Associate Professor of Chemistry Kelly B. Butzler made the proclamation from a lab on the Pennsylvania College of Technology campus: “I tell my kids all the time, nerds rule the world. If you want to be successful, be a nerd, be smart.”

Summer is a great time to remind kids that being smart is fun and learning opens up a lifetime of opportunities.

Why be a nerd? Because nerds figure out how things work and how to make things work better. They follow their curiosity, experiment with new ideas and come up with innovations that really can change the world.

If your kids are begging for another trip to the craft store so they can buy more glue to make slime, invite them to join you for tomorrow’s broadcast premiere of the fourth episode in the Working Class public television series. (Slime is involved!)

In Working Class: Competition Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters science, experimentation and competition come together to help students develop the problem-solving skills needed for high-demand, high-tech careers.

Produced by Penn College and WVIA Public Media, the documentary — premiering on WVIA TV Thursday, July 12, at 8 p.m. — highlights hands-on activities that connect students with science and other academic subjects that can prepare them for success in modern manufacturing careers.

Kellyl Butzler

“I think the most important part of science, whether it’s physics or geology or chemistry or biology, is really understanding the thought process … to work through a certain problem and get a result and know what that means,” says Dr. Butzler, who appears with other faculty and industry experts in the episode.

Viewers will catch a behind-the-scenes glimpse as students work through the challenges (scientific and otherwise) involved in designing and building combative robots and cars featured in international engineering/racing competitions. These competitive learning experiences prepare students for their futures, according to one faculty member.

“It makes them more marketable,” says Richard K. Hendricks, automated manufacturing and machining instructor at Penn College. “Companies see that they’re learning … designing, building, manufacturing, re-engineering, welding … It ups their value exponentially.”

Richard Hendricks

I hope you will tune in to learn more about the value of combining hands-on experience with academic learning in order to prepare students for future success.

Working Class: Discovery Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters features students and faculty from Penn College; Firetree Place in Williamsport; Warrior Run, Bloomsburg and Jersey Shore school districts; Rage in the Cage combative robot competition, and Society of Automotive Engineers’ Baja international racing competition.

Penn College faculty appearing in the episode are Eric K. Albert, associate professor, automated manufacturing and machining; Adam Barilla, instructor, plastics and polymer technology; Kelly B. Butzler, associate professor, chemistry; Kirk M. Cantor, professor, plastics and polymer technology; Richard K. Hendricks, Jr., instructor, automated manufacturing and machining; Joshua J. Rice, instructor, plastics and polymer technology; David S. Richards, professor, physics; Tom Van Pernis, former instructor, plastics and polymer technology, and Timothy E. Weston, associate professor, plastics and polymer technology.

Also featured are Jennifer McNelly, former president of The Manufacturing Institute; Jon Doctorick, Carnegie Science Center mobile fab lab coordinator; Kurt Wertman, teacher at Warrior Run Middle School, and Kirk Marshall, technology education teacher at Bloomsburg Area High School and organizer of regional Rage in the Cage events.

It’s never too soon to start talking careers with kids. Tim Weston, Penn College professor, talks plastics with young campers.

Working Class: Discovery Drives Innovation! Why Science Matters is the fourth in a series of Telly Award-winning documentaries that connect career awareness and academic subjects. In addition to public television broadcast, series videos appear on YouTube and the website.

SMARTgirls (Science and Math Applications in Real World Technologies at Penn College) apply their skills with Professor Eric Albert.


It is hard to face the end of a school year without getting emotional.

There are, of course, the graduations and the goodbyes. There also is the uplifting energy of anticipation. What comes next? It may be a just fun-filled summer vacation or, perhaps, a step forward into a new career or other unknowns.

Teachers, administrators, parents and students all find themselves affected by memories of the past and hopes for the future.

Just before my summer vacation, I visited two schools to honor students who participated in art challenges sponsored by Working Class. On behalf of Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, I presented gifts to recognize the talents of these student artists.

At Canton Area Elementary School, I met art teacher Courtney Grieve and 15 students from Grades K-3 who entered the Recycled Art Challenge inspired by Working Class: Build & Grow Green.

A beautiful, sunny day in Canton – a rural community in Bradford County, PA – provided the perfect setting for an outdoor group photo. We paraded the students and their recycled art projects outside and posed them for a photo (with their smiling teacher) in front of the elementary school.

Students who participated in the challenge were Rosco Barnes, Evelyn Bellows, Kialynne Brown, Adelyn Cardona, Mackenzie Chaapel, Eloise Grace, Manual Halbfoerster, Carter Inman, Jaxson Karpinski, Michael Kinner, Hayley Larson, Taylor Lee, Emilia Pepper, Johnny Roberts, and Gavin Sharp.

