On Not Being There

Today is the Wyckoff family reunion. All the big boys are finally there this year, except mine.

Jeremy is the oldest and he lives nearby, so he’s never missed it that I’m aware of. Patrick was the next oldest and he’s missed it the last 7 years, but he often sends a prey bird over the marsh as an affirmation, just as we serve the lunch. Then came Matt and Caleb, both about a year younger than Patrick. Both have been busy with work the last few years and haven’t made it to the reunion. Actually, I think Matt came for the day last year, but didn’t hang at the beach with the Ohio cousins.

When we finally made it to a reunion after Patrick passed away, it was really hard for me to see all the kids hanging out, and Patrick wasn’t there. But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been because at least the other big boys weren’t there. This year they are there and Brendan isn’t there to hang out with them. I remember so distinctly the last time Patrick hung out with all of his cousins at the last reunion at Buddy’s house. On the way to the airport he said, “Mom, why didn’t you tell me I had all these cool cousins?”

The boys had stayed up late into the night around the camp fire, with Aunt Gayle in charge. It was a very memorable time for my boys.

I’m sorry that Brendan and Emily can’t be there this year to just hang out on the beach with their cousins. Hopefully, next year.

Posted in beach, Brendan, Celebrations, family reunion, Food, Gathering, Regret, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

“Adulting” Then and Now

Sponge Bob was a favorite of Patrick’s.

With so many young people in my life, I have been witnessing a lot of “adulting” these past weeks and months. Add to that, Patrick would have turned 25 on June 25, and it takes me back to very vivid memories of when I was turning 25.

I was living in Boston with Becky and Jenny. Becky was a teacher, Jenny was working at Tufts as a researcher, planning for medical school. I was a year older than them and I still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I grew up. I recall vividly that this concern hit me really hard in the run up to my 25th birthday.

I got through the birthday weekend itself with the help of roommates and dear friends who surrounded me. Beth and Heather even made the drive from PA to help me celebrate. Michal took us all to the beach on Cape Cod.  A good time, and a fair amount of tequilla, was had by all. But when everyone left and the party was over, I was still worried about what I had not yet accomplished at 25. The anxiety was real and it motivated me to plan my next steps toward education and career.

I spent the next six months or so researching graduate schools, applying, updating my business skills, etc. I started my MBA the following June (while still 25 :). It all worked out, more or less, despite my very real anxiety about what the future held for me.

I see this same anxiety in Avery. He is stressing early, having turned 24 in February. But he has been faced with big decisions these past weeks. I have been blessed that he trusts me to talk through these things with. I had the honor of helping him pick out his first nice car over the past couple of weeks. I think we nailed it, a 2010 Outback, with 65,000 miles. We got him a car that looks brand new and will be reliable for his commute to Castle Rock, with a reasonable payment. Now he thinks maybe it’s “too nice”.

Avery starts his new job, with a desk and computer on June 26, the day after Patrick would have turned 25. It will be safer than working HVAC on the 27th floor of a half-built sky scraper. It pays more and there is room for advancement. They will even pay for school for him to finish his degree. He’s going to do just fine. As are the rest of the kids who are “adulting” around me.

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The Gang’s All Here!

We had a wonderful dinner and evening of fun last night with nearly all the boys. I made quesadillas again, and as often happens when I do, the kids come out of the woodwork to eat them. I blogged about this once before in 2015.

It started earlier this week when Avery came over to use the computer and get support looking into a job opportunity. I told him to come back Wednesday night since I was making quesadillas. He promised to bring vanilla ice cream if I’d made an apple crisp for dessert. There’s nothing quite like warm apple crisp and vanilla ice cream. So a plan was hatched.

Meanwhile, Shane texted Brendan that he wanted to hang out while Tyne visited with Abby and her Mom. Then since Shane was here too, someone suggested that Evan come over too since they don’t see each other as often as they’d like. He said he could make it, which was great news.

Finally, I said we better call Steven since he lives nearby and he really likes my quesadillas. All in all, I cooked for 9 people and used up every tortilla in the house. It was so great to see the kids all together (we missed you Sam!) laughing and sharing stories. They remain a great support to each other as they learn all about “Adulting” in this crazy world.

