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Today, October 11th, is National Coming Out Day. Who knew?! All you gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual individuals, you can come out today and suffer no recourse, unlike the other 364 days of the year. So hurry, plan a meeting with your friends and family before it hits midnight!

Of course, we know this isn’t true. And I know the LGBT had the best of intentions when they named this day “National Coming Out Day.” I’m not even saying they were wrong for doing it. What I’m saying is that it’s extremely sad it had to be done. I mean, as much as I would love a day that celebrates me (most likely “National Neurotic Blond day”), most people accept the irrational and scatterbrained me because, well, it’s me. There isn’t much I can do about it, and it’s the way I was born. Sure, not everyone likes me, but if they don’t, they just don’t have to be my friend. And I’m okay with that. I spent years upon years trying to be what I thought was a better version of myself, and it wasn’t fun. It all culminated with me standing at a crossroads and saying, “I can go this way and continue to be something I’m not, or I can go this way and just accept this is what I am.” And you know what? I was tired of trying so hard to be all the things I knew I wasn’t. So maybe it was out of pure laziness, but I chose the road less traveled- the one that led to self-acceptance. And I don’t expect to be celebrated for it, and I don’t want to be felt sorry for. Because it was easy. And it made me respect everyone I come across, because even if they are annoying and their personality clashes with mine, I can respect them for who they are. Maybe I don’t want to be friends with them, and maybe I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time with them. But they are who they are, and I know that makes them a lot happier than people putting on a charade.

So when I come across someone who is out, I know they have been through quite a hard time. I had a hard time accepting myself as a pretty normal individual; I can’t even imagine accepting myself as someone that a lot of people look down upon. To be honest, I don’t think I am brave enough to do that. My heart swells with admiration when I come across anyone that is out and proud, because God, imagine the world if everyone achieved that kind of self awareness. I wish every day was “National Coming Out Day” for everyone, and we could all walk around with T-Shirts that said phrases we had accepted about ourselves, physically and otherwise. I’d have a rotation of shirts to wear: “Large Hips.” “ADHD.” “Addictive Personality.” “Book Smart, Very Little Common Sense.” The list could go on, but the point I am making is this: Every single day, people in this world accept things about themselves, and it is a wonderful thing. I’m not saying we can’t work to improve ourselves; I’m just saying it’s great to accept who we are, instead of trying to be someone we aren’t. I think most people who have learned to accept themselves would agree with this. So imagine the work that had to be put in by those in the LGBT community to come out knowing full well they might be shunned or ridiculed by some people (possibly even their loved ones).

Today shouldn’t be “National Coming Out Day,” it should be “National Acceptance Day.” Acceptance meaning both self-acceptance and acceptance of others. But, folks, we aren’t there yet. Because people still see being LGBT as a choice that is made. The only choice involved is the choice to accept yourself for who you are, and these people deserve to be admired for it. It is a hard thing to do, but those commercials do have it right: It gets better. We as a nation are on a precipice of change right now, just like so many of us are in our individual journey of self discovery. We, as a nation, can either choose to continue to act as we have in the past. Or, we can evolve. And, folks, let me tell you, you never make the wrong choice when you choose to evolve. Look back at the abolition of slavery. Women’s rights. Civil Rights. Does anyone think those were bad choices? In the future, we will look back at this time with shame, as we do with the aforementioned issues. Regardless of whether you agree with whether being LGBT is a choice (and trust me, it is), it still doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect you, and it won’t change the way you live your life. Denying people the right to live as they were meant to live can only lead to problems. As a country, we must evolve. So my hope is that we evolve to a time when “National Coming Out Day” doesn’t have to exist; it will just be October 11th, a day that American’s have the right to live their private lives however they wish.

(Just in case this wasn’t clear: Same-sex marriage should be allowed in every state in America, because it is the right thing to do. Civil unions don’t cut it, as they do not have the same federally-recognized rights as marriage. Of course, pastors and priests shouldn’t have to marry same-sex couples if they don’t want to. That is church marriage. State marriage is a union recognized by the federal government and is performed by a federal employee. Church and state are separate, according to a little thing called the Constitution.)

