Thursday, May 31, 2012

Catholic-School Myths

Recently, someone has decided to leave comments regarding my family. I'll respond as necessary, leave them up for a little while, then delete them, because aside from my anecdotes and things, it's irrelevant and bordering on personal attacks. I say a lot about a lot of things and I'm bound to irritate some people, and that's all fine and good. What's not fine and good is making assumptions about my family and background or dragging them into my opinions.

The last comment was about the fact that I went to Catholic school. It also suggested I've said everything in the county's public schools is awesome, which I haven't.

I don't know exactly when my parents decided to send my brother and I to Catholic school, but when we were growing up, my dad would often say that since he came from the public-school system (in Connellsville), he wasn't putting us through it. When we complained about something, he would always say that it was better than public school.

I started at Verna Montessori in Mt. Pleasant, which is probably the only school I attended that could almost completely fulfill the privileged, rich-kid stereotypes. Many of the kids did come from pretty well-off families, but not everyone. It was a small school, and from what I remember, benefitted a lot from fundraisers and donations. In that sense, it was kind of like a bubble, but that doesn't mean everything was awesome.

Montessori was run by strict Italian nuns that made kids cry regularly. I got stomach aches just about every morning on the way to school. One girl infamously left after being hit with a ruler. I had many conversations with my parents about switching schools, but I waited it out until I landed at Conn Area for middle school.

This is where the myth of spoiled rich kids in private schools pretty much ends. The schools themselves didn't have a lot of money. Few kids came from rich parents. Resources were limited. Teachers ranged from awesome to terrible. One of the best examples of this is when we needed a long-term substitute in the middle of the year and she told us to take out our books and show her where we were in the lessons. We took them out and left them unopened. We rarely used them. We mostly colored and watched movies.

Speaking of books, they were usually old and falling apart.

And then we had no air conditioning, which is just a nuisance, but we didn't have good heat, either. Heat's a little more important.

The tuition really doesn't help much, and gradually, enrollment dropped until Conn Area as I knew it closed and its students were moved to Geibel.

Geibel wasn't much different. Things seem to be looking up for them, especially after the spring auction, but the problems were the same. Teachers started getting let go when I was a sophomore. We still had crappy books, some questionable teachers, limited resources, and no air conditioning. Heat wasn't allowed to be turned on until November. Teachers would let us sneak hoodies and coats from our lockers and slip half into them--we had to be ready to throw them off if the principal came by because we'd be out of uniform and the teacher would get in trouble.

As for the students, Geibel had a reputation for taking in kids who were kicked out of other schools. I think the principal thought the school would reform them, but they always ended up leaving or getting kicked out of there, too. Plenty of kids came from backgrounds just as bad as some of the kids in public schools.

Geibel couldn't offer advanced classes, especially in the sciences, and some of my peers feel that they would've actually received a better education if they would've gone to public school. Some do wish they would've gone to Connellsville High School instead. I had mostly positive experiences and disagree, but I'm in the minority.

The fact is that Catholic schools in Fayette County aren't havens for rich kids where everything is awesome. The Catholic schools are struggling, too, and they can't survive. In Westmoreland County, going to a Catholic school means a lot more then it does in Fayette County. It's been said that the diocese favors Greensburg Central Catholic. Whether that's true or not, the problems Geibel and Conn Area both had/have are evident. The same problems public schools have exist in the Catholic schools, too, although probably on a smaller scale. I'm surprised Geibel has survived this far past my own graduation. It was probably saved in large part by the merger of sorts with Conn Area.

As someone I know likes to say, "Sometimes the grass is greener on the other side because of the shit."

Friday, May 25, 2012

The End of an Era

Congratulations to the Geibel class of 2012, who graduated tonight! And party on, class of 2007. Our reunion is later this summer.

As the graduating class leaves, I'm told one of Geibel's most beloved teachers will be, as well--Larry Orlando, affectionately just called Mr. O. A lover of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, we were always told the answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything. In fact, we were even told if we didn't know the answer on a test to write "42." However, he usually didn't give credit for it. I never tried. But it's only fitting that after 42 years of teaching, Mr. Orlando is retiring.