Having them here last night was particularly soothing for me. I had spent the day in a workshop focused on suicide prevention. I handled the day pretty well, and I was supported by my neighbor who lost her husband to suicide about a year before Patrick died and by another friend of the family, who was actually at the funeral. I came home from the meeting tired, but appreciative for the information that I learned. Now I can (maybe) engage in the conversation about whether someone has a suicide plan. As the kids all started to arrive, I felt appreciated and I just love knowing that they all remain in each other’s lives. I just know that Patrick was looking down on us last night as we assembled to eat and celebrate together.

Posted in Evan, Food, friendships, fun, Gathering, Gratitude, Growing Up, Healing, hugs, Patrick's friends, Recovery, Remembering, Shane, suicide prevention, Traditions, Tyne | Leave a comment

The March to March 16

I hate this week. I hate it every year. Now that I know what was going on with Patrick in the days leading up to his suicide, I march through these days with a heavy heart. I don’t know why he didn’t ask us to help him. I don’t know why he tried to hide the very adult situation he was trying to navigate. I am still furious that the little bitch lied about a pregnancy and my son is dead because of it.  I still can’t fathom that he thought killing himself was the best solution to this problem.

Having helped so many other kids doesn’t lessen my sadness and regret that I couldn’t help my own son, he never even gave me a chance. It makes me feel like a total failure.

 

Posted in Evan, Grief, Grief triggers, Regret, regrets, Suicide | Leave a comment

Catharsis

Definition:

  1. the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions. 
  2. Purgation.

catharsis

That about sums up my decision to finally leave the Board of the Jeffco Association for Gifted Children (JAGC) on Sunday. I did not realize how much “repressed emotion” I had about the dysfunction of the organization. I imagine it will take me some time to fully process the ordeal. At this point, I’d just love to have the many hours of my life back, but that it impossible. I served when called again in 2014 I did, I am now done. “Free at last!”

So, I will continue my process of catharsis and endeavor to release all of the negative energy that has built up over the past three years.

It serves no one, most especially not me.

Posted in Celebrations, engagement, Healing, Jeffco, Recovery, regrets | Leave a comment

It’s Time To Move Forward

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Vision Board I created in mid-January to fuel my Patrick Straut Foundation work.  Thanks Marguerite Hamm for leading us through the Vision Board Process

 

February has been a whirlwind of positive energy and progress. I was very involved with the students and teachers as they fought for continuing funding for their GT Center at WRHS. I blogged about that previously. The kids were very successful in garnering media attention and the school board listened to every one of their stories about how the Center has met their social, emotional and academic needs. They make me so proud.

Fueled by all of this positive energy, and with approved bylaws in hand, I completed the paperwork to request 501 (c) 3 status from the IRS. I filed the paperwork on Feb. 11 and just received a letter approving our status, date stamped Feb. 16, 2017.

The Patrick Straut Foundation is officially a federal tax-exempt nonprofit foundation. And it wasn’t even that hard to do!

Also on February 16, we officially launched our website at http://PatrickStrautFoundation.org

I also created a FaceBook page for the Foundation.

Perhaps the most touching and personal accomplishment was the note I received with the very first donation accepted through the website. The donor shared that she had been just 9 years old when her 22 year old brother completed suicide. That’s the age that our Emily was when Patrick left us. Patrick’s story touched her, just as I know it touches people every single day.

This is the work of the Patrick Straut Foundation. My heart is full. The work matters.

Happy Monday!

 

Posted in Emily, GT HS Center, Healing, Jeffco, Marguerite, Reaching Educators, Recovery, Remembering, Success, suicide prevention, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

News Stories about the GT HS Center at WRHS

Late in the evening of Thursday, 2/9/2017, the Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education voted to remove the 2 teachers who lead the Gifted & Talented Center at Wheat Ridge High School from the list of budget cuts. This commitments funds the GT Center program for one more year. The community now needs to work closely with the district and the principal at WRHS to agree upon a funding mechanism beyond the 2017-18 school year. We cannot afford to lose this life saving program.

The students at the GT Center are taking action to save their program. This blog is dedicated to documenting the media hits they have gotten.