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Maybe you have lived here all your life, or maybe you just moved here. Maybe you are in college, and when you say where you are from, people are like “Where?” Regardless, there are a lot of things that people don’t know about the “biggest small town” in the country (No, seriously- in a city of a 100,000+, how does everybody know somebody you know?) Read on for this edition of “Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Peoria!”

1. The phrase “Will It Play in Peoria” started in the Vaudeville circuit all the way back around 1900. The meaning of the phrase is “Will middle America like it?” If it made it in Peoria, it could make it anywhere. Peoria was hailed as the ultimate icon for the mainstream culture. In other words: Peoria was seen as the most average city in America.
2. You probably know there is a Peoria, Arizona, but what you might not know is that it was named after our Peoria. The two people who founded Peoria, Arizona, were from our Peoria, and wanted to name it after their hometown!
3. Peoria Park District is the first AND the largest park district in the state of Illinois!
4. The tallest buildings in Peoria are the Twin Towers, which sit at 29 floors (284 feet).
5. RLI, Maui Jim, and Caterpillar all have their world headquarters in Peoria.
6. The health-care industry comprises at least 25% of the Peoria economy!
7. In 1910, Theodore Roosevelt called Grandview Drive (in Peoria Heights) the “world’s most beautiful drive.”
8. A USDA research lab in Peoria was the site of the first mass production of penicillin, effectively changing the course of history.
9. The Steamboat Classic, which is held every summer, is the world’s largest four mile race.
10. In 1813, there was actually a “Peoria War” between Native Americans and United States soldiers and settlers, as part of the larger War of 1812. “Fort Clark” was built in Peoria by the Americans, who were also fighting against British troops. Fort Clark (Peoria) was a very important stronghold at that time.

Bonus! Famous People from Peoria:

· Bruce Borland. Bruce was a golf course designer who died in the 1999 plane crash that took the life of storied golfer Payne Stewart.
· Tecumseh “Teck” Holmes III. A Real World cast member as well as an actor, rapper, and host.
· Jim Thome. First basement for the Baltimore Orioles.
· Camryn Manheim. Actress from wildly successful show “The Practice.”
· Dan Fogelberg. Musician. Fogelberg’s father was a band director that worked at both Woodruff High School and Pekin High School.
· Mudvayne. A successful metal band.
· Joe Girardi. Catcher and manager of the New York Yankees.
· Susan G. Komen. The namesake for the Race for the Cure, named by her sister Nancy Brinker, also from Peoria.
· Richard Pryor. One of the most successful comedians of all time. He grew up in his grandma’s brothel, where his mother was a prostitute. His mother abandoned him at age 10, and he was raised by his violent grandmother. There are report he was molested. His comedy was dark, and he often spoke of racism and other disturbing events of his childhood in Peoria. He battled many personal demons, including a widely-publicized accident where he set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine and drinking 151-proof rum. Peoria has struggled over the years with whether to honor Pryor or downplay his roots, mostly because of his controversial life. Lately, though, Peoria has embraced Pryor and even named a stretch of Sheridan Road after him.

Last week, Peoria made local news, and it wasn’t something to be proud of. Kendra Meaker, a 19-year-old mother of two young children from Toulon, Illinois, walked into a police department in the town in Stark County, which is about 30 miles northwest of Peoria. She claimed she had left her two children in her car while she went into the post office, and when she came out, the 3-week-old baby was gone. This launched an Amber Alert, which I received on my phone. (The Amber Alert was named after 9-year-old Amber Hagerman, who was kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996. Recently, Amber has been used as an acronym for “America’s Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response,” but it was originally named after little Amber and her community’s tireless but fruitless effort to bring her home). The Amber Alert is only used in the most serious child abduction cases, so as to not desensitize people to the serious nature of the alert. When Meaker changed her story and said she voluntarily left the child at the side of the road, it sent shockwaves through the local community.

