and hit our local library to research, return, and check out new books.  Also, personally it’s our second day of two days of Greek school where we drive 45 minutes to their classroom with other teachers and students (again, pre-COVID).

Refrain of Love: We as Parents/Caregivers are Our Children’s Security, Even in Education

I have heard from and read about so many who feel inadequate to “teach” their own children.  

I get it.  

There is not a day that I don’t go to bed and wonder with some degree of anxiety as to whether I was able to meet our children’s educational needs during the school year.

In fact, each year in June, I have to meet with a Palm Beach County district school teacher who reviews my children’s school year work and portfolios in order to make sure that they are progressing satisfactorily. If so we are given the green light to close the books on our school year until we start again at the end of the summer.  I’m thankful they’ve “passed” every year up to this point.

That said, for my husband and me, we revisit our education choices for our children every year.  Most asked question of us is “Are you going to homeschool them through high school too?” 

I have no idea.  

I repeat, we analyze the progress of our children every year and if they are thriving then we keep going on the same course with adjustments like new online courses or curriculums. This is probably similar to when parents decide that their child should be transferred from one school to another in their best academic interests.

Curriculum, Materials, and Resources

Like toothpaste offerings in the drugstore, there are so many things out there for educators whether they are working in a public school district or simply a CEO of the Home mama like myself.  

My personal choices for our children are a la carte when it comes to things like mathematics and sciences.  I lean toward classical learning when it comes to children’s literature and grammar. In other words, my overall curriculum is tailored from various sources to each child’s needs during that particular school year cycle.

Yet, that may not work for everyone, there are also box kits from places like Mother Goose Time for preschoolers or others like Charlotte Mason website that give families a one-stop shop when it comes to formulating what curriculum they’ll use.

Below is a short list of resources I’ve personally used in the past and present.  If you know me personally, I also invite you to reach out to me so we can find a time to chat about any more questions or concerns you may have as you figure out what’s going to be the path forward for your children in the short term.

R.V.S.Bean

Catalogs, Materials:

Curricululms and Online:

Note:  For those reading this who don’t know me personally, this is a short background note.  After attending both public and private schools growing up, I began teaching while an undergraduate at University of Florida in the late 1990s as part of the federal program America Reads. I had the honor of teaching a small cohort class of 2nd and 3rd graders in Bannockburn, IL during 2000.  9/11 occurred and my husband and I decided to help serve in our U.S. government in Washington, DC where I logged experience working on legislative priorities for a Florida congressman (including education issues) and time as an appointee at the U.S. Treasury with the George W. Bush administration.  In 2008 I was reborn as a mother in this world when we welcomed our first child.  It’s 2020 now and we have two sons and a daughter, ages 12, 9, and 5 years old respectively.  I began homeschooling nearly a decade ago as we lived with and looked after aging grandparents.  Today I follow a hybrid model with all three while also finishing my MBA degree at UF this December.  The following article is meant to help others by sharing my current experience and some resources to help you on your journey if you are exploring alternative methods of educating your children—especially given the temporary uncertainties ahead with the COVID-19 pandemic situation.

I Can’t Breathe 2020

Can’t breathe.

They told us to stay home

because COVID-19 patients,

they can’t breathe.

Can’t breathe.

It’s horrific and scary

if you get this virus,

you could die alone.

Can’t breathe.

CDC recommended masks

because this coronavirus is 

so contagious.

Can’t breathe.

Complaining and fretting

because we can’t do

all we want when we want to.

Can’t breathe.

A couple months have passed,

hundred thousand took

their last breath.

Can’t breathe.

“I’m not wearing a mask.”

The public pushes back,

they don’t like it.

Can’t breathe.

George Floyd in Minneapolis,

He was trying to say

“I can’t breathe.”

R.V.S.B.