Back inside the school, Ms. Grieve, who had just returned from a teacher conference, was excited about exploring new ways to enhance her classes next year. Even before one school year was over, she was getting ready for the next.

Before my visit to Canton, I had asked the teacher what art supplies she would like to have but did not have a budget to purchase. Her wish list included papermaking and felting kits for classroom use, which I was happy to deliver.

Inside the colorful elementary school art room, we talked about how important it is for students to have the opportunity to use their hands and their brains in combination. Art classes provide a perfect setting for students to explore the ideas they learn in academic subjects including science and math.

Ms. Grieve said she felt it was important for art teachers to consider how their lessons can highlight and enhance other areas of academic study. Working together, teachers can provide an enhanced learning experience that allows students to actively use math and scientific information to create original designs. It is hands-on learning at its best!

A week later, I visited BLaST Intermediate Unit 17’s Alternative Education program in Lycoming County. It was my second visit to the program this year. Earlier, I had presented an award from the Recycled Art Challenge to student DeMario Baer. This time, I returned with a second award for DeMario – who designed a math problem solving game – as well as a special honor for two of his classmates, Zack Enway and Dale Hoyles.

Zack and Dale worked together to create a board game they called “The Quest of the Four.” In a great display of teamwork, the two students drew an entire game board, character cards and game pieces by hand.

The game creators explained that players in “The Quest of the Four” would enhance their strategic abilities in battle scenarios and test their decision-making skills as they weighed the value of items they collected throughout the game. Impressive!

Zack, Dale and DeMario all were students of George Ness, a special education teacher with an emphasis on the word “special.” George, who retired at the end of this school year, choked up with emotion when talking his students’ achievements. Facing their own learning challenges, the students took on the art challenges and came out as winners. Their teacher could not have been more proud.

I am proud to know that projects such as the Working Class art challenge competitions truly inspire students to reach a bit higher, try a bit harder. However, I know the real inspiration comes from within the individuals – students and teachers – who light up the classrooms with their energy and enthusiasm.

Congratulations Zack, Dale, DeMario, and Canton’s elementary art students who took on the Working Class art challenges and did such a great job in completing their art projects.

Thank you Courtney Grieve, George Ness and all the other teachers out there who give their best day after day in classrooms everywhere.

Ending this school year with these students and teachers reminded me once again of why we started the Working Class project in the first place: to support teaching and learning and to inspire individuals to pursue their career dreams.

It is a great way to end the year … thinking about the future!


View from Yokahu Tower Recreation Area in 2014

“We never get around to it. It’s not that we lack the will. We have the will. We lack the money and the follow-through. Real life is always in the way. But somewhere an island is dancing in the sun, waiting for us to get our act together.”

Puerto Rico did not inspire these words from the memoir What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas; but, when I read the book a few weeks ago, Puerto Rico immediately came into my mind.

Yokahu Tower

Puerto Rico is an island “dancing in the sun, waiting for us to get our act together.” Eight months after Hurricane Maria, the tropical U.S. territory is still struggling. Nature itself remains unsettled and the future is uncertain.

Mireya Navarro, a reporter for The New York Times who was born in San Juan, wrote after her return to the island earlier this year: “The ebullient tropical flora that forever feeds the nostalgia of those of us who leave for good — a paradise of flower beds in backyards and brilliant green forests on mountainsides, the skyline of towering fruit and palm trees — was in a state of distress, almost a kind of paralyzed melancholy, not unlike some of the people.”

Her description of Puerto Rico in a state of “paralyzed melancholy” shook me. I know from personal experience that melancholy and paralysis can stand in the way of proper healing.

I visited Puerto Rico only once, in 2014. It was my first vacation as a widow. Traveling with family and friends, I went in search of more than leisure and recreation. I needed a healing experience. I found it at El Yunque.

Brothers Quintin and Colin Helm in the El Yunque rain forest

When I entered the only tropical rain forest in the United States, I was weak and worried that I could not keep up with my active companions. I decided to sit down in a pleasant spot and wait while the rest of my group climbed higher, treked deeper into their own adventures.

After a short time, my nephews, Quintin and Colin, returned to urge me out of my comfort zone. They would not allow me to miss the opportunity to experience the beauty they had already found in the mountains above us.

“We’ll get you there, Aunt LayLay,” they promised. One took my hand and led the way. The other followed close behind me. With their help, I scaled the high, mud-covered path and reached a breathtaking waterfall. The joy of that journey still brings me to tears.

Action brings joy!

I shed tears again reading Navarro’s description of the lingering effects of Maria on rain forest: “The hurricane uprooted so many trees that visitors to El Yunque, Puerto Rico’s famous rain forest, were now treated to newly opened vistas of the ocean. We visited on a Sunday morning and found most of the national park closed, still ailing from landslides and wobbly trees that park workers told us were still falling and shutting down trails and roads.”