The Amber Alert relies on communities to bring children home, and even though this wasn’t an abduction, it sure did make a difference. Two volunteer searchers found the child alongside a gravel road. Where, you ask? In a culvert. For those of you who don’t know (I didn’t), a culvert is a drain or pipe that allows water to run under an obstruction (in this instance, a road). Let that sink in for a minute. The child was stuck in a drain on the side of a road.

According to the couple who found the baby, they heard cries before they even got out of their car. Without food or any care for 12 hours, the baby had to receive treatment at a local hospital, but is expected to fully recover. Meaker’s other child (who is 11-months-old) is staying with a family member. The parents of Meaker released a statement that read “This has been a hellish twenty-four hours that our family has endured.” Those poor grandparents. Not only do they have to deal with the fact that their grandchild was harmed, but the person who did it was their own daughter. It’s truly heartbreaking.

Rumors abound that Meaker is suffering from postpartum depression, which is definitely a possibility after having two children so close together. Her hormones never recovered after the first one before being put through the ringer again with the second one. Illinois has a Safe Haven law that allows women to relinquish custody of their child up to a month after the birth with no questions asked and no prosecution. This was an easily avoidable situation, but if she is suffering from a mental illness, there is no “easy” involved. Personally, I hope the child never finds out what happened and is raised in a loving home with someone that loves him or her so much that they will never breathe a word about his mother discarding him on the side of the road like roadkill. It’s the kind of thing that makes me sick when I hear about it happening to a puppy; when it’s a baby, it’s just heartbreaking. Silver lining: the child is alive and well.

Today, a sad end came to a saga that started two years ago involving a different baby. Astria Pollard’s 2-month-old premature baby boy Javier died in her care. Coroner’s report named dehydration and malnutrition as the causes of death. Pollard was charged with first-degree murder and one count of endangering the welfare of a child. Pollard waived her right to a trial by jury, meaning Judge Kouri decided her fate in a bench trial. He found her guilty of one count of first degree murder (for turning off the boy’s apnea monitor) and one count of endangering the life of a child (for not feeding him). She faces 20 to 60 years in prison, with sentencing being on November 30th.

Pollard claims what happened was unintentional and she treated the baby boy exactly as she had her other children. Problem is, her other children weren’t premature. She turned down help in the form of home health care visits and nurses, and she missed the child’s first well baby visit. At the time of the baby’s death, she lived with her boyfriend (not the child’s father) and his family, as well as with at least one child who was the boyfriend’s child. The boyfriend, Landrean Jones, claimed that he often had to remind her to care for Javier (who he claimed to have loved even though he wasn’t his son), and teenagers who were over at the house with Pollard the day he was discovered dead said that Pollard went upstairs to check on the child, and then came down with the lifeless child and apnea monitor, which was alarming, seeming to suggest she was trying to cover up the fact the monitor was off (according to prosecutors).

In this case, it wasn’t as extreme or intentional of an act as Meaker’s. The mother maybe didn’t care as much as she should have, but she did feed the baby the night before and could’ve thought the baby was sleeping. When my baby was two months, he would sometimes sleep through the night; but he wasn’t premature. Unfortunately, when you add up the lack of feeding along with turning off the apnea monitor, skipping feedings, missing appointments, and turning down help, it makes it seem like Pollard never really wanted to make the time for the baby. She undoubtedly discovered that premature babies take more time to care for and their health is more precarious. Pollard claims she didn’t know this, but that isn’t the case. There’s no doubt she would’ve been taught all these things upon discharge from the hospital, but she either didn’t remember or she didn’t care. The people she lived with claimed they often had to remind her to do things, and her friends claimed to be partying with her that very night while her 3-week-old son was starving and not breathing under the same roof.

