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30 Days of Thanks: Education

The gratitude continues as we enter our third day of being thankful for people and things in the life of ol' Matty-Matt.

30 Days of Thanks, Day 3: Education

I was born and raised in Champaign, IL, attending Unit 4 schools for my K-12 education. This consisted of three schools altogether: Westview, Jefferson and Centennial. To be honest, it wasn't always the best of times. Kids can be cruel. But the teachers, deans and administrators were almost always wonderful. I feel fortunate to have experienced those years with them.

Westview was a great little grade school. This can be said, not because of the building, but because of the people in it. The awesomeness can be spread around from the principals, to the teachers, to the librarians, to the office staff. So many of them were excellent: Mr. Hires, Mr. Freeman, Ms. Breeze, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Sims, Mrs. Keller, Mrs. Hummel, Mrs. Goodman and Mrs. Allen. I know I'm forgetting some.

Jefferson Middle School featured its own set of nice staff: Mr. Niehaus, Mrs Dunlap, Mr. Vrona, Mrs. Malone, Mrs. Arzeni, Mrs. Sartain, Mrs. Hunt, Mr. Steinmann, Mr. Wager and Mrs. Ott. Not as memorable as grade school, but then that was a hard act to follow. One of my favorite memories is when our shop class got to work almost an overnight shift at the school and have a little fun on the side. Good times.

Centennial High School was, truthfully, a rough time overall, but it was made bearable by much of the staff: Mr. Yanchus, Mrs. Storch, Mr. Valentine, Mr. Rowe, Mrs. White, Mr. Meade, Mr. Wiseman and, of course, the one and only Mr. Lou Skizas (former professional baseball player-turned-health teacher). Those folks made high school about good as it possibly could have been for me, given the circumstances.

It's true that many of the years at public schools were tough. Bullying was rampant. My parents got divorced, I went from being skinny and nicknamed "chicken legs" to being an overweight kid known as "Fat Matt." Being gay didn't help. Saving-up allowance money to pay to classmates so they could protect me from bullies was definitely one of the low points. There's a lot I could be bitter about.

But, I choose to embrace the pain. It's helped to make me who I am today.

Life isn't always going to smell of roses. Sure, a lot of people try and put down public education and big-up privatization. Maybe they're right, but I doubt it. Because, amid the turmoil and frustration of growing up, I was fortunate enough to obtain a solid education, from educators who were able to reach me through the problems, who were beacons of kindness and thoughtfulness that helped me navigate a young life.

Thank you, public education.


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