Sunday, August 06, 2006

I Thought a Think Goes on the Road and Likes It

Last week I drove to Portland to attend a conference sponsored by Read Naturally. I absolutely love the drive; it’s pretty non-descript as you head down from Ritzville to the Tri-Cities, but once you pass over into Umatilla and start heading up the Columbia River Gorge you get to see some of the most beautiful scenery in the Northwest. The area around Hood River, Oregon is incredible. You also see three different dams as you go along, and it’s neat to think about the engineering that went into making something that big.

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I really enjoy my trips to Portland. My dad lives there with his family, so I’ve been visiting the city for decades now. It’s really a pretty place, as cities go; if you drive in at night on I-5 heading south, the view of downtown is incredible. Downtown is also where you’ll find Powell’s World of Books, the absolute neatest bookstore that I’ve ever been to. They give you a map when you come in the front door, and you’ll need it—it’s that big. Portland’s daily newspaper, The Oregonian, is a great read every day, and they also have one of the best weekly newspapers in the country in Willamette Week. Sure, the property taxes are obscene and the public schools really struggle, but it’s still a heck of a place to visit.

The conference was good, which is an added bonus. It was led by Dr. Jan Hasbrouck, who’s a dynamic speaker with ideas that you can actually use, and it gave me a ton of great ideas on how to assess and intervene with the kids who turn up in my before school remediation program. I think I’ve got a pretty good idea on how to intervene when the kids have a genuine fluency problem; the difficulty with the young kids I work with is separating out the fluency problems from the phonics problems. In 40 minutes a day twice a week there’s not much time to work with, so I’ve got to tighten up what I’m doing.

So the school paid for me to go to a great workshop in a great city where I was able to stay with my family and catch up with them and recharge before the back-to-school rush starts up. It’s neat to feel like a professional; I kind of like it.

After the conference I went up I-5 to my hometown in Rochester, Washington. It’s not the same place I left 10 years ago. Development has gone absolutely nuts; fields that once held one house and a barn are now parceled out into 20 half-acre sections with a mobile home on each one. There are fast food restaurants now, pizza delivery, bad traffic; contrasting what it is now to what it was 20 years ago, when I was in elementary school, is one of those bittersweet activities that leads you to stop typing and take a moment to just remember how it was and how it will never be again.

That said, Rochester is still rife with the thing that I miss most about the west side of the state—trees. Sure we have trees over here in Spokane, but we have trees and the west side has Trees. Big, green, towering, thick, and majestic in a way that the fir trees over here just can’t match. You can really get a sense of it when you’re driving on Interstate 90 from Seattle to Spokane. On the west side (Eastern King County, for example) you’ll see some of the most beautiful forests you could ever hope to find. On the east side you’ll find a tree every now and then, but it won’t be anything special.

In short, it was a good time. My wife wasn’t able to make the trip with me because of work commitments, but in a way it was nice to be on my own for this one. I came back recharged and ready to work on whatever was next, be it the baby or changing grades or moving rooms.

That’ll last until about September 1st, but I’ll live in the moment.

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