Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The price of education


As more and more school districts feel the pinch of state and federal budget cuts, it looks as though parents will be making up some of the difference.

For the second year in a row, the Maryville R-II Board of Education approved the increase of preschool tuition during their regular meeting last Wednesday.

Citing a $400 per month deficit between the amount of revenue generated from tuition payments, usage fees, before and after school care and a Missouri Preschool Project Grant and the amount of total expenses, tuition was increased around $5 per month for some students.

While the grant provides $85,000 in funding annually for EFE, parents of preschoolers who attend classes full-time (meaning five days a week, for the entire school day) will pay $295 per month this coming school year — an increase of $5.20 per month over the 2010-'11 year.

Seeing the largest increase this time around, will be the families of students attending preschool for half a day, five days a week. Their rates will increase from $129.15 per month to $135 — an increase of $5.85 per month.

The revenue from preschool tuition and fees, along with the grant, funds the two full-time preschool instructors, secretary and necessary paraprofessionals, along with classroom tools and equipment.

"With rising costs and school districts looking at tighter budgets, we have to save where we can," said EFE principal Holly Brady. "The changes will help us to off-set our costs but are still very competitive when compared to other schools around."

St. Gregory's School currently charges $332 per month for full-time preschool students.

Horace Mann remains the least costly at $282 per month for full-day preschool.

Also seeing an increase at Eugene Field Elementary preschool level, will be parents taking advantage of the before and after school care.

Currently set at $2 per hour, that cost will increase 50 cents per hour this coming school year.

"Primarily where we see the biggest deficit is with the before and after school care of the preschool students," Brady said. "SAC childcare will not go up for elementary level students, but just for the preschool students."

Brady said the school's cost for before and after school care for preschool students is much higher than that of elementary students due to the ratio of students to staff that is required.

Even though per month costs will increase, preschool parents won't see any increase in registration fees, which are actually deducted from the first month's tuition later on. And while $5.20 per month may not seem like much to protest, that amounts to an increase of nearly $50 over the course of the school year.

Though preschool isn't necessarily required for a student to start kindergarten, Brady said that extra year of learning helps prepare young learners for the leap into elementary.

"It doesn't cost anything outside of registration and supplies to attend elementary," Brady said. "But the benefits of preschool are worth it. If nothing else, it helps students learn to socialize and ready for that jump into kindergarten."

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Way It Is: When in doubt, look to the book — for dummies.

Daily Forum Column for 4-21-11

He'd prepared for weeks and the biology lab set up in our spare bedroom proved it.
My other half was living out his dream of starting a saltwater aquarium. Since his two largest tanks were already occupied by fish big enough to eat my hand, he didn't have much of a choice but to start small.
It all began two weeks ago with a run to Petco in St. Joseph and a whole lot of Internet research, but we successfully had 10 gallons of circulating saltwater.
Each morning, bright and early I might add, he raced to the spare bedroom like a kid at Christmas. He checked the pH, ammonia, salinity and the nitrate and nitrite levels (don't ask me what the difference is, I'm no chemist) and dipped every kind of test stick you can dip into the water.
As a precaution, I hopped on and ordered the latest version of "Saltwater Aquariums — For Dummies."
After two weeks of successful water watching, we decided it was time to buy some fish.
Now, with his newfound research material and years of dreaming and planning, he was a little more prepared than I.
"Oh, I want the one who looks like Nemo, the zebra striped one and the one with polka dots," I stated, face firmly planted against the glass.
"That's a clown fish and damsels," he stated confidently. "And, we can't get that many fish at once, they'll die."
Where in the heck had he learned that? Apparently the book for dummies grants you the privilege of making others look like well, dummies.
As my enthusiasm began to diminish, I was granted permission to choose two fish between the three kinds of damsels.
"Zebra stripe and polka dot!" I squealed.
Now I was the kid at Christmas.
We raced home, without even making a stop for gas. We were, after all, packing two very precious, and apparently very delicate pieces of cargo.
We, including the two four-legged fur balls, gathered around the empty tank in deep anticipation.
As he drew the bag of fish from the Petco sack, all hope was nearly lost.
There was Ms. Polka Dot lying on her side at the bottom of the bag.
"What the? It's already dead!" he griped.
"She's still breathing, maybe she'll pull through," I said optimistically.
We followed the strict guidelines for "bringing a new fish home," in the book for dummies, and 30 minutes later he let them loose.
They each sank like bricks.
Leaving him to sulk and maybe say his peace, I retreated to the kitchen.
Nearly halfway through fixing our dinner, I decided I should check on the poor guy.
There he sat, in the middle of the spare bedroom floor, cheering to a zebra striped fish.
"Look, this one's pulling through," he said excitedly. "But this one, not so much."
I wondered with the ideal water conditions he'd spent two weeks maintaining, what could be the problem. So once again, I resorted to the book.
Stirring our dinner and flipping through the pages, I finally found a chapter on stress.
As I read the chapter aloud, we began to cancel all fish funeral arrangements.
Turns out, moving to a new home is just as stressful on sea creatures as it is on humans.
Then, suddenly, it was as if someone had flipped on a light bulb.
"They're alive!" he shouted. "Swim little buddies, swim!"
Within minutes we were proudly eating our dinner, perched happily in the middle of our spare room floor, fish watching.
Disaster averted.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Going blonde leaves me with champagne taste