Trees still falling. Landslides continuing. The devastation did not stop when the television news cameras went away. We may have gone on to worry about other world events, but Puerto Rico is still in crisis.

If, as Mireya Navarro writes, Puerto Rico is suffering from paralyzing melancholy brought on by the tremendous distress of Hurricane Maria, then our nation must reach out and offer helping hands in this recovery. Recovering the island’s beauty is good for our world and important for each of us.

Paradise for everyone may be just a few steps away, if we are willing to act. I know that if my nephews had not put their concerns for me into action, I would have remained alone at the base of the mountain while the restorative beauty of El Yunque was just a short climb away.

Colin Helm, Elaine Lambert, Quintin Helm (left to right) in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico – the island that is waiting – reminds me that every disaster we face offers us an opportunity to stand up, climb higher, and be part of the recovery that will bring healing to others and to ourselves.

It comes as no surprise that among the primary healers on the ground in Puerto Rico today are its teachers. PBS recently recognized Glenda Lozado, a fourth grade teacher in Puerto Rico, for her actions in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Glenda worked around the clock to bring a sense of normalcy and safety to her students. With help from PBS, she purchased generators and school supplies to keep her students learning and connected while her community worked to rebuild. Even though her students and their families have faced many hardships this year, she has remained a constant light, keeping her students engaged, learning, and encouraged throughout the most difficult of circumstances.”

As educators and individuals who support public education, we understand the important role Glenda plays in bringing hope to her students and their families. Even in the most challenging circumstances, we can make a difference when we are willing to reach out and encourage others.

Mountain view in El Yunque in 2014.

The Working Class documentary series seeks to inspire active classrooms and promote hands-on activities. Episodes including Working Class: Build & Grow Green feature career opportunities that support a healthy planet and a prosperous future for the next generation.



Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by Lauren Odgen

We experienced an awakening in recent days. The winter gray world suddenly turned to spring green.

We opened our doors and windows to beauty and remembered that we love the outdoors. Our bodies and minds felt restored by the simple greening of grass and the fresh budding of trees.

We must experience nature to feel most alive and most enthusiastic about our lives. Our natural environment matters.

Often in spring, we focus on rebirth and new beginnings. For educators and students, however, spring also marks the winding down of the school year. We celebrate learners’ achievements and aspirations, and then recess into summer.

I have shed my fair share of tears at year-end school ceremonies over the years. There is really nothing quite as inspiring as watching students find their passions, choose their paths, and go forth to make their own unique marks upon our world.

Over the last two weeks, I was inspired by visits to area schools where I had the opportunity to meet three student artists whose works were selected as the judges’ favorites in a recent Working Class recycled art challenge.

Based on themes explored in the Telly Award-winning documentary Working Class: Build and Grow Green, the challenge sought to inspire innovation while reducing waste. Elementary, middle and high school students turned trash into treasure by using ordinary art materials to transform discarded items into works of art.

Let me introduce you to the students whose work most impressed the judges.


Brooke Dorman

Brooke Dorman

Brooke Dorman is a fifth grader at Carl G. Renn Elementary School in Lairdsville.

Her “Victory Garden” bouquet was chosen as the favorite entry from students in grades K-6.

Brooke’s bouquet told a very interesting story about family and frugality.

She made a floral bouquet from recycled bank checks found in her great-grandparents’ attic. Using a technique known as quilling, she rolled, shaped and glued paper strips made from the checks to form the flowers.

She titled her bouquet “Victory Garden” in honor of the Victory Gardens that were popular among families – like her great-grandparents — during The Great Depression and World War II.

Victory Garden by Brooke Dorman

Lauren Ogden

Lauren Ogden, a 10th grade student at South Williamsport Area High School, will take her talents into the world in just a few short years.

While she considers her future career options, Lauren enjoys opportunities for self-expression provided by her art classes with teacher Betsy Jones.

Lauren Ogden

Lauren artfully titled her creation – a sneaker formed from recycled materials – “Reduce Your Carbon Footprint.” Selected as the judges’ favorite entry from students in grades 7-12, the sneaker was made from old cassette tapes, plastic CD cases, a gift bag, metal springs and a cardboard cracker box.

As I delivered a prize basket to Lauren in her art room at South Williamsport, I reflected on my own high school art room experiences four decades ago. I was reminded how important it is for teenagers to have creative spaces and mentors that encourage them.

High school art rooms, music rooms, libraries and auditorium stages allow students to take their education to a higher level.

Students who create and perform build their self-confidence through practice. They also learn how to communicate and use their talents to connect with others. These skills matter in every career field.

