Tuesday, May 31, 2022

State parks try to attract more diverse visitors -- 31 May 2022


My latest on Stateline.org, the online news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

An island vacation to imagine -- May 12, 2022 column


Planning a vacation? Consider this alluring place in Virginia:


“The Unrivalled Health and Summer Resort of the Atlantic Coast



And this: “It is almost unnecessary to speak of the many and great advantages of Cobb’s Island as a Seaside Resort and Watering Place, unrivalled for its surf-bathing and magnificent view of the ocean.”

Or this, also about Cobb’s Island Hotel, from a Richmond newspaper: “There is a peculiar, indefinable charm about this spot which every one who lingers here twenty-four hours is sure to experience.”

But, don’t reach for your phone to book a room.  

The flyer and the newspaper report are from the 1890s. Cobb’s Island Hotel, once one of the most famous hunting, fishing and swimming resorts on the East Coast, is no more. Nor are the other hunt clubs and hotels that dotted the Virginia barrier islands from the late 1800s until 1933.

The Barrier Islands Center in Machipongo tells the fascinating story of a lost way of life and culture through professionally produced documentaries and beautifully curated rooms with more than 7,000 artifacts.

In the 1990s, “Eastern Shore people saw their artifacts become very collectable and they were getting bought up and leaving the shore, and once something leaves the area, it’s gone,” said Sally Dickinson, director of the center. “So the founders said, `Wouldn’t it be great to have a museum.”

Islanders and their descendants loaned or donated the photos, objects of everyday life, decoys, fishing rods, china and even an ornate silver set from Cobb’s Island Hotel. The center will celebrate its 20th anniversary May 28 with an Art and Music on the Farm Festival.

Nathan F. Cobb came to the Eastern Shore from Cape Cod in 1838, seeking a better climate for his wife and daughters who suffered from consumption. The next year, he bought what became known as Cobb’s Island for $100 or $150, depending on the account, built a hotel and began a lucrative business salvaging contents from ships that ran aground.

He and his three sons reportedly never charged a penny for saving crewmembers’ lives but made out well from the goods the ships carried. His hotel would include a chapel, bowling alley, dining room and ballroom.

The coming of the railroad down the Eastern Shore peninsula in the 1880s ushered a golden age for the island resorts. Instead of taking a steamer and several boats, a wealthy passenger could board a train in New York or Philadelphia in the morning, catch a short boat ride, and arrive in time for dinner.

These were thriving villages with general stores, post offices, schools and churches. Generations of residents grew, caught or hunted their own food, raised sheep and spun wool.

In the late 1800s, Atlantic Ocean storms swept over the fragile, sandy islands and claimed for the seabed many of the communities where 19th century entrepreneurs had staked their claims to hospitality. The Great Hurricane of August 1933 wreaked havoc on the islands, ending the era, but there was a bright spot.

The hurricane cut an inlet between Ocean City and Assateague Island. The Army Corps of Engineers made the inlet permanent, creating a tourist boom for Ocean City while leaving Assateague Island separate. It now is a pristine national seashore and wildlife refuge, while Ocean City attracts more than 300,000 visitors on summer weekends.

In the 1960s, Virginia’s 14 undeveloped barrier islands seemed headed the way of Ocean City as developers eyed building bridges and erecting hotels. The Nature Conservancy bought the islands and is preserving them in their natural state – an almost unbelievable stroke of luck for us and later generations. People can go by boat and visit for the day except for certain times of the year.

You can’t stay on Cobb’s Island, but you can step up to the hotel’s wooden reception desk, look at the handwritten names in the guest register and see the original room keys -- at the Barrier Islands Center.

And you can visit the barrier islands, designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations, a vital refuge for shorebirds and seabirds on the Atlantic Flyway, in their natural state.

©2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

Monday, May 9, 2022

On Stateline, the online news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts

 READ HERE:  https://bit.ly/3N5fIWF


State Supreme Courts Are (Slowly) Starting to Look More Like America

Can we stop the exodus of teachers? -- May 5, 2022 column


If you’ve ever wondered, as I have, what former presidents chat about when they’re sitting together, waiting for an event to start, President Joe Biden gave us a glimpse.

Before the funeral of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright April 27 at the National Cathedral, Biden told former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton he would be welcoming the Teacher of the Year to the White House that afternoon.

“And they all talked about how much they enjoyed the years they were here with the Teacher of the Year event,” Biden said told the teachers later.

I can almost hear some readers snickering that teachers are a big Democratic constituency, so it’s no wonder Democratic presidents welcome them. That may be true, but it’s offpoint. 

Teachers are among the professionals -- along with first responders, health care workers and military personnel -- who deserve support and respect from all of us, regardless of our politics, especially during the pandemic.

But surveys suggest educators – everyone from teachers to bus drivers to cafeteria ladies -- are fed up, and many are considering quitting.

Fifty-five percent of educators say they’re thinking of leaving the field, according to a National Education Association member survey released in February. That includes 62% of Black and 59% of Hispanic NEA members.

Heavier workloads to cover for absent employees, pay that fails to keep up with inflation and lack of respect from students and parents are among the factors.

The average teacher salary nationwide is $66,397 for the 2021-22 school year, which, when adjusted for inflation, means pay is down 3.9% over the last decade, the NEA reported.

The average budgeted classroom teacher salary in Virginia for fiscal year 2022 is $62,101, less than a 1% increase from the previous fiscal year, the Virginia Department of Education reported in January. Virginia ranked 28th in teacher salaries in the nation in 2019-2000, according to NEA calculations.

Contributing to burnout is the fact schools and teachers have become pawns in our culture wars.

In Virginia, candidate Glenn Youngkin campaigned on restoring educational excellence but as governor launched a “Help Education” tip line so parents can report – call it what it is: snitch on – school officials who teach “divisive” lessons. That’s not supporting schools and teachers; that’s intimidation.  

Worse, he refused to release records related to the tip line under the Freedom of Information Act, claiming they are “working papers and correspondence.” So much for transparency. The Washington Post and a dozen other news organizations filed suit April 13, seeking the records.

At the Teacher of the Year celebration, Biden decried the politicization of education, saying: “Today, there are too many politicians trying to score political points, trying to ban books, even math books . . . Did you ever think, when you’d be teaching, that you’d be worried about book burnings and banning books, all because it doesn’t fit somebody’s political agenda?”

Teachers have enough to worry about, with staying healthy and helping their students who have fallen seven to nine months behind in their learning during COVID-19.

The activism of conservative-leaning parents, ginned up by closed schools and mask mandates, is probably here to stay for the foreseeable future, but other parents also need to step up to support teachers and make their voices heard. 

Biden touted the American Rescue Plan, which he signed in March 2021, that included $122 billion in emergency relief funds for elementary and secondary schools as well as an additional $8 billion to states and school districts to meet needs of students with disabilities and $800 million for students experiencing homelessness.

All 50 states submitted plans for spending the money and are implementing them. Localities added about 279,000 education jobs in 2021 and 46,000 more in the first two months of 2022. But more needs to be done to help teachers.

“American teachers have dedicated their lives to teaching our children and lifting them up. We’ve got to stop making them the target of the culture wars,” Biden said.

And he added, “It’s not enough to give teachers praise. We ought to give you a raise.”

© 2022 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.