Daily Forum column for 4-14-11

Blondes may have more fun, but getting there is painful.

With a family full of cosmetologists, I've been known to have almost every hair color of the rainbow at varying lengths.

As I've grown a bit older, the hairdos have stayed a bit more modest and less frequent but during the weekend, I just couldn't help myself.

After a recent Facebook poll — what a fun new feature — it was decided that I should go blonde, really blonde.

I set up the appointment with my personal stylist, Grandpa, who owns a cosmetology school in Iowa.

When the big day came, I arrived promptly at his house to find him still in bed.

What kind of service was this?

Thirty minutes later he had decided it was time for brunch.

"I can't do hair on an empty stomach," was his argument.

Fair enough, wouldn't want to disrupt the flow of color being placed onto my head with a sudden outburst of hunger.

Bellies full from a Pizza Ranch buffet, we headed to the salon.

Not long after, I was seated primed and ready for my summer, bleach blonde debut.

As he started to slather on the lime green peroxide and bleaching sand mixture the room began to get rather hot.

That's a bit unusual.

As it began to feel like ants were taking refuge from the April showers on my scalp I began to question exactly what was going onto my head.

Turns out my skin and scalp aren't too fond of going blonde.

How I hadn't already experienced this in my almost 25 years of being a beauticians granddaughter, I'll never know.

I clenched my teeth and suffered on, that is until about the point that my forehead began to bubble.

As Grandma came to the rescue with a damp cloth and strong lotion, she tackled the skin irritation while grandpa continued his attempt to make me blonde and beautiful.

"I can't go home with a cute new do and a blistered face," I pleaded.

Caped and gloved, Grandpa continued slapping on the goo while Grandma did what grandmas do best, blotted, patted and gently blew on the burning areas of my forehead.

As I paced the floor, trying to ignore the ant parade on my scalp, we watched the clock until I just couldn't take it anymore.

A quick check revealed that I may already be the blonde I was hoping for, but after a dip in the shampoo bowl we were sadly mistaken, unless the Chiquita Banana lady had come back in style.

Post It yellow was just not working.

"Time for plan B, Grandpa."

Opting out of further anguish to my poor, slightly blistered skin and scalp Grandpa reached for the toner.
A few minutes, and another application later, I became Champagne Blonde.

Now there's a thought I could get used to.

After a bit of blow drying, straightening, curling, hair spray and a little of Grandpa's expertise my hair was beginning to take shape, literally.

With a new champagne hue and style to match, the reddening of my forehead had, well for the most part, disappeared and I became ready for summer.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bearcat fan garners team's support

Here is one from the Daily Forum that ran earlier this week. Great family and a great story.