Mr. Orlando is definitely one of the best teachers I've ever had. I mean, I have an English degree, but I enjoyed and understood his math classes. Until I didn't understand them anymore because my brain rejects math after a certain point. However, he was always very good at and very willing to explain concepts, and before I had him for class, a classmate and I needed to learn the Pythagorean theorem for chemistry and we needed to learn it fast. He taught it to us in 20 minutes or less via a song, which I still remember to this day.

Geibel alumni who had him will also fondly remember Christmas workshop. The whole week before Christmas, class was spent singing and learning how to do cool things with string and make origami. Just like we can all still sing the Pythagorean theorem, we can also all still sing and do the accompanying motions for "Suzy Snowflake."

Geibel alumni can remember plenty of other things. He adored James Joyce and Ayn Rand. His room was decorated with cows and various posters, including one for the movie Metropolis. He loved New Yorker cartoons. His friendly (?) rivalry with Mr. Stevenson, one of his former students. One man would have his class interrupted by the other on occasion for some good old-fashioned mockery.

He was also known for his love of bizarre and random nicknames. Mine was Shmee, plus the variations Shmeezer and Shmee Shmee. Feel free to call me this is you so wish, because it did catch on. My trig and pre-calc classmates started to use it, and my other friends and classmates heard it and started to use it. To this day, in some circles, I am still called Shmee.

Plus he's very talented at calligraphy. As you'll recall, I threw down a decent amount of money at Geibel's spring auction because I wanted this so, so bad.

It looks beautiful on my wall, not to mention it's such a good quote.

Mr. Orlando was obviously one of those teachers who loved Geibel, believed in it, and loved what he did, and all the students loved him, too. And he was good at it. He was fun, too. He was often a part of plenty of silly little activities during spirit week, or his favorite, Pi Day.

Take, for example, his participation in the "Single Ladies" dance in 2009. He starts out on the right. For the curious ones, the other teachers are Mr. Bell and Mr. Stevenson, who is the one with the most gusto. I'm 99% certain this was his idea.

For your math lovers, here he is leading a musical celebration of pi.

And people wonder why I had so much fun in high school. In fact, I didn't really miss high school until I went looking for these videos.

And therefore, I hereby elect Mr. O as Nam royalty. He joins the ranks of Fr. Bob, Shane Ronzio, my friend Sarah, and everyone's beloved River King.

And don't worry, Mr. Stevenson--you're next.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Consolidating Districts

Let's talk about consolidating school districts again, because Mahoney just will not let this one go despite the fact that people who understand how the districts operate financially think this is a terrible idea.

Yes, districts are having to raise taxes to balance their budgets and no one likes high taxes, but let's not forget that they have been left with little choice thanks to state-wide budget cuts to education in what some consider to be Corbett's attempt to break up the unions. No matter what his intentions, he is ignoring other options and is taking away from one of the most important factors in life. And in Fayette County, education is crucial. Kids here already face huge problems with their home life, and with the right tools and guidance, these kids could actually rise above, break the various cycles they may be trapped in, and become successful. How is that supposed to happen if the districts don't have the money to do it? When the state takes their money away, where else are they supposed to get it?

Mahoney is making himself look like the hero who presented this amazing option while the county districts are the villains who are raising taxes all while ignoring logistics and the desires of the people--aside from low taxes, of course. He sounds like a hurt child saying, "But no one listened to me!"Ironically, all this makes him sound more self-interested rather than operating on behalf of the districts, which begs the question--why does he want this so bad? Sure, there's the issue of saving money and relieving taxpayers, but with his tone and the way he's going about this consolidation do make me wonder.

And then there are all the other points I made before:

  • The stimulus money in these discussions is irrelevant because the districts were told how to spend it, which in some cases meant they were spending money on things they didn't need just because that was their only option. Ed Rendell made that decision. Instead, politicians should be letting the districts spend the money where they need it most. That would've done more good both financially and academically, I'm sure.
  • Consolidation wouldn't solve the problem of people losing their jobs. In fact, it would kill a lot of jobs, but then again, I doubt very many people would want the job of overseeing the various aspects of over 40 schools countywide.
  • The consolidation plan would potentially close schools, which is in danger of happening anyway in the case of Zach Connell in Connellsville. So at this point, how much would consolidation really help? If you want to try to save Zach Connell, the board is having a meeting at the VoTech May 23 at 6:00.
Get over it, Mahoney. This is a terrible idea, most people in this county know it, and you won't take no for an answer.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

County Crime Roundup

First, if you want to keep track of things like car accidents, floods, and anything else that could cause trouble while driving through the Nam (except maybe escaped livestock), check out the county's Emergency Management Agency on Facebook.

