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Thursday, August 21, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Cole and Passman discuss volunteerism, middle-school passage
Take Home Test 2007: Week 4, Seat 5

Let's skip the issues this week and probe the Madison school board candidates on their community involvement and their advice for students moving up to high school. We've asked them to describe their most fulfilling volunteer experiences, as well as what they would say to a graduating class of eighth graders.

Here are the responses from the two candidates for Seat 5, Marj Passman and Maya Cole.

The Daily Page: Imagine that you are the featured speaker at an 8th grade graduation of a Madison middle school. Briefly, what is the substance of your message?

Marj Passman
I spent the last 10 years of my teaching career in middle school, and yet most education discussions seem to center on K-5 or high school. Here at last is an opportunity to talk about the group of children that I came to know and love. In fact, as I have often said, I arrived in middle school at a time of life when my hormones were raging and, when my hormones met my students' hormones, it was love at first sight.

So now, what should I tell this graduating class? "First, congratulations on surviving a very difficult transitional period in your life. You entered middle school as a child and are now leaving it almost as an adult. Children have freedom; adults have responsibilities; now you have both. I know you are young, and your future seems limitless and so far away. But there are important decisions that have to be made right now that are crucial to your later life.

Most of my students have been successful, but a few have not; and success depends in a large measure on your approach to high school. So promise me that you will work hard, study regularly, care about your high school education, and think about and plan for college.

Finally, I would like to thank you for what you have given me. You have a gift for life, and to work in the presence of such vitality is, as they say in middle school, awesome."

Maya Cole
I used to do field research, and many times I observed the image of a young bald eagle becoming a fledgling. Toward the end of summer, they begin to stretch their wings, then flap occasionally, and then flap so hard in the nest that they actually lift a few inches off the nest. Then one day, on the side of the nest, they look around, flap their wings and become a fledgling. They lift off and fly.

Most of us as adults are too old to remember the exact time, but we remember the feelings and anxiety of adolescence. Somehow, we survived the peer pressure, complexity, confusion and ambiguities of young adulthood.

Perhaps when you least expect it, you too will have the urge to step to the edge, to individuate, not separate, from your primary family.

Don't be afraid to take risks in your education. Learning is more than recitation and lectures; it's about risk-taking. You learn by doing something you have never done before. High school is about taking risks, while accepting the responsibilities and rights expected of a young adult. It is a place to try out your wings. Challenge yourself. Try things you might not be so comfortable with at first.

As with the young eagle, the first few flights are short and choppy and the landings are scary. You might make a mistake; you will probably come up with the wrong answer; you'll ask questions that don't make sense; but the rewards will be great.

What civic, educational or religious involvement has given you the most satisfaction as a volunteer?

Marj Passman
I loved teaching in Madison schools. I rejoice in its successes and mourn for its failures. Since retiring, I have looked for ways to continue to help the children of our city. My first formal opportunity came last fall as Treasurer of CAST, Community and Schools Together. This aptly named grassroots organization brought about something that had never happened in the history of Madison -- a school referendum that received a majority of the votes in every single electoral district in our city.

A previous referendum had failed. The school board went back to the drawing board, two citizen task forces emerged, an eastside and a westside equivalent. These groups studied the need for a new school, agreed on a new referendum and brought it to the voters.

The East/West Citizens Task Forces proved that excellent work could be accomplished when we open our decision making to members of the community. The passage of our school referendum showed that Madison schools can be supported when the community is part of the study, analysis and judgment of what needs to be done.

The people of our district, once divided on the issue of school spending, united in an unprecedented way. It was an incredible achievement to be shared by all.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could keep this momentum going -- a city not divided into the northside, eastside, westside, southside and isthmus, but each portion of our city recognizing the needs of all our children and supporting each other.

Maya Cole
Volunteering is the most fundamental act of citizenship that exists today. It's the highest form of philanthropy to offer time, energy and skills for the good of our community. Volunteers contribute to change, improve the lives of their neighbors, and in return, enhance their own.

Volunteering, for me, has always provided a satisfying outlet for my talents, ambitions and concerns. I have had many rewarding experiences as a volunteer. In my training as a facilitator for the YWCA Social Justice program, I learned to encourage conversation about difficult issues and respect each person's experience in a non-judgmental way.

I've worked with women on peace and social justice issues, lobbied on behalf of women and kids against concealed-carry legislation and co-founded a local chapter of Mothers Acting Up, a group that educates women about the history of the non-violent, feminist beginnings of Mother's Day.

I've volunteered countless hours at our kids' schools -- in the classroom, in the lunchroom, on the playground, on field trips, as a parent educator, and as an officer of the PTO. I've often found more fulfillment working with other people's kids than with my own. There is nothing better than having a kid laugh at your jokes or run across the playground to give you a hug.

Volunteering and participating in my community have helped me to meet new people, further develop management skills, make a difference in someone's life and, most importantly, to express gratitude for help I've received over the years from others.

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