 

Denver Post Article 2/15/17: Wheat Ridge High School Gifted and Talented Center Will Receive District Funding for One More Year

Chalkbeat Article 2/10/17: Chalkbeat: Jeffco Board to Close One Elementary School

Channel 9 News: Jeffco to decide fate of 5 elementary schools (Highlights Matthew)

9 News: Jeffco to Decide Fate of 5 Elementary Schools

Denver Post Jeffco School Closures Meeting

Fox 31 Denver:

Jefferson County board spares 4 elementary schools from chopping block

After BOE meeting, Alexander on camera near end.

Jefferson County school board considers closing schools, ending special programs

CBS 4 News Includes interviews with Elliott, Shannon & Conner:

Meeting Held To Discuss Possible Closing Of Schools In JeffCo

CBS 4 News 2/9/17 Interviews at WRHS (Includes some of the kids’ video)

The kids agreed to meet at the school on Sunday afternoon. Apparently, they kept calling Channel 7 until someone came out to interview them. So proud of these kids.

http://yourhub.denverpost.com/blog/2017/02/jeffco-school-district-dont-close-vital-high-school-gt-center/173411/

One of the parents, Lisa Hamm-Greenawalt wrote a wonderful article after interviewing a number of students. She also talked with me about Patrick’s story and summarized it here. I did note that he was 18 when he died, not 19 and that I prefer “completed suicide” to “committed suicide”.  The article was self-published in the Denver Post Your Hub.

Chalkbeat: Feb. 8, 2017

Gifted and Talented Center at WRHS on Chopping Block as Part of Jeffco Budget Cuts

Posted in Jeffco, Reaching Educators, rebels, school, Success, suicide prevention, teachers, Telling Patrick's Story | 1 Comment

Saving the GT High School Center at Wheat Ridge

 

I have been busy the last week helping the lead teacher at WRHS coordinate students and parents to try to save the GT WRHS Center. The very fact that this program is in jeopardy is not a strong reflection on the leadership of our school district. Our school board was given a set of terrible choices, including closing 5 “small” elementary schools. One of them is Pennington, Sandy Craig’s school. My heart is shattered for all of the kids who are hurting.

Here is my letter to the school board and staff who made the recommendation. I will post again when there is resolution. I am hopeful, but I’ve seen many, many bad calls these last two weeks. Has it only been two weeks.

Dear Board of Education and Staff:

I watched the live stream of the Board meeting last week, particularly the discussion around cutting the two teachers in the district GT Center hosted at WRHS, with horror. The positions were characterized by staff simply as “Elective” teachers. In fact, they are the foundation of a thriving GT high school center. It is the crown jewel of Jeffco schools, and recognized in Colorado and nationally. I’d like to share the history of the development of this center since I was a part of it.

In April of 2007, I became aware of plans to develop an International Baccalaureate (IB) program in the Alameda articulation area of Jefferson County Public Schools. Having worked as an advocate for Gifted and Talented students in Jeffco for more than five years at the time, and seeing no attempts by the district to provide programming for high school students, I began to ask questions. At the time Jeffco had a strong IB program at Lakewood High School, it was considered the de facto high school option for our GT kids. There were also Honors and Advanced Placement (AP) courses at many neighborhood schools. However, there was nothing to support the social and emotional needs of GT high school students.

My son, Patrick, was a sophomore at Littleton High School at the time. He had gone to Littleton for the IB program as a freshman and once he really understood the work involved, he opted out after his first semester. Patrick was very bright, but not motivated by traditional lecture-based learning and lots of essay writing. He had thrived in a small, experiential pre-IB program at Mackintosh Academy, Littleton. Mackintosh is a school dedicated to gifted and talented children.

I was in search of a program that would meet the needs of kids like Patrick. I wasn’t alone, through my advocacy work in Jeffco, I had friends who also had high school students whose needs were also not being served at neighborhood schools in Jeffco. I decided to take action.

I called a Community Superintendent in the district, Marcia Anker, to ask why Jeffco was creating an additional IB program and had no plans to provide appropriate programming for our GT HS kids. Marcia had been a principal at Mt. Carbon Elementary (our neighborhood school) and knew Patrick. Being very familiar with GT kids, she understood that there are many students like Patrick, highly sensitive, intense, hands-on learners.