DeMario Baer

DeMario Baer, an eighth grader who attends the Intermediate Unit 17, Alternative Education program, wants to be many different things when he grows up. He especially enjoys imagining things in his mind and building them with his hands.

DeMario Baer

The judges recognized DeMario’s innovation in meeting the recycled art challenge. He took his creation – a snowman formed from plastic bottle caps, soda can tabs and modeling clay – to the next level by adding a simple circuit board rescued from a broken stress ball. His work glowed thanks to red and blue LED lights, powered by the battery-operated circuit.

DeMario’s face glowed with pride as he accepted his prize basket in front of his classmates and teacher George Ness.

Both George and I were more than a little “choked up” by the experience of sharing DeMario’s accomplishment with his peers.

Mr. Keebs by DeMario Baer


Thanks to these three talented students and their mentors, I enjoyed a rebirth of enthusiasm for creativity in the classroom this spring.

I truly believe encouraging K-12 students to apply their curiosity and creativity to practical, hands-on learning helps prepare them for future challenges in life, including college and careers.

Working Class is sponsoring one more art challenge before the end of this school year.

The deadline is May 18 for the Game On! Art Challenge that invites K-12 students, teachers and parents to create original board games or video games. The challenge is inspired by Working Class: Game On! Math Matters, which can be viewed on WVIA On-Demand, YouTube and the series website.

Those who wish to enter may submit entries for the Game On! challenge via email, with an attached digital photo (JPEG file) of the original game board or a screen image of the video game in play. A separate email is required for each entry and must include the following information: a title and brief description of the game; entry category (student K-6, student 7-12 or teacher/parent); artist name; grade, school (or homeschool), city and state, teacher/parent name and email address.

Please email entries and questions to me prior by May 18.


Has anyone ever told you that your unique skills, talents and interests are key to a successful career?

Chances are no one ever has. Instead, you may have been led to believe there is only one very specific path to success and it requires good grades in everything and a college degree in anything.

Good grades in everything and a college degree in anything guarantee absolutely nothing. Just ask the many unemployed or underemployed college graduates in today’s job market.

Good grades in everything and a college degree in anything guarantee absolutely nothing.

A degree is not a guaranteed pathway to success. So how do you position yourself (and encourage students to prepare themselves) for high-wage, in-demand jobs?

The author of Redefining the Goal: The Truth Path to Career Readiness in the 21st Century suggests we ask ourselves ‘What can you do well?’ because that is what employers want to know. To be successful upon graduation, students must understand what jobs are available and have the knowledge and skills required to earn those jobs.

“The key is to align your interests and abilities with your first career choice and with the education and training you’ll need to receive,” says Dr. Kevin Fleming, who shares the data behind his assumptions in a viral animation video “Success in the New Economy.”

I heard Dr. Fleming speak recently on the campus of Pennsylvania College of Technology, during the Future Ready Series presented by BLaST Intermediate Unit 17. BLaST is a regional organization that supports education in Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan and Tioga counties.

Described as “a passionate advocate for ensuring all students enter the labor market with a competitive advantage,” Dr. Fleming states that his mission is to “close the skills gap one audience at a time.”

Closing the skills gap has been a top priority on the Penn College campus for more than 100 years. The Telly Award-winning documentary, “Working Class: 100 Years of Hands-on Education” and a book of the same name – both available for free online viewing – describe that history.

While conducting research for the book and documentary, I learned the campus was the center of a nationally-recognized effort to align education and job requirements following The Great Depression.

In 1938, Occupations – The Vocational Guidance Magazine reported at the Williamsport institution: “Every effort is directed toward maintenance of a constant balance between the jobs open at any one time – or likely to be open in the near future – and the number of persons in training for those jobs.”

Many job openings go unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. At the same time, many college graduates are underemployed because they lack specific skills required in a technology-driven economy. Something’s gotta give.

Dr. Fleming asks his audiences to consider the same ideas that inspired Williamsport educators, politicians and business leaders a century ago. His Penn College presentation earned plenty of snaps, as he encouraged those in attendance to snap their fingers whenever they heard facts, figures and ideas that resonated with them.

I found what Dr. Fleming called the “true ratio of jobs in our economy” (1:2:7) to be among the most compelling data he shared.

“For every occupation that requires a master’s degree or more, two professional jobs require a university degree and there are over half a dozen jobs requiring a one-year certificate or two-year degree; and each of these technicians are in very high-skilled areas that are in great demand,” he said.

True ratio of jobs in our economy 1:2:7

Let’s think of it in these terms. We tell high school students that success is defined by a university degree. Yet, in the workplace, there are only half as many job openings requiring those degrees. Twice as many opportunities exist for people who have specific technical skills. There are (in the words of Drs. Kenneth C. Gray and Edwin L. Herr who were featured in a previous Working Class blog) “other ways to win.”

