Today is the day the US Senate confirmed President Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos as the 11th US education secretary, and 11 is a special number for me, having been born on January 11.
I got a jolt about the number 11 some 15½ years ago, on 9/11/2001, when the US was attacked by terrorists. But other than that, the number 11 has been a pretty positive birthday number for me. Today will be no different, since even the very worst thing that can happen in Washington can’t possibly be as important in our children’s or our schools’ lives as what happens in any given classroom on any given school day anywhere in America.
In a few of those classrooms, sometimes on a regular basis, kids celebrate birthdays. For kids, “birthdays are an integral part of getting older, being more responsible, and becoming an adult,” writes Julia Webster, co-editor of The Imprint, the student newspaper at Leonardtown High School in Leonardtown, Maryland. “These changes come with newfound freedoms like drinking, driving, voting, and yes, starting careers. These are the tenets of an adult, someone mature enough to make your own decisions and cohabitate.”
Ms Webster says birthday celebrations—those with balloons and cake, anyway—started in ancient Egypt, as pharaohs would celebrate the special occasion by providing a feast for all their servants. Technically speaking, these feasts probably didn’t celebrate the date the pharaoh was born as a person but his coronation date, the day he was born as a god. But which “birthday” we’re talking about is really beside the point.
Then the Greeks added their touch, she tells us, by adding cakes and candles. It was thought the smoke from the candles carried up to the gods as a prayer, and the practice of making a wish and blowing out the candles emerged. The parties grew from there, with the mass production of the Industrial Revolution ushering in sugary cakes and Patty and Mildred Hill’s tune along with Robert Coleman’s words giving us the popular song “Happy Birthday to You.”
“Birthdays are society’s way of telling us we have matured and grown up, that we must start to take care of ourselves, by ourselves,” Ms Webster writes.
Students and their families and teachers across the country, of course, celebrate birthdays in many different ways. The parents of one teen in Illinois, for instance, celebrated his recent birthday by giving back to the school where the staff continues to meet his complex needs.
Tad Hacker, 17, has cerebral palsy and attends a state school board-approved school known as the Marklund Day School, located in Bloomingdale, west of Chicago. When he showed up one day with a tracheostomy tube, it “didn’t faze his teachers at all,” Tad’s mom, Ann, told the Daily Herald. “Medically, other school programs couldn’t compare. We have to pinch ourselves sometimes—it’s huge. Marklund takes Tad’s care seriously and provides great support.”
In appreciation for the level of medical care provided by the nursing staff at the day school, Ms Hacker and her extended family gave financial support to Marklund to celebrate Tad’s birthday and also launched a parent-teacher organization at the school. According to school officials, the PTO she started has yielded a group of parents who volunteer their time to help out at the school. They even throw birthday parties from time to time.
“Tad’s story exemplifies how Marklund Day School meets the needs of students who have significant medical needs,” the Daily Herald quoted Paula Bodzioch, director of education, as saying. “Parents entrust their child with us. We are in constant communication with parents. That collaboration is a key reason why our students do so well in our program.”