I had a very direct conversation with Marcia and asked what we needed to do to advocate for a GT HS program in the district. I mentioned the fact that GT kids were taking up seats in the IB program at Lakewood HS that should be taken by high achieving, teacher pleasing student, not students like Patrick. She listened to me patiently and said that she would pass our concerns on to Dr. Cindy Stevenson. About a week later, Marcia called me to say that Cindy had a block of time for a meeting with her and her leadership team, including Dr. Debbie Backus, Chief Academic Officer and Ruth Stern, Director of Exceptional Student Services (which included SPED and GT). We agreed to the meeting time and had a couple of days to craft our argument in support of a district GT HS Center. I worked with Jean Willis-Brown and Diane Dyer on a document that made our case (that is the attached). As I re-read it, we could update the citations, but the issues for GT kids in high school remain the same in 2017, almost 10 years later.

We had a very productive and interactive conversation with Dr. Stevenson and her team on April 30, 2007. Cindy was late meeting with us, as she had to testify at the Legislature that day, but she called and asked us to wait for her. We briefed her on our conversation when she arrived. She was initially reluctant to build another program that people either fit into or didn’t, but over time she came to understand what we were asking for.  Dr. Susan Ashbridge, the new GT Director, came from a Florida institution that had a robust HS program. Her experience helped inform the administration staff about the needs of GT learners. During the 2007-2008 school year planning commenced for the district’s first GT Center hosted by Wheat Ridge HS. Griff Wirth, WRHS Principal and his team were involved in visioning, planning and were provided significant professional development opportunities so that the teachers and others in the building really understood what would be expected of them as a GT HS Center for the district.

The GT HS Center (named PEAK) opened with 22 freshman in the fall of 2008. The program was funded by the district budget from that time; it still is. I do not have enrollment information for every year, but the program has served the needs of GT students from around Jeffco since its inception. At the current time there are about 150 WRHS students who participate in the GT Center elective class. There are many other kids who have interactions in the classroom since other WRHS clubs meet there and the classroom is open to students over the lunch hour. Current statistics show that students from26 different zip codes are represented in the District Center; 62% of the students are choice enrollments into WRHS for the program, 38% of the kids are from the WR attendance area.

The program is growing and thriving, meeting the needs of diverse learners, many with significant challenges in addition to their gifts and talents. The fact that the district’s HS Center at WRHS is thriving makes the staff recommendation to pull the district funding for the two teachers that make it happen quite perplexing. Staff was asked to look for budget reductions that do not impact kids in classrooms. A district decision not to fund this Center would essentially kill a thriving program, directly impacting more than 150 GT students.

If you have not visited the GT HS Center, I encourage you arranging to do so. Meanwhile here is a link to their website and Face Book page, to give you a sense of the place and the people.

Face Book: Wheat Ridge High School Gifted and Talented Center

Website:  https://sites.google.com/a/jeffcoschools.us/peak-gt-center/

Amazing things are happening at the District’s GT Center hosted by WRHS. Let’s keep up the momentum. Kids are enriched and lives are saved there. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Respectfully,

Terri

Terri Taylor Straut

Jeffco Parent & GT Advocate

Posted in engagement, friendships, Gathering, Growing Up, Healing, Jeffco, Reaching Educators, Recovery, school, Success, Suicide, suicide prevention, teachers, Telling Patrick's Story, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Grief Sucks!

grief-2017

I got derailed yesterday, first the refrigerator broke, then I had a major panic attack while dealing with the spewing water coming from the hose behind the refrigerator. Standing there, behind the frig, I was immediately taken back to 6 years ago when we found the black mold in the kitchen and the 2 months of hell re-doing the kitchen (totally unforeseen and unbudgeted).  Patrick’s died while the grout was still wet on the tile floor that he had help cut and place the day before.

It kicked my ass. I’m still shaky today. I didn’t think I could be that fully derailed any more. Grief sucks!