Dr. Fleming, who holds several bachelor and master’s degrees and a Ph.D., said earning an industry credential launched his career, after years of underemployment. It’s not only what you know, it’s what you can prove you know how to do that makes you stand out in a crowd of job applicants today.

In the video “4 Skills and 4 Steps to a Successful Career,” Dr. Fleming speaks simply about the importance of combining academic skills and knowledge, life skills, employability skills and technical skills in order to become workplace ready. This video is worth sharing with high school students, teachers and parents who want to know what it really takes to succeed.

Old ideas that separate “technical” skills and academics simply do not serve students seeking 21st century careers. The use of technology, in the form of computers and equipment, is a job requirement across the board. Advancement in every field demands problem-solving skills acquired in the study of math, science and the humanities.

Employers expect newly hired workers to follow directions, meet deadlines, organize projects, communicate and work well with others. Lessons learned (or not learned) from Kindergarten through high school graduation may determine all students’ chances for success later in life.

“Take your classes seriously and become the strongest reader, writer and thinker that you can be,” Dr. Fleming advises. We need all students (college-bound or not) to be as well prepared as they can be for life after high school.

The challenge for teachers is to make academics relevant for all students by applying real world experiences in the classroom. Every student needs to learn how to overcome challenges, manage household finances and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Incorporating such common experiences into academic subjects will benefit students for a lifetime.

We need all students (college-bound or not) to be as well prepared as they can be for life after high school.

If you are interested in learning more about classes that combine academics, hands-on activities and career awareness, I invite you to check out the Working Class documentary series, produced by Penn College and WVIA Public Media.

Thank you Dr. Fleming, BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 and Penn College for helping educators and students in our region become “future ready.”

NOTE: Photos presented here feature caps decorated and worn by Penn College graduates during their commencement ceremonies in recent years.





When was the first — or the last — time you walked into a library?

I took my most recent steps into a library this morning. My very first? Well, we are going back in time, not quite (but close enough) to the year of the first nationwide celebration of libraries.

Sixty years ago, the theme of the inaugural National Library Week urged Americans to “Wake Up and Read” rather than surrender to the trend of forsaking books in favor television or radio.

This week’s NLW celebration theme, “Libraries Lead,” confirmed the library’s resilience despite the blitz of alternative sources of information, including online and social media, over the past six decades.

A 2015 Pew survey reported that 94 percent of Americans over the age of 16 believe that having a public library improves the quality of life in a community and 95 percent believe that “the materials and resources available at public libraries play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed.”

Author Ray Bradbury – described in his New York Times’ obituary as “a master of science fiction whose imaginative and lyrical evocations of the future reflected both the optimism and the anxieties of his own postwar America” – credited the library as his primary source of higher education.

“I couldn’t go to college,” Bradbury said, “so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Every working day, I have the privilege of entering a library. Madigan Library at Pennsylvania College of Technology is more than a hub of campus activity. It is a pillar of the local community that offers free community memberships to adult residents of the county who wish to use library resources.

Madigan Library, Pennsylvania College of Technology

My office is on the third floor of Madigan Library, which is also home to two of my favorite places on campus – The Gallery at Penn College and the Penn College Archives.

If I had known as a child that I would one day work inside a library, I would have forseen days spent wandering through the stacks, choosing a book here and a book there – one for the beauty of its cover, another based on interesting subject matter or a favorite author’s name.

Work — instead of shelves full of books vying for my attention — now demands much of my time. Yet I do, on occasion, take a look at the new book displays or walk through a gallery exhibition during a lunch break or take time to research historical documents in the archives.

Enjoying an artist’s talk at The Gallery at Penn College

I spent many days in the Penn College Archives during the years leading up to the College’s centennial celebration in 2014. Piecing together information (found in the Archives and revealed in interviews with former leaders, faculty and alumni), I authored several books on the institution’s history and served as executive producer of a Telly Award-winning documentary, Working Class: 100 Years of Hands-on Education, which inspired the Working Class public television documentary series.

It would have been impossible to tell the story of the college’s history without the support of Madigan Library and its librarians, especially Patricia A. Scott and Helen L. Yoas. Helen and Pat routinely amazed me with their knowledge, professionalism and sincere interest in helping me bring the institution’s story to life.

Patricia A. Scott
Helen L. Yoas

Because I know these librarians, I was not surprised to learn (in the Pew survey) that libraries remain relevant in a changing world due, in large part, to librarians. These resourceful individuals spend hours every day helping citizens navigate often-challenging processes that are crucial to meeting everyday needs – from completing homework assignments to securing critical information about housing and health care.