Bearcat fan garners team's support


After months of standing behind his favorite team as arguably their biggest fan, Creed Fox got some much needed support of his own from the Bearcat women's basketball team on Monday.

Diagnosed with high functioning autism in January, the Fox family got a crash course in what would change their lives forever.

"Creed ended up needing two years of kindergarten," said his mother Penni Fox. "We didn't think too much of it until we saw his scores from the first quarter of this year. So we did some research and had some testing done."

Though it's all still very new to the family at this point, his parents jumped at the chance to educate others as they themselves continue to learn about the disorder.

With a deep passion for Bearcat basketball, sparked by the fact that his father is the student assistant to the women's team, Creed already had a handful of important friends.

"He went to a lot of their practices and just loves hanging out with them," Penni Fox said. "They have always been so good to Creed and when we all found out he was autistic they were really concerned."

Being the good friends that they are to Creed and his family, seven members of the team stopped by Eugene Field Elementary School Monday afternoon to help Creed educate his classroom friends about autism. Creed also asked that the entire school wear blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day known as Light It Up Blue.

"(Autism) is where your brain is wired a little different," Creed told his classmates.

His basketball buddies further helped him explain by reading books about autism to the students.

"Their whole family has been so great to the team and Creed is such a great kid," said Bearcat post player Candice Boeh. "We just want everybody to get along with each other, no matter if they have a disorder or not."

Boeh, with the help of Penni Fox, created a unique way to demonstrate that children with autism deserve to have friends just like everyone else.

With a package of M&Ms candies, she used each color to represent how each child can be different, be it by wearing glasses, needing a hearing aid, using a wheelchair or even having autism.

Boeh asked the students, "Are all of these M&Ms different?"

When they replied that they were indeed different, she then stated, "They may be different but they all live in the same package."

While his classmates may not fully understand why Creed talks repeatedly about tornados or picks up leaves from the playground instead of playing chase, they may now understand that he can be a great friend regardless.

"What he lacks, he makes up for in a different way," Penni Fox said. "Just today, his teacher asked if I knew he could count by threes and when I asked him about it he said, 'Well yeah mom, in basketball you have to be able to count by threes.'

I don't think these girls understand what an impact they have had on him. They continue to treat him normal and are just so good with him."

The team handed out some information about autism to the students including a coloring sheet letting parents know that the students have an autistic friend.

"We're lucky, in the grand scheme of autism that is," Penni Fox said. "My hope is that seeing these very important girls talk to them and show them that while Creed may be a little different from many of them that he is also much like them too."

For hunters, by hunters, BHU takes off

This was a fun one I did for today's paper. Think it would make my dad proud.

For hunters, by hunters, BHU takes off


Because they share an appreciation for the great outdoors, hunting upland game and taking to the field with their trusty canine companions, Luke Hudson and Jason Nelson decided to round up some of their fellow bird hunters and start a club.

In 2010, Hudson and Nelson created Bird Hunters United, which offers area hunters the chance to compete in the field with their dogs.

"Jason and I both had been involved with other organizations but really wanted to get that sense of sportsmanship," Hudson said. "We took the best of those other organizations and started BHU."

Putting their energy toward sportsmanship, equality and safety, Hudson and Nelson also focus on young hunters, the dogs and conservation.

"BHU is a group of hunters that was founded on the principle of acknowledging all the other dog trials that hunters competed in and getting together, uniting, once a year to have a big trial," Hudson said. "It has since blossomed exponentially to many trials across the midwest, and most of the hunters still compete in other trial circuits as well.

"We also felt it was really important to get the youth in the area that are interested in hunting involved."

Hosting monthly trials, youth hunts and national trials, BHU offers practical hunting situations with a fairly strict set of guidelines and certified judges.

"I used to think that I never had a chance in something like this," Hudson said. "But everyone has a chance as long as they have a dog that likes to hunt. It's a team effort between dog and man and that's really important to us."

Hudson also said that BHU isn't just for the guys.