Onto those crimes.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Is This Real? This Can't Be Real.

This requires some explaining.

See, a few days ago, reporter Josh Krysak tweeted that basically someone called him a racist for doing his job. Now, I have no idea what happened, but being that Mr. Krysak is the crime reporter, I can only imagine the exchange was epic. I decided to do some internet searching to see if I can could find perhaps a public comment left on the paper or elsewhere, and while I did find that he apparently does have some enemies who do think he's a racist, I didn't find anything really substantial. Like, you know, Krysak actually saying or doing anything racist. Instead, I somehow found this video.

The video itself is uninteresting. It's just these vehicles stuck in the snow. If that was viral gold, I should've filmed my dad getting stuck in the driveway during Snowmageddon. But look at that title!

You guys, the comments are INSANE. More uses of the word "toolbag" than I've ever seen in my life, including that phase when my college roommate and I were really into VH1's Tool Academy as a guilty-pleasure show.

First of all, why are so many people watching this video, and why do they all have something to say about snow and toolbags? Apparently, someone took offense to someone making fun of a truck stuck in the snow. And then I don't even know what happens except all hell breaks loose. To the point where I think, "This isn't real, is it?"
"dumb ass deepbleuzue, it's a 4x4 don't advertise your stupidity on" you tube" a 2whl dr wouldn't of made it to there.....just some friendly advise, Perhaps you and buckwheat should spend less time on here and more time with the family counselor, there may not be any help for you but don't deprive the young ones! any who know you, I'm sure would agree with me. Have a good day. Your friend, Toolbag"
And the reply...
"hey pa tool bag STUPIDITY IS THE ONE TRYING TO GET THE TRUCK UNSTUCK.. ur the dumbass thats stuck not me..... oh thats right your gayass friend had to help you try to pull ur stuck ass out of the snow. Your the fd up one go to therapy yourself you damned RACIST toolbag. PLEASE IF YOU HAD THE BALLS YOU WOULD HAVE SHOWN THEM BY NOW SO TAKE YOUR LITTLE PINK VIDEO CAMERA AND YOUR PRINCESS JACKET N BE THE BITCH U REALLY R!!!"
I don't know what just happened.

Then you've got the classic Fayette County insults like, "People from fayette county are inbreds lol why don't we just give the whole county to west virginia" HARSH. Also, I know Fayette County isn't the epitome of class and taste,  but how are people making incest jokes on YouTube setting a good example? I appreciate jokes at the Nam's expense, but I draw the line at inbreeding. Why? Because you dudes have clearly never watched The X-Files.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

If It's Broke: Update #2

I guess you could say I have minions, because people are contacting me with updates on this silly telephone pole. I'm getting obsessed, just because that telephone pole is so stupid.

Thanks for the photo, Marisa! Now, onto business.

WTF, Connellsville!? This is not a solution. In fact, this picture troubles me even more because you can clearly see the telephone pole is teetering precariously on some shards of wood, and the caution tape isn't so much wrapped around it as it is draped like a Coal Queen sash. That caution tape is going to do nothing but make people laugh. I'm proof of that. It's not even wrapped properly around the pole!

I'm even kind of confused, because I don't know if the tape is supposed to be fixing it or warning people. Either way, it's failing, and either way, that's not going to stop that thing from crashing down over Crawford Avenue.

If you're going to try everything except replacing it, why not at least try something that might be effective? Like duct tape. How has this option not been explored already? This is Fayette County. Duct tape is all we use to fix our cars. How else are our cling-wrap windows supposed to stay on?

You better get it fixed by Thanksgiving, Connellsville, because otherwise your annual Christmas decorations might weigh it down and push it too far in the danger zone.