A Brookings Institution report explained, “In many communities, librarians are also ad hoc social workers and navigators. They help people figure out the complexities of life, from navigating the health system to helping those with housing needs.”

A Smithsonian magazine report also revealed, “The Pew survey found that libraries have become important community tech hubs in recent years, particularly for young, black, and low-income communities. The public institutions provide important access to computers, the internet, and public Wi-Fi networks, surveyors reported. Often, patrons use these resources to do research for school or work, and to check email, according to the data.”

Americans also believe libraries provide safe spaces as well as educational opportunities, according to the Smithsonian’s report: “Libraries are also viewed as critical venues during a time of crisis. In the face of natural disasters or community issues, like Hurricane Sandy in 2013, libraries often serve as refuges or outposts.”

Former First Lady and bestselling author Laura Bush – whose foundation is raising funds to help rebuild school library collections that were lost in last year’s natural disasters – believes, “Libraries allow children to ask questions about the world and find the answers. And the wonderful thing is that once a child learns to use a library, the doors to learning are always open.”

Children at Penn College’s Dunham Children’s Learning Center

The first time I walked through a portal to discover the magic world of books, I did not enter a building. I stepped onto a bookmobile sponsored by James V. Brown Library in Williamsport, PA, miles away from my rural family home.

Years later, the summer before I entered high school, I visited the “real” Brown Library, a magnificent Victorian facility built in 1907. I went there to receive an award for winning an art contest sponsored by the library. My entry was a scrap art caricature of President Richard M. Nixon rendered from materials I found in my parents’ junk drawer. I bought my first camera with the prize money I received.

As a young girl, I walked through the library’s open doors to discover amazing people, places and things that changed my perceptions of the world.

I read The Story of My Life by Helen Keller and learned that opportunity exists in every challenge. I found my love of animals celebrated in books like Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague and the Atwater’s Mr. Popper’s Penguins. I found a role model in the Donna Parker series written by Marcia Whitman.

I even staged the first (and only) play I ever wrote in my elementary school library, with my sixth grade classmates performing a story I can no longer fully recall.

Over many years, I found a home in the library. We all know — thanks to the Wizard of Oz — there is no place like home. If you haven’t been there lately, in honor of National Library Week, go home to your library, reconnect with your favorite librarians, and find yourself again.

Night view of Madigan Library



The bunny rabbit – harbinger of spring and legendary giver of holiday treats – takes center stage in many homes this time of year.

Among the most popular of the long-eared, short-tailed mammals is Peter Rabbit. Made famous by Beatrix Potter more than a century ago, he starred in a computer-animated film released earlier this year.

While Peter Rabbit made her famous before World War I, Beatrix was more than a commercial success. She was a noted naturalist and early land conservationist.

Biographer Linda Lear stated, “… at a time when nature was viewed as a commodity to be exploited, Beatrix Potter had the vision and environmental understanding to try to preserve a unique landscape … Her imaginative stewardship of the land is as much a part of her creative legacy as her art and stories for children.”

Children of every generation discover their place in the world through early exploration of their homelands. They interpret life through the environment that surrounds them. What better reason can we have for protecting natural resources? Nature is our home.

In Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature, Lear wrote: “The part of the Lake District that Beatrix Potter chose as her own was not only physically beautiful, it was a place in which she felt emotionally rooted as a descendant of hard-working north-country folk … There was a realism in the countryside that nurtured a deep connection.”

Those words help to explain my affinity for Beatrix. I too live in a pastoral environment that has sentimental value to me. My three-acre property is part of a 100-acre parcel my grandparents purchased 75 years ago.

Over the years, the landscape changed: a barn torn down, new structures built, old trees removed and news ones planted, a natural gas pipeline placed beyond the boundaries of my property. What remained constant were wild strawberries, violets and dandelion that return each spring and distant mountains that provide incredible views of fall foliage and year-round sunsets. In every season, I find reasons to explore and to love nature in my home place.

Spring is a perfect season to get outside and enjoy nature. It is also a great time to read and share the tales of Beatrix Potter. Inspired by my reading last year, I purchased a Peter Rabbit egg hunt kit – signs featuring Beatrix’s famous illustrations attached to wooden stakes – to guide my favorite little ones to their holiday treats.

While researching last year’s Telly Award-winning documentary Working Class: Build and Grow Green, I was surprised to learn that Beatrix’s popular tales also  influenced Rachel Carson, who is credited with changing public opinion about humans’ impact on the environment in the 1960s.

The effect of Peter Rabbit on the author of Silent Spring was described in Rachel Carson; Witness for Nature, also written by Linda Lear: “In fourth grade, Rachel wrote a story called “A Sleeping Rabbit.” Her cover illustration shows a plump white rabbit sitting with eyes closed in a chair beside a small round table on which are placed a candle and a book entitled Peter Rabbit. These stories and drawings reflect not only Rachel’s keen observation of bird and animal life but the kind of children’s literature she was reading and being read … Rachel’s favorites were the animal stories by Beatrix Potter, with their wonderfully detailed drawings, which she painstakingly imitated.”