Pollard was 20 and Meaker was 19, and these babies were not the first for either of them. Yes, maybe Meaker did have postpartum depression, and yes, maybe Pollard wasn’t aware that her premature son took a higher level of care than her other children. One thing is for sure: they were teen mothers. Teen pregnancy is associated with poor prenatal care and preterm delivery. Pregnant teens are also more likely to have gestational diabetes, poor weight gain, and anemia, all which have negative affects on the baby. Sure, it could be because their young bodies can’t keep up with all the changes, but it could also be because they don’t care like they should. And that’s not abnormal. Anyone with a teenager can tell you that they are positive that the world revolves completely around them. Whether it’s hormonal or environmental, the teenage girl is emotionally labile and extremely selfish (and probably, the teenage boy is just as much). Sometimes, the teenage girl might not’ve meant to get pregnant, but they decide to go through with it because of pressure from parents, religious or moral concerns, or sometimes because they think it might be “fun.” Some do mean to get pregnant, either because they “want someone to love them” or they want to keep their boyfriend interested. Still some get pregnant because they want the welfare check. None of these reasons are the right reasons to have a baby. You should have a baby because you want to celebrate the life of someone that is part of you and (hopefully) someone you love. That doesn’t mean single parents can’t or shouldn’t do it, but they need support from their families, their friends, and their communities. A lot of teenage moms don’t realize their friends aren’t going to miss the Homecoming football game to sit at home with you and read “What To Expect When You’re Expecting,” and they sure as hell aren’t going to stay at home with you after the baby is born and is up all night screaming. Nor should they; they should enjoy their responsibility-free childhood. Teenage mom’s are often stricken with loneliness, the very feeling they were trying to avoid when they decided to have a baby. Ironic, isn’t it?

Comprehensive sex education programs are a fantastic start, but more teens need to realize the harsh reality of being a parent. These two stories are two examples of what can go terribly wrong when you have a child before you are ready to take on the responsibility. A lot of people argue over if MTV’s teen pregnancy shows (“16 & Pregnant”, “Teen Mom”) help or hurt the cause, but I personally think it’s pretty obvious what MTV is trying to say. Just looking at the original cast, you have Amber, who is serving a five year prison term and battling opiate addiction; Farrah, who childhood was turned upside down after she got pregnant and her boyfriend dies, and who also struggled with drugs and depression; and Maci, who is a fairly normal well-adjusted girl, probably because her family has been a huge help and has a lot of money to help her out. But even though she has it pretty well, she still is unable to maintain a successful relationship; in fact, none of them are except Catelynn. Her and Tyler will be getting married soon, and Catelynn is one of the only girls to be a full-time college student. How has she been so successful in her education and personal life, you ask? Well, she made the best and most loving decision for her baby girl Carly. She and Tyler gave her up for adoption. Not only are Catelynn and Tyler thriving, but so is Carly. Now, I’m not sitting here and saying teenage mothers can’t be successful. But I am saying they can’t do it alone. And until we can adequately figure out how to avoid the situations like what happened here locally, we owe it to the teenager in our communities to be honest about the difficulties of parenting. Because just like in these two cases, it isn’t the mother that suffers. It’s the baby who depended on their mother to survive.

Two mothers, two similar fates. Two babies, two very different fates. And it won’t be the last time we hear stories like either of these; stories of ruined lives and something very different from a teenage dream.

What do you think should happen to Kendra Meaker? Do you agree with Astria Pollard’s punishment? Was I way off with my beliefs on teen pregnancy and MTV’s shows? And finally, do you think Meaker suffered from postpartum depression? Answer these questions in the comments below, and subscribe(follow) while you’re at it!

Sources: Pjstar.com and Msnbc.com

E.N. Woodruff High School after it closed in 2010. The closing of the school was supposed to cut costs and help the struggling District 150.

No matter if you’ve lived in Peoria your whole life or just recently moved here, most likely you have heard something regarding the woes of Peoria School District 150. A beloved high school, E.N. Woodruff High School, closed its doors much to the chagrin of the local community, especially alumni. The students were dispersed to the remaining high schools: Peoria, Manual, and Richwoods. Unfortunately, over the years, Woodruff’s enrollment had dropped, as had the school ratings. It scored a 2 out of 10 on Education.com’s rating the year before it closed (See the bottom to learn more about the scale). The closing of Woodruff was a way to cut costs for the struggling district. The district school board voted narrowly to close the school despite pleas by students, teachers, alumni, and members of the North Valley community. The night of the vote it was estimated that closing the legendary school would save $2.7 million in salaries and $800-900k in operating costs. There were some complaints that the number kept changing and getting smaller, giving members of the community the idea that maybe there were other options that should have been explored. Regardless, the closing of the high school showed that District 150 was seriously in trouble, all across the board.