Best of all, I first posted about this three weeks ago. Three weeks, longer if you count the time it took me to get to it, and this beast just gets caution tape. You guys are going to be in so much trouble when this mauls someone.

 In the meantime, if you notice any changes--an actual fix, more precarious leaning, etc., let me know! In fact, if there's anything you think I should know about, tell me about it. I'm more likely to talk about it that way. You can e-mail me, Tweet me, or get me on Facebook.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Fine Dining: Potter's

Let's be honest: some of the Nam's best food comes from its bars, whether it's Bud Murphy's pizza or Sherwood's fries or potato chips. Potter's is more in the sandwich business. The super cheap sandwich business.

They have tons of interesting options, all pretty much under $5. They also have great spinach dip and zucchini fries, although as the #2 reigning expert on Fayette County's zucchini products, they're not as good as Bud Murphy's fried zucchini. The #1 zucchini expert, by the way, is my mom.

Potter's makes for a good, cheap, low-key night out in Uniontown. They're cash only, though, but fortunately, if you're short, there is an ATM.
Potter's Grill on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Fine Dining: Shogun

The Shogun Japanese steakhouse is Uniontown's newest dining establishment, and after all the hype my brother's given it, you could say I waited too long to go. He's right, though--it's a pretty awesome place.

First, it just looks really cool. The decorating is really neat. So are the drinks. Try the Zombie, which has a long, exhaustive list of alcohol ingredients. All I remember is rum, triple sec, grenadine, and pineapple juice. It's definitely a strong drink, but the taste of the alcohol isn't overwhelming. That won't matter anyway, though, after your chef squirts saki in your mouth.

The menu is best navigated with the help of a veteran diner (like my brother). Not everything is hibachi, but don't think that doesn't mean you're going to get a lot of food. Any dinner orders get you a salad, which has a strange, sweet dressing. It's good but I don't love it. My brother does. They also come with a soup, which I prefer. The flavor isn't strong but it's still really good. It's mostly broth with a few sliced mushrooms and scallions and another mystery item my brother thinks might be bacon.

$55 sashimi
Be careful not to accidentally order $55 sashimi, although I blame our waitress for this. But if you do want the $55 sashimi for two, it looks really cool and gives you plenty of food. I can only tell you that I liked the crab and my boyfriend liked everything else, including the unpopular mackerel. But everyone has different opinions on the sushi--for example, I prefer the California rolls. My dad prefers the ones with salmon, but my mom says the salmon is too slimy. You can also try octopus, but it's slimy.

The hibachi dinners are the most fun. The chefs show off, sing, throw you food, and set things on fire. Hibachi is easily a very entertaining dining experience, so Shogun is easily the most entertaining restaurant in Fayette County. The bigger the group, the more fun you'll have, although it does make for a great date restaurant, too. Beware, though--even without accidental $55 sushi, it does get pricey, mostly due to the meat and seafood on the hibachi menu. On the plus side, you get plenty of food and the leftovers taste just as good. Chopsticks are optional.

If you make it to dessert, try the fried cheesecake.

Shogun Hibachi Steakhouse - Uniontown on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 11, 2012

Vinny's Is Open!

Vinny's has been open so long at this point already this year that when my brother first told me it was open for the season, I didn't believe him. And then I kept forgetting and didn't make it down there for weeks, but when I did, I started with an order of fried mushrooms and a strawberry shortcake sundae.

But I've decided to officially branch out and try one of everything on the menu, minus stuff I know I won't like. Which is probably nothing.

I'm going to start with whatever they're advertising on their sign and see how far that gets me. Last year, I tried their Hawaiian avalanche, which I believe was pineapple and banana mixed in vanilla ice cream (the avalanche is the equivalent of the Dairy Queen blizzard or the McDonald's McFlurry). My first adventure this year was the peanut butter fudge brownie avalanche. If that sounds like pure delicious to you, that's because it is. Vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, and little chunks of brownie. I approve. It's kind of similar to Connellsville's Frosty's Jack and Jill, which is also a delightful combination of chocolate and peanut butter--just without the brownie chunks. Although I believe Jack and Jill comes in milkshake form, so there's that.