Our children are keen observers and imitators. We can only imagine how the observations and connections to nature and the arts they experience today might lead them to make their own unique marks on the world in the years to come.

I encourage you to continue the legacy of Beatrix Potter and Rachel Carson this spring holiday season by sharing nature, animals, art and literature with your children. You will bring joy to their lives and to yours.






“Reflections” by Tori Romania

“You have to stand up for some things in this world.”

These words were spoken decades ago by Marjory Stoneman Douglas.  They now describe the actions of young people around the nation who will march this weekend to support a movement led by the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

March for Lives will take place Saturday in Washington DC and in “sibling” cities around the nation. The event, according to its mission statement, is about safety, not politics:

“There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing.”

The March for Lives website offers details about the upcoming event, including a list of artists that will perform on stage in the nation’s capitol in support of the students’ efforts to end gun violence.

“You have to stand up for some things in this world.”

“Happiness in Humanity” by Natalie Ring

Every generation, when faced with turmoil and confusion, looks to its most creative artists, activists, teachers, and leaders to inspire understanding, hope, healing and change.

I have the opportunity, as executive producer of the Working Class public television documentary series, to connect with students and teachers that are making a difference in our communities. Among them are the participants in a recent art challenge, sponsored by Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, producers of Working Class.

The Dream & Do Art Challenge invited student artists to depict the world as they imagine it. Original works of art submitted by students from one Pennsylvania high school seemed to me to be well suited for these trying times.

“Stronger Together” by Morgan Cole

I featured art by one Southern Columbia Area High School student (“Stronger Together” by Morgan Cole) in last week’s blog. In this blog, I am pleased to share all seven entries from Southern Columbia students.

Individually, each work offers a unique artist’s perspective, rendered with real talent. Collectively, the seven works lead me to believe that something special is happening in the art program at Southern Columbia Area High School.

When I offered high praise to Southern Columbia art teacher Casie Baker, she immediately turned the credit over to her student artists, calling them her “dream team.” I was inspired by Casie’s enthusiasm and by the talents of her students. We need dreamers and doers in our schools and our communities.

“Lighter than Life” by CeCe Cook

The visions and voices of today’s high school students will guide our world in the not-too-distant future. It is important that we encourage all students to express themselves responsibly and creatively. Student activists and artists especially deserve our support, as they have the power to inspire their entire generation.

We need dreamers and doers in our schools and our communities.

As our nation considers important issues related to school safety, mental health, and gun control,  high school students are setting a new standard for student activism. They are standing up –  for themselves, for their peers and for the world they are about to inherit.

“Gundam Trees” by Russ Gleeson

I learned, through a recent article in The Atlantic, that many of the qualities exhibited by Parkland’s student activists – “confidence, persuasive communication, creativity, stage presence” – were honed in their high school’s theatre program.

This information, in addition to the inspiration I received from Casey Baker’s art students, reminded me that art in our schools is more than a luxury; it is a necessity. It is something worth standing up for, I believe.

Educators and programs that focus on art, music, and theatre deserve our attention and our support.

Creative thinking, communication and innovation are required to meet the challenges of modern times. Students practice these skills in classes that promote the creative arts. We cannot afford to lose these essential elements of education.

Educators and programs that focus on art, music, and theatre deserve our attention and our support.

Every generation faces its own challenges in determining what the world will be.

“Bouquet of Beauty” by Susan Gembic

When I see beautiful art created by students and when I read words that convince me of their potential to imagine and create a better world, I am confident that we are in good hands with the next generation.

Southern Columbia student Toni Romania created “Reflections,” a drawing (seen at the opening of this blog) that contrasts a futuristic city in ruins with her reflected vision of potential growth and development.

Toni said, “The whole scene is a representation of viewing the world through my eyes … I believe that there is room for improvement in the world as it is, and if we focus on making these improvements, the world can continue to flourish. However, if the bad overpowers the good, the world as we know it will slowly start to fall apart.”

Students understand the serious challenges we face in the world today and they are ready to stand up for the things that matter.

Southern Columbia student Hannah Bradley used these words to describe her painting, “Elation,” which captured a moment of innocence in her childhood: “Everything then was pretty and warm and everything felt safe and pure. That is how I imagine everyone should feel in an ideal world.”

From Casie Baker’s “dream team” of artists at Southern Columbia to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who have taken a lead role in a national conversation about gun control and school safety, students are using their visions and voices to show us what the world could be.

It’s up to us to look and to listen.