"We've got women that compete, and some that come just for fun with their camera," he said. "Since the youth are so important to us, it's kind of a family thing. It's a friendly and fun environment where everyone helps each other and cheers each other on."

With their own trial format, BHU offers open pointing, amateur pointing, flushing and youth categories with the chance to compete at BHU Nationals. Whilte there is a small fee to compete, BHU membership is free.

In just the first year, chapters have already been started in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, with each hosting trials and nationals as well.

"Even though we are for upland hunters, BHU trials are a great way to keep a duck dog in shape," Hudson said. "It also gives you a chance to spend more time with your dog and training."

For those water dogs, BHU looks to host a fun summer splash competition as well.

BHU will host the next trial on Saturday near Ravenwood. The BHU Kansas City Cup will be held in May with a youth day scheduled for June 5 in Ravenwood.

While not just geared toward hunting, Hudson and Nelson also have conservation in mind. BHU has hosted benefit hunts with funds going to Pheasants Forever, an organization dedicated to the conservation of pheasants, quail and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs.

"We take pride in our youth, dogs, friends, game and habitat," Hudson said. "We let everyone have a say and everyone is welcome."

BHU has a website. Find out when the next trial is and what the rules are at:

The Way It Is: Four pups and the tangled leash tango

Column for the Daily Forum on 4-7-11

It’s probably pretty obvious by now that I'm a dog person, not to be confused with crazy dog lady, although after last week that may be debatable.

With my two dogs, although the may look like dainty and goliath, a walk through the park is well, just that.

Once the leashes are in hand, the excitement mounts and I just can't move fast enough for the happy little hounds.

We stroll the two blocks to Judah Park, saying hello to Princess Stella's Shih-Tzu boyfriend number one along the way.

With the weather finally deciding to cooperate with our walking routine, we — being the dogs and I, scheduled a play date.

Invited were: a family member's Shih-Tzu puppy and a friend's lab pup, both who would have otherwise spent the better portion of their day alone. What can I say? I'm a sucker, and apparently the town's puppy sitter.

Armed with two retractable leashes and two standard leashes I weighed my options.
Already, things were getting interesting between the party guests.

Trying to get four excited fur balls captured, harnessed, latched and buckled took a bit of coordination on my part. Under the table, around the recliner, over the Shih Tzu and with one large leap onto the doggie pile the lab pup was ready to walk, one down and three to go.

With all four finally in proper walking attire we headed, well tumbled, out the front door.
Just two steps off the front porch we experienced our first meltdown.

It was apparent that the Shih Tzu pup was unhappy with his walking partner which resulted in a tangled mass of fur and fabric leashes.

"Stella, sit! Ace, no stop! Whoa, hold on," I hollered. Hoping I could at least get my two to cooperate and be 'mommy's little helpers' was good in theory, just not on pavement.
With knot number one untangled and with newly assigned walking partners, we mushed forward.

The first block, while a bit nerve-wracking seemed to go OK. We rounded the corner, park in sight, and there he was, Stella's boyfriend.

Before I could click the button to stop her leash she was off and so were both puppies leaving Ace and I in the dust.

Regaining composure, I ordered Ace to "sit!" dropped his leash and used both thumbs to "reel in" the love-struck princess and one of her followers. With the loop of the third leash around my elbow, I performed what probably resembled a mix between the Chicken Dance and the Macarena to holster in the remaining pup.

A block later we were happily at the park and luckily alone.

Being the mature adult that he is, Ace was allowed to roam freely near our herd.

With one less leash to get tangled, my role quickly changed to poop picker-upper. Holding a leash with my teeth, another firmly placed between my foot and the grass and the other between my knees, this went on for the first loop of the park.

Apparently it's inappropriate to coordinate potty efforts and make just one pit stop.

When we'd all had enough of tangled leash tango, we headed back.

Within five minutes, the pups were passed out on my living room floor and so was I.

–Megan Tilk is a reporter and weekly columnist for the Mary ville Daily Forum. She can be reached at or you can follow her blog at