Posted in Grief, Grief triggers, time | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Gift of True Friendship

true-friendship

Sandy Craig, Evan’s Mom created this poster for us for Patrick’s birthday, 6/25/11

Patrick’s best friend was Evan Stevens. Patrick and Evan met in first grade at Mount Carbon Elementary. They connected after Evan ran past Patrick sitting on the playground one day in the fall. Evan stopped, turned around and said something like, “Hey do you want to be my best friend?”, the rest is history. They were both in after school care, so they spent hours playing in the dirt behind home base in the baseball field. They both had intense imaginations.  I remember Patrick telling me one day, “Evan and I don’t even have to talk sometimes, we just know what the other one is thinking.”

Evan and Patrick were only in school together for two years, but their friendship lasted Patrick’s lifetime. Even when they didn’t see each other for weeks, or even months, they fell back into a familiar cadence within minutes. Evan is like a third son to us and he always will be.

Patrick’s death was as hard on Evan as it was on the rest of our family. He truly lost a huge part of himself in losing his BFF and confidant. I don’t even had adequate words to describe it. I’ve missed having them both here these past 5 plus years. Evan was here with us last Friday night and Saturday and it was wonderful to hear is booming laugh again.

Evan with Richy & Tyler enjoying chili before decorating the tree

Evan with Richy & Tyler enjoying chili before decorating the tree

I’ve been thinking a lot about friendship this week. I had the great honor to spend a couple of days with my dear best friend, Maryann Billington, while she is recovering from knee replacement surgery. It was the best gift I could have received.

Maryann has been my friend and mentor for most of my adult life. I first met her over 30 years ago, when she was the Dean of the Graduate School of Business at Northeastern University. My first impression was strong, she was 9 months pregnant with her second son and presenting at an information session about the program. I was so impressed that a young woman could even be the Dean of a Business School in 1986. She is also an amazing speaker and her enthusiasm for all that NU offered convinced me that’s where I should get my MBA that very day.

I joined the cooperative education cohort that June, Jerry was also in that cohort. During my time at NU, I had the opportunity to serve as Maryann’s graduate assistant and even house sit for she and Peter when they came to Colorado on vacation one summer. Working closely with Maryann, I was even more impressed with her knowledge, style and work ethic. She was a successful woman in a man’s world. I knew I could do that too.

Maryann and Peter welcomed Jerry and I into their home when we found ourselves in Colorado in the summer of 1989 on our trek across the country before settling down into the fabulous jobs that we just knew we’d find with our fresh MBAs. We didn’t anticipate the downturn in the economy and the fact that all of our job prospects would melt away within a few weeks. But the Billingtons were there to support us with a place to stay in their home, odd jobs, recommendations for leads and lots of love. Over time, we became family. I’m the little sister that Maryann never had.

When Patrick was born, the Billingtons visited in the hospital and brought him the whole Winnie the Pooh gang stuffed animal collection. We spent holidays with them often and even took vacations together. Most notable was our ‘camping’ trip to the four corners when Brendan was a baby. It was rainy and I’ll never forge Maryann calling me on my cell phone from her car, “We have options” she said, “I’ve been checking out B&Bs.” The tents never even made it out of the cars.

When Patrick died, I called Maryann. She drove from Colorado Springs immediately and rarely left my side during the days of planning the funeral. She made the appointment with the funeral home, the disaster clean up people, the insurance company, and his college. She did all of the things that I didn’t have the presence of mind to do myself.

When the Billingtons moved to Utah a few years ago to be closer to their son Drew and his family, it became harder to connect in person. We saw each other a few times on business trips, but we haven’t had those close family times and best friend talks lately.

So it was awesome to spend time with my BFF this week, just hanging out at her condo in front of her Christmas tree. We talked about a thousand things, and hardly finished one conversation, since everything reminds of something else we haven’t had a chance to share. We made beaded bracelets and rings, something we’ve been talking about doing together for years.  I was reminded that true friendship is a precious gift.

I am thankful to have such a wonderfully kind, generous and brilliant best friend for over 30 years. Of course, the pictures of us aren’t digital and few and far between, because we’re the Moms.

Merry Christmas Maryann & Evan!

 

Posted in Celebrations, Christmas, Evan, friendships, Gathering, Gratitude, Grief, Healing, hugs, Recovery, Remembering, Telling Patrick's Story, time, Traditions | Leave a comment