Archive for June 2017

A student design challenge for Honolulu rail

June 27, 2017

A few weeks ago, the University of Hawai‘i announced the winners of the “Make the Ala Wai Awesome” Student Design Challenge. The challenge generated ideas for improving the Ala Wai Canal in Honolulu, and engaged students in coming up with real-world solutions. Components of the project included flood mitigation, ecosystem restoration and preservation, community engagement, cultural connections, public private partnerships, and improvement of the visitor experience.

I love the idea of student design challenges. It is a bold and practical way to get students involved in the community, show them that they can make a difference, and to help them share their ideas for the future. It could also turn them into more involved citizens and voters.

I think we need a student design challenge for Honolulu Rail. With rail transit costs increasing, lawmakers unable to keep funding upwardly-revised budget estimates, voters burdened with high taxes and a high cost of living, the only ones who haven’t voiced an opinion are the students who will one day ride and pay for rail.

A “Make or Remake Honolulu Rail” Student Design Challenge would give students a choice: to build rail or stop rail contraction.

If students choose to build rail, they would need to come up with a plan to pay for it, including operations, maintenance, and repairs. Would students suggest raising taxes, adding tolls, or finding sponsors?

If students choose to stop rail construction, they would need to come up with a plan to re-purpose the existing columns and guide ways, use the land that has been purchased or condemned for rail, and Would students suggest building skyway bike paths, breezeway parks, or tiny homes?

Here’s what my 10-year old son had to say: “I think that we should finish rail. I believe this because rail is over 50% completed. If we would stop it and destroy it, the government would spend just as much money and time to stop it. If we complete it, we might be able to regain the amount of money we spent to construct it. We could also reduce the amount of fossil fuels used and greenhouse gasses.

How does he think we could pay for it? “We would pay for it by raising funds from other rail supporter organizations. Maybe the government and HART can make a deal with the citizens. I think that [we could do this] by raising the visitor taxes by 5%. 1% would go to an agreement of what the citizens want to be fixed. The 4% goes to the government and 3% of the 4% would go to help encourage organizations to be willing to help and support rail.  The extra 1% would be going toward to finishing rail.”

If the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), Hawaii lawmakers, and the City and County of Honolulu are struggling to keep rail going, do you think that students might help find more answers? After all, today’s students and their children will be paying for rail in the future.

 

Photo from Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Photo Gallery http://www.honolulutransit.org/connect/photos-videos. Clipart from http://all-free-download.com.

Dogs, responsibility, and aging

June 20, 2017

Usually parents buy children a pet, and it becomes the parents’ pet. In our case, our dog has become our son’s dog – or rather, our son has become our dog’s boy.

When my son was young, our yellow lab was a very patient companion. She let him pull her tail without whining and try to ride her like a pony without growling. She would gently nose his cheek when he fell asleep on the couch.

Now that my son is 10 years old, he takes more responsibility for our dog. He gets her water, feeds her, and helps take her on walks. He is learning to take responsibility for someone else.

But a funny thing happened. Whenever our dog wants something – food, water, a walk – she doesn’t come to us anymore. Instead, she goes to our boy (her boy?) and noses him when he is trying to read, play games, or do homework. She barks a warning-bark and then pay-attention bark. Our dog, once so patient with our son, has become more demanding.

As I age, I hope that I show more restraint and understanding when my son is caught up with his own life, and I look for a measure of his attention. It’s always hard when we need to keep up with changes in our relationships – when our children need us less and when we need them more.

This post did not turn out the way I expected it to. I started off writing about responsibility and the changing relationship between our dog and our son, and it has turned ended with a glimpse of the future, when a care-giver may become a dependent.

Did you have a childhood pet? If yes, who really took care of your pet? And why do the words “caregiver” and “caretaker” mean the same thing – someone who takes care of another?

A two minimum wage proposal

June 13, 2017

Minimum wage, the lowest wage that hourly employees earn, is a controversial issue. Supporters of minimum wage laws believe that it helps lift people out of poverty and reduce income inequality (the gap between higher-income and lower-income people). Opponents of minimum wage laws believe that it reduces the number of new jobs and raises prices, as businesses adjust for higher labor and payroll costs.

Rather than debating the value of the minimum wage, I would like to propose that we create two categories of wages: minimum wages and minimum living wages.

The minimum wage would be the lowest wage that entry-level, unskilled employees earn. It means that businesses could limit their up-front investment in an employee who will only be temporary.

The minimum living wage would be the lowest wage for more experienced, skilled employees who have worked part-time or full-time for an business for over one year. It would put into law the current practice of offering employees raises during annual performance reviews.

Businesses take most of the risks when hiring entry-level employees, so it makes sense to offer a lower minimum wage. Businesses must conduct interviews, offer job training, fill out employment paperwork, trust employees to show up on time and do the job.

Of course, new employees take risks as well – that the paperwork will be correct and that they will get paid – but there is less uncertainty in accepting the job, especially if a business has been around for a few years. Employees have the reassurance of visiting the business and seeing how it works before accepting the job.

After one year on the job, wages could be increased to the minimum living wage, a higher wage that is closer to what employees need to live and work in the area. The minimum living wage could also be tied to increased benefits, such as additional vacation time, family leave, retirement plans, or continuing education subsidies.

This one-year minimum living wage probation allows businesses to evaluate the employee’s skills and fit with the company. It also allows employees to decide whether they want to keep working for the company and gives them job experience if they decide to look for a new job.

A good business with sound finances will voluntarily offer raises the employees who show up and work hard, even if they can’t offer raises every year. While there is always the risk that an unscrupulous or poorly-managed business will fire employees before the one-year mark to avoid paying a higher wage, those businesses would suffer from higher job turnover, constant training, and poor reputation.