Let’s start with elementary schools. According to Education.com, when ranking local elementary schools, there are a few schools in District 150 that have higher test scores. A few of the best are Kellar, Lindberg, and Hines. Washington Gifted School had the highest, which is to be expected, seeing that the kids are more gifted than the average child (or their parents push them harder to be the future breadwinners for the family; either way, the children seem to score better on tests). One can’t help but notice something when looking at the test ratings for each school; the farther away the school is from downtown, the better scores they have. Is this merely a coincidence? Most parents seem to think not. Eileen, a local mother, had something to say to echo this sentiment: “As far as schools go, the further away from Peoria the better. We moved to Morton to send my son to school. Yeah, we had to pay more for a place, but it would’ve been just as much as sending him to a private school here in Peoria, and we aren’t Catholic so our options were few.”

She is right; Morton Elementary School’s, while fewer, are all on the high end of the test ratings; in fact, none of the elementary schools scored below a 9 on a ten-point scale. Same with Dunlap and Metamora. District 150 is closing schools, while communities like Dunlap are growing exponentially; they are currently building a new school, Hickory Grove, to accommodate the growth. One doesn’t need to look up statistics to prove this trend. Driving through neighborhoods in the city of Peoria, there are countless for sale signs on houses in every neighborhood. In Dunlap and Morton, new neighborhoods are popping up left and right where cornfields used to stretch as far as the eye could see.

As for high schools, numbers speak louder than words. On that same ten-point scale, Morton High School and Dunlap scored tens, Metamora a nine, Peoria Richwoods an 8, East Peoria High a 4, and Peoria High and Manual rounded out the bottom with 2s. Richwoods was the best of the high schools in the Peoria metropolitan area, but still behind Dunlap, Metamora, and Morton. Has it always been this way? The consensus is no.

“When I was in high school there, Richwoods was the best school in the area. It was even better than Notre Dame (the local Catholic private school) because you could get college credit for classes you took, which you couldn’t do at ND. Now, I’ve sent my kids to ND even though we aren’t Catholic. That should tell you something,” said Jim, a local small business owner.

Okay, I’m going to stop spouting off numbers. I even stop paying attention when writing so many numbers, let alone you as readers reading them. The point here is that the Peoria schools are in trouble, while the communities outside of Peoria’s schools are only getting better. So are the communities themselves- the housing market is booming in areas like Dunlap, Morton, and Metamora, while the city of Peoria itself is facing a population decline. I postulate these two phenomenons are not unrelated. Many families are feeling the city of Peoria for its suburbs because of the better schools. So the only way that Peoria can possibly recover is by improving their local school district. Some may see closing Woodruff as the first step; others see it as a failed attempt to make it seem like the school board was actually doing something. There have been some shake-ups in the district, with new principals taking over that vow to change the schools for the better. Only time will tell, but for now, the school district has a lot to prove.

So let us know below and in the comments: Would you buy a house based on the superiority of the school district?

Sources: Education.com

The Education.com TestRating is a number (1-10) calculated by Education.com that provides an overview of a school’s test performance for a given year, by comparing the school’s state standardized test results to those of other schools in the same state. For Illinois, the TestRating is calculated using a school’s 2010 PSAE Results and ISAT Results for all subjects tested.

What is next for college grads?

Many television shows and sitcoms have been devoted the formative years after college. This era has always been a pivotal time in the growth of a person. Young adults have always been expected to move out, pick a career, choose a life partner, and prioritize their life. But this new crop of twenty-somethings seem to be doing things differently from the previous generation. They are waiting longer to get married and have kids, they are changing careers after already graduating from college, and they are staying single because- gasp!- they actually want to. Anyone can see the difference in this generation compared to the previous one, but why is this happening? And is it really for the best?

Renee, a 26-year-old bartender from a local chain restaurant, is the first to admit she did things differently from her parents. “I actually went to college at twenty-two, which is when my mother got married. Within two years she had three children!” (She is a twin and also has a younger brother).