“Elation” by Hannah Bradley


Stronger Together by Morgan Cole

Today, the National School Walkout is drawing attention to student voices that began challenging public opinions immediately following last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Student voices matter. As we stop and listen to their ideas about the kind of world they want to live in, today’s students remind even the most world-weary adults that we too once believed in something better.

The recent Dream & Do Art Challenge, sponsored by Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media, producers of the Working Class public television documentary series, invited student artists to depict the world as they imagine it.

My most recent blog featured a student work titled Light the Way, which judges selected as the favorite entry from grades 7-12. Now, I would like to showcase the work of Southern Columbia High School student Morgan Cole.

This is how Morgan described the inspiration behind her piece, Stronger Together:

“The concept of complete togetherness and unity is an ideal held in high regard. We would be foolish, however, if we didn’t admit that it has also scared and intimidated the human race since its inception. 

Whether it be racism, sexism, homophobia, war, or even genocide, we as a people have taken extreme measures to avoid the unknown.  Yet, despite this, we strive towards the unknown every day in search of a solution to our most pressing problems. 

The human race is faced with a double-edged sword of our own creation.  We can choose to remain content with our own isolated perspectives.  Or, we can come together and make the daunting problems faced today the accomplishments of tomorrow. 

We can alleviate world hunger, provide clean drinking water to all, end deforestation and pollution, stop the extinction of wildlife caused by humans, end racism, shatter the glass ceiling, and achieve the unimaginable when we unite. 

It’s time that we understand that the root of our fear exists not in each other, but in what we might accomplish – when we overlook unimportant differences – together.”

This is a student voice – and an artistic vision – that is worthy of our attention.

The vision and the voices of today’s high school students will guide our world in the not-too-distant future. It is important that we encourage students to express themselves responsibly and creatively as activists and artists who inspire positive change.

The human race is faced with a double-edged sword of our own creation.  We can choose to remain content with our own isolated perspectives.  Or, we can come together and make the daunting problems faced today the accomplishments of tomorrow.

Every generation faces its own challenges in determining what the world will be for future generations. The compelling messages of today’s student artists and activists convince me they have the potential to imagine and create a better world.

Let’s join with them and support a new vision for a better world. We can become stronger, together.


“Light the Way” by Heather Rose Quadrino

When you find yourself in darkness, look for the light.

Courageous students who witnessed last week’s horrific mass shooting in Florida are refusing to let darkness overtake them. They are speaking out and demanding change. They, rightfully, are holding adults accountable for failing systems that leave them vulnerable and afraid.

Lame excuses will not honor the brave students, teachers, coaches, and custodians who have lost their lives in our nation’s schools. It is time to get serious about solving the problems that weigh most heavily on our society. Those same problems nurture the insecurities that lead to violence in our schools and on our streets.

Children are neglected while adults refuse to grow up and act responsibly. We need change and we need to accept personal responsibility for creating that change. We cannot let issues that divide us defeat us. We must find common ground through clear, honest dialogue that does not condemn, but instead seeks to build understanding and cooperation.

Every life must matter. Every voice must be honored. We are wasting time. We are wasting lives.

“… one person’s efforts can be the gateway to helping others in their community find their own way to a better world.”

When news of the most recent school shooting reached my desk, I was making the final selections for the Working Class “Dream & Do” art challenge, sponsored by Pennsylvania College of Technology and WVIA Public Media. The contest invited students, parents and teachers, to create works of art depicting the world as they imagined it.

A drawing titled “Light the Way” by Heather Rose Quadrino was selected as the judges’ favorite among entries from students in grades 7-12. Heather, an 11th grade student at Delaware Valley High School in Milford, PA, said her drawing “depicts how one person’s efforts can be the gateway to helping others in their community find their own way to a better world.”

Thank you Heather Rose, for your inspiring work, which reminds us to look for the light in a time of overwhelming darkness. Heather and the students speaking out against school violence in Florida are using their voices, talents and creative energies to bring light into the world. They need our encouragement and support. They need it now.

Classrooms are meant for creation, not for destruction. We have the power to make change. We need to use that power now.

“We are like children with nuclear fusion in our hands – never fully grasping our potential for good and for destruction,” wrote Erwin Raphael McManus in The Artisan Soul. “It’s easier to control people if we convince them that they are inherently uncreative – everyone simply conforms and cooperates. If we want to create a better world, we had better start to unleash the creative potential inside each person to create all that is good and beautiful and true.”

“We are like children with nuclear fusion in our hands – never fully grasping our potential for good and for destruction.”

It is time that we take accountability for our failures and find creative solutions to problems that, for too long, we have ignored because we are afraid to challenge the status quo.

Please do your part to unleash the power of good in your corner of the world. You can help create change today. You can light the way.