Do you think that two minimum wages would be an effective compromise between employees and businesses? What do you think of minimum wage laws?

Looking back at fifth grade

June 6, 2017

It was a bittersweet day when my son finished fifth grade at a Honolulu public elementary school. He really enjoyed his fourth and fifth grade years, and he didn’t want to say goodbye to his wonderful teachers and friends. I encouraged him to keep in touch with them, and also look forward to all of the new teachers and friends he will meet in sixth grade.

Students today have greater opportunities for academics and community service, and higher expectations overall. This year, there was a stronger emphasis on computer work, with online activities and Google Drive, and public speaking. There was a focus on collaborative projects, teamwork, and presentations.

I’d like to share our fifth grade school year experience.

One day of articulation classes. For the second year, all of the articulation classes (Art, Computer, Hawaiian, Library, Mandarin, Music, and PE) were scheduled on the same day. It is a winning change. Parents knew what to expect on articulation day, and teachers had more time to collaborate with other teachers.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Exhibition. The highlight of the year was the fifth grade Exhibition project. For the “Sharing the Planet” unit, each team of 2-4 students chose a project, conducted background research, contacted an expert, prepared a presentation, and constructed a community action plan. Everything culminated in Exhibition Night, when the students presented their project in two sessions. Projects ranged from endangered species, overfishing, and the environment, to crime, rail, and human welfare. Community outreach included a food drive, clothes collection, recycling, and sign-waving. At the end of the unit, students wrote Reflections on what they learned and how they could improve. It was my son’s favorite project of the year, and an impressive accomplishment.

Personally, one of my favorite IB units was “How We Express Ourselves,” in which students wrote narrative fiction using figurative language. Many assignments during the year were expository and fact-based, so this was a chance for students to showcase their inventive and ingenious imagination (alliteration) in a thousand different ways (hyperbole).

Online and on-task. In past years, students practiced math online using iXL, and reading and writing online using Achieve3000. Both websites track students’ assignments and achievements. This year, fifth graders also used Google Drive to complete assignments, communicate with teachers, and collaborate with team members. Students still had a good amount of workbooks and worksheets, but the online drive made it easier to edit papers and slides – and let parents peek at their homework when they weren’t around (was I not supposed to admit that?).

Speech festival. At my son’s school, Speech Tech Club is open to third, fourth, and fifth graders. Students audition for the club and commit to weekly meetings and a lot of practice, either solo or in a group. Students performed in front of other classes and at the third quarter assembly, and finally performed at the Honolulu District Speech Festival in front of five judges. At this stage, it’s not competitive, but the judges write feedback about each speaker. There’s a nice ceremony at the end, where the participants receive a medal. The confidence that students gain from public speaking will definitely help them as they get older.

The Friends. We were fortunate to have energetic and organized Friends (the school’s parent group) to coordinate fundraisers, community events, and Teacher Appreciation Week. They were welcoming and helped to make the school feel like a community. My son says that the last movie night was the best day of his life (I hope it’s an exaggeration, but I’m glad he enjoyed it).

“It was very hard for me to say goodbye to all my friends and classmates,” my son wrote in his journal at the end of the year. It is hard for me to say goodbye to this amazing elementary school too.

Do you have school-age children? How does your elementary school experience compare with theirs?

“Presence” by Amy Cuddy

June 3, 2017

When the movie “Iron Man 3” was released in 2013, my then 6-year old son loved to imitate Iron Man’s pose: standing straight, arms loose, shoulders back, chest out to display the unibeam (the arc reactor in the center of his chest). Whether his confidence grew out of strong body language or just something he was born with, he has very little fear about public speaking and voicing his opinions. He was learning about the power of presence.

Presence is “the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values, and potential,” according to “Presence: Bringing Your BOLDEST SELF to Your BIGGEST CHALLENGES” (2016) by Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist Amy Cuddy. It is letting go of fear and being comfortable in your own skin.

The foundation of presence is personal power, which Cuddy discusses through anecdotes and research summaries. She declares that exhibit presence when we feel relaxed and powerful. Powerlessness makes us avoid; it impairs thought and makes us self-absorbed. In contrast, power makes us approach; it gives us confidence, lets us trust ourselves, protects us from negative emotions, and helps us connect to others.

We can all gain confidence through small self-nudges, small tweaks in our body language and mind-set. “Expanding your body language, through posture, movement, and speech makes you feel more confident and powerful, less anxious and self-absorbed, and generally more positive,” Cuddy writes.

The book offers encouraging and practical advice to follow before tests, meetings, negotiations, performances, or events. Here are some power nudges that work in Western cultures:

  • Empower your mindset: Take a few minutes to remember and reflect on a time when you felt personally powerful.
  • Straighten your posture: Adopt an open, comfortable posture. Take up your fair share of space. Imagine yourself standing like Wonder Woman or Superman.
  • Change your stride: Walk confidently, with longer strides and more arm movement.
  • Take your time while speaking: Speak slowly without rushing and make eye contact.
  • Be aware of your breathing: Breathe slowly and regularly through your nose.
  • Reframe anxiety as excitement: When you feel anxious, tell yourself to “get excited.”

My son is growing his personal power. He has run for class representative and participated in the speech club. He even did an “Iron Man” monologue for an audition piece. One morning before a performance, when he was feeling a little anxious, I gave him a “Presence” nudge: I told him that the fluttery feeling in his stomach was excitement. I wish I could tell that to myself and believe it, but I’m working on it.

For more stories about presence, visit Amy Cuddy’s website at http://amycuddy.com/stories/.

Do you have innate presence, or do you have to practice it? In your life, who has a commanding or compelling presence?