Remember: sundaes like strawberry shortcake and black forest actually have cake in them, and no matter what size order of fries you get, it'll be given to you in a brown paper bag. I've seen three people fail to finish a large. You can get them with gravy. They also have dinners. So get down there!

Vinny's Drive Inn on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

If It's Broke: Update

I'm told that the infamous telephone pole is still standing, just with some caution tape around it. I'm also told New Haven is such a big deal because it's the only paid fire company in Connellsville.

And let's be honest--Connesllville can't afford to repair or demolish buildings, and even though a telephone pole should cost much less money, they probably can't afford to replace it, either.

Fayette County, I'd ask you never to change, but I already know from experience you won't anyway.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Fine Dining: Italian Oven

You know, I don't actually know how widespread Italian Oven is. Uniontown used to have one, and even though Uniontown is king when it comes to restaurants in the Nam, it's gone now. The chain itself has no official site, but individual restaurants/areas do. Connellsville's is on Angelfire. Fayette County, you are a time warp.

Italian Oven is like a smaller, not quite as good version of Olive Garden. Uniontown is allegedly getting an Olive Garden, but that rumor's been circulating for at least 10 years. I'll believe it when I'm devouring the breadsticks.

Normally, I might not focus too much on a chain because usually the rest of the world knows about them before Fayette County does. But Italian Oven is notable because it's basically the only place to go in Connellsville for a nicer meal. Everything else is mainly bars and fast food. I thought maybe I was forgetting something, but when three other people were asked for input on where to eat in Connellsville, no one else could think of an alternative.

The food is good. Typical Italian. They do breads and salads very well, and you have crayons to color on the paper tablecloths. They have big glass windows up so you can see into the kitchens, and when I was little, having the cooks trace my hand in neon and write my name under it was the coolest thing ever. It was probably still the coolest thing ever when I was in high school, too, because where else are you gonna eat after the Christmas dance?

It's good, but unless you'd prefer to eat in Connellsville, you're better off trekking into Uniontown for Meloni's or Pasta Lorenzo, or even The Grotto if you're up for a long wait.

Italian Oven Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On Making Fun

Interesting conversations happen when you get a few Nam natives on the South Side after a couple of drinks. If this were a Pittsburgh blog, I might tell you how great the Batman shot at Pregames is or how amazing Bar 11 is with its black lights, highlighters, and toys, but this is a Fayette County blog. I'm going to tell you about what happens when you give those natives those Batman shots.

We start feeling pretty good and we start talking about home. Like I often say, this place is easy to make fun of no matter where you're from, but it's still where we came from. That does have its pros and cons.

Sure, this place is a mess with a ton of problems, and it's not a place where many of my friends have stayed in beyond college. Fayette County has nothing to offer us, but that doesn't mean we're above it. Allegheny and Westmoreland counties might have bragging rights on that one, but if you're from Fayette County, you can hate it all you want but you are still one of us. You'll score points for being employed, sober, and nonviolent, but this is where you came from and you can't deny that. Everyone has a little bit of Fayette County in them whether they like it or not.

As much as many of us want to get out, our parents stayed here for a reason. Fayette County wasn't always a joke, and even when our parents were our age, it wasn't terrible. In the right areas, it also wasn't a terrible place to grow up. I may have horror stories about what happened in some of my schools, but I was able to (for the most part) play outside and walk down the street to the store and have a good time.

Making fun is okay, but just remember where you came from, Fayettenamese. You're never too good for your home.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Something to Think About

As easy it is to make fun of Fayette County, a lot of what's wrong with it are really just symptoms of lots of underlying problems. Everyone knows one of those problems is kids in school, whether they're acting out or aren't performing well.

I've heard plenty of horror stories, and I'm sure every person who's ever read this blog could add at least one. The worst part is the horror stories are more often about the parents, not the kids. Parents tell their kids to intentionally fail special education tests because they'll get more welfare money. Parents don't take their kids to school or pick them up because they're already drunk or high or just won't get out of bed. Kids who get some of their best or only meals from school lunches. Pregnant teenagers, some as young as twelve. Kids who are found to be physically or sexually abused.