Her lifestyle difference, though, has come at a price. She is currently living in her parents basement. She graduated with a degree in English, but hasn’t been able to find a job. She is thinking about pursuing a nursing degree, but for now her bartending job pays the bills and it’s hard to wade into the ocean of uncertainty that comes with job hunting.

“Of course I want a better job, an actual career. But with all the people that are unemployed right now, it’s nerve-wracking to give up a job that pays the bills!”

And Renee isn’t alone. At that restaurant alone, four of the ten employees interviewed had college degrees. This was even more than I was expecting. They all told a similar tale: One couldn’t find a job, another didn’t like the career he was in, and still another found the restaurant hours more conducive to her situation. Is this situation unique to Peoria, or is this going on elsewhere as well?

According to the New York Times, sociologists consider five steps in “becoming an adult.” These are completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. But let’s be honest here: Not very often do these things occur in this order. There are people with children who haven’t completed school but are financially independent; there are couples that are married with or without children and not financially independent, instead living with one of the sets of parents; and there are single mothers who are completing school and living at home. There are people that do complete the steps, but completely out of order. To be completely honest, I am sitting here having trouble thinking of one person from my social circle who completed those steps in that particular order. But before we get into the effect of this new phenomenon, let’s think about the causes, at the local level.

Here in Peoria, we are lucky enough to have numerous fine academic institutions. Between just Bradley and ICC, there were many college students who were able to get an education without having to leave their high school bedroom. Thus, when they graduated and took on a job, it was harder to leave the home they had always had. And it turned into a why-not: “What is the point of moving out, when I could live cheaper right here?” They did have a point. When the economy took a down-turn, it was hard to argue with that logic. If they threw their parents some money, it became mutually beneficial; it was still cheaper for the kid to live at home, but the parents were getting a little help too.

Jobs in Peoria for the youth have never been particularly abundant. In fact, most twenty-somethings venture to Chicago to find jobs that fit majors such as advertising, public relations, human resources, etc. According to CLRsearch.com, greater than 18% of their population is between the ages of 25 and 34, which is much larger than Illinois’ (13.5%) and the United States as a whole (13%). But Chicago is an expensive city, so eventually those young adults start looking back home, where they have their parents to fall back on. Unfortunately, there are only so many jobs in the town of Peoria, so many of them are forced back home to find a non-existent job. This is most likely how they end up in places like the service industry that we touched on earlier.

There are many different opinions about this new development. Many older adults think the generation is being “babied.” There is some truth to that argument, but not in a bad way. Many young adults were forced to grow up faster in the previous generations because of the Vietnam War and other socioeconomic factors. There were also many jobs in the post-World War II era. With the exception of 9/11 and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, this generation has been fairly sheltered. A man named Jeffrey Arnett is leading a movement to make a distinction regarding the life stage of the 20s. He wants to call it “emerging adulthood.” One, though, has to wonder what role the parents have played in all of this. Obviously, they aren’t saying “no” when their kids ask to move back or stay at home. Do they want their children to remain dependent longer, or are they merely sympathetic to their cause?

We have explored the causes, but the effects of this new phenomenon is unknown. These young adults could be a drain on their parents who have worked their whole lives to enjoy retirement. On the other hand, they could all be helping each other out and this could be a return to the “extended family” that was the norm for American immigrants when they first came to this country. It could mean that this generation is irresponsible, immature, and unmotivated; conversely, this generation may end up happier because they haven’t rushed into jobs and/or relationships that don’t make them happy.

From what we have touched on, it seems as though one thing is certain: it is up to the young adult to either allow the situation to help them or hinder them.  If they develop a level of autonomy, and take the initiative to help their parents, everyone wins. Autonomy means opening up a savings account and looking forward to moving out. Because everyone wants to move out eventually, right? Right?

Sources:

The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/22/magazine/22Adulthood-t.html?pagewanted=all

CLRsearch.com http://www.clrsearch.com/Chicago_Demographics/IL/Population-by-Age