A Washington high school has tried a new approach to dealing with troubled kids. When there's a problem with a student, the teachers ask what's wrong and what might have prompted the outbursts, and the results have been ridiculously positive.

A lot of people (like my dad) might say that this is babying the kids, not disciplining them, and that they won't learn anything and it's all this new hippy liberal crap that's right up there with putting a stop to bullying. On the surface, maybe it seems like all of those things. But it's working, and it acknowledges the fact that a lot of these kids have severe problems at home--it's actually called toxic stress, and it damages kids' brains to the point they cannot learn.

When these kids do act out, they still face consequences in the form of in-school suspension. Sending them home is either more like a vacation or just keeps them in a toxic environment that's causing their problems to begin with. The most compelling reason to consider this approach, though, is the numbers.
2009-2010 (Before new approach)
  • 798 suspensions (days students were out of school)
  • 50 expulsions
  • 600 written referrals
2010-2011 (After new approach)
  • 135 suspensions (days students were out of school)
  • 30 expulsions
  • 320 written referrals


There's a whole lot that goes into this, too, from the way students and teachers interact in difficult situations to the way they gauge how bad a student's toxic stress is, not to mention the effects of that stress on health. Plus the kids like it and recognize how much they've benefitted from it.

Why not try this at some of Fayette County's more problematic schools?

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Today, a friend of mine witnessed what is probably one of the greatest things ever seen in Fayette County.

Unfortunately, this is a screen cap from a video the passenger in her car managed to take and it is the best and so far only image of this man in existence. What is he wearing, you ask? A Nerds candy box.

While we don't know why he was wearing it, we do know where he got it because another friend's sister and her daughter witnessed him acquire it--in the Dairy Queen drive-through behind him. The employees were about to throw it out, but he wanted it. I guess so he could wear it along Crawford Avenue.

The full video depicts him very briefly on the street, and after we lose sight of him, he starts dancing. Also, I don't even know if that link will work because I believe the profile is private. Bummer.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Most important business first--Colebrook is now serving ice cream, and Vinny's is open. I had my first strawberry shortcake sundae of the season on...Sunday. I think from now on I'm branching out and starting a quest to try every vegetarian item on the menu.

Straight from Facebook from a girl I went to high school with, I give you this:

First, that's better than the reactions I usually get to my unique Uniontown stories. Pro tip: People are more inclined to believe ridiculous stories when you clarify that they happened in the Nam. Where else are you going to find drunk guys passed out in ditches wearing just boxers and cowboy boots?

Someone gets Springsteen here immediately. Better yet, commission him to do a "So UT" cover.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Oh, Brownsville

First, Donate to the arts! Rob only has eight days left to raise over $1,000, and I know there's enough of you reading right now to make that happen. Also, I'm guessing Fayette Friends of Animals still needs canned dog and cat food. Even if they don't technically need it anymore, they're not exactly going to turn it down.

So, a mom is suing Brownsville School District for punishing her daughter for refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance.

I'm conflicted. On the one hand, suing might be a little extreme. On the other hand, it sounds like that's the only way these ladies are going to get the school district to listen. Because really, why does a kid need to be punished for this? She's not acting out, and she's will within her rights. I mean, lunch detention and in-school suspension for not reciting the pledge? Really? I'm actually impressed that a 13-year-old is paying attention to politics and is finding her own ways to peacefully express her opinions. When I was 13, I was a raging bitch. Not even my dad's deployments made me very aware until a few years later.

Two years ago, a Brownsville teacher was suspended after a picture of her with a stripper at a bachelorette party popped up on Facebook. While that's a bigger deal and understandably a potential problem, Brownsville does seem to have its conduct standards. They just went a little too far this time.

About that teacher, though: I realize that teachers are important and they're role models and need to behave accordingly, but since when did we start expecting our teachers to be Jesus? If they're good teachers and their conduct with students and colleagues is appropriate, why should their personal lives be our business? Would a male teacher have ben reprimanded the same way? Why does nudity freak people out so much? Why do we pretend that no one goes to strip clubs? Teachers have done worse, which around here means stories of teachers previously or currently abusing drugs. I hope this all took place at Gloria's.