Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sometimes you just have to say SOMEthing...

It's been a while since I posted anything here, and this post is of quite a different nature than my original series on food and health...

I want to share with the world (literally, so do please pass this along) a rather crummy experience I had this past year, at work.  For the 2015-16 school year, I worked as an aide in an MD (Multiple Disabilities) classroom for children in grades K-2.  Given my educational background, my experience, and my passion, this seemed in the beginning to be a perfect fit for me, and I was hugely excited.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be a little more than a nightmare.  After eight months of openly speaking my mind and praying anybody at all would hear me, I ended my school year three weeks early because my immediate supervisor and I sort of mutually agreed that I didn't belong there.

I did keep a promise I had made to myself, which was to address the numerous issues I had with the school and the outside agency that actually employed me.  I sent an email to 18 different people, including the entire school board and the entire supervising board at the employing agency. Within two hours, I received a response from one person, who politely but firmly requested that my issues be added to the agenda of the next school board meeting.  They were not.  I never received any other response from anyone else.

Which brings me here today...

Because at that time, I also promised those agencies that if I did not get a satisfactory response from them, I would go ahead and share this information with anyone I could.

I put it off for a week or two.  My writing does tend to be lengthy, and sitting down to begin a blog post just wasn't happening.  

But then, the other day I was with a client, watching Veggie Tales' version of the story of Esther, with Pa Grape as Mordecai.  When Esther faced a challenging moral dilemma, and came to her cousin for advice, he told her, "You never have to be afraid to do what's right."


I realized that sharing this is what I need to do, I already knew it's what I need to do, and I have been "afraid" - not because of any possible repercussion I might face, but more my personal ongoing fear of not being heard.  This issue is very important to me, because many people I love and have loved are not able to speak up for themselves.  Those people deserve the same respect and consideration in all of life as those of us who can easily request or demand it.  So, regardless of who might take the time to read this, or what anyone will think or what might ever be done about it, I trying to do my part, and that is all I can do...

The following is the four-page letter that was sent to the entire Board of Education of Austintown Local Schools and the Mahoning County Educational Services Center...

May26, 2016

To Whom It Concerns...

This past school year, I have had the privilege to work with six wonderful children in the Multiple Disabilities classroom at Austintown Elementary School. I grew to love every child in that class, each with their own unique joys and challenges. I learned a lot this year, had a lot of fun, and made some great memories.

Unfortunately, I will not be returning in the fall, and I feel strongly that I need to explain to anyone who might care to pay attention, my reasons...

I had always heard that Ohio has lousy services for its developmentally disabled population. But this year, the Mahoning County Educational Services Center and Austintown Elementary School proved it.

AES fails all of its children in many ways, from principals who act like they don't even like being around little children (not to mention, one principal who cannot walk through the halls without making crude sexual jokes regardless of staff or children present within hearing), to placing unrealistic expectations on children (i.e. making up to 20 or more grade-schoolers wait in a tiny foyer before school starts, and then scolding them for politely holding the door open for adults to enter, and expecting others to stand in single file lines in the morning just in an attempt to keep them under control, or bringing their coats, hats, gloves, etc. with them to the already crowded cafeteria for lunch, which no doubt contributes to the ridiculously large "lost and found" pile), and the dependence on electronic devices for learning (when exactly did YouTube become part of the curriculum?). But the most difficult thing for me to see there is the way children with special needs are ostracized.

I have asked myself continually in what day and age am I living, that a school still keeps their students with disabilities mostly segregated. Children in the MD class do not go on field trips and rarely attend assemblies. They have their own table in the lunch room, away from the others. They are able to attend "specials" classes (art, music, etc.) about 50 percent of the time, and those teachers are not always accepting. I should state here that most of the staff at AES are absolutely wonderful with and towards the MD class. Sadly, it only takes a few "bad apples" to make the general atmosphere unpleasant for these little ones. When a second grader shows up for library class regularly, yet never gets an assigned seat as every other child in the class has, and never even gets her name on the class roster, that is simply a deliberate exclusion on the part of staff. When the art teacher offers a kindergartener a different paint brush because he is "smashing" her "good brush", and then gives him an already ruined cheap-quality paint brush instead of a an adaptive one, that is just being mean. When the principal's wife complains about the noise in the hallway from children who may not have control over their voices or bodies, the message is sent that those children are not welcome there. When a class's Halloween pumpkin is simply disposed of because it does not "comply with the rules", the message is sent that that class is not good enough to participate. When a visiting attraction has time for every class in the school except for one, the message is sent that those children are not worth the time. When school administration sets up for the class photo with no thought to how students with limited mobility will access the seating, the message is sent that those students are not important enough to be remembered. When a principal regularly uses a classroom full of disabled children as an "example" for disciplining unruly students, the message is sent that those children are in some way "bad". As I said, most teachers and staff at AES are wonderful. But it is the general attitude of the administration and a handful of staff that these children do not belong and are not welcome in the school.

**Perhaps these children would be better accepted if they were given the opportunity to learn social skills and appropriate behaviors, which would be possible if they had the support staff needed. But I have been told the special education director at Austintown does not "give out" one-on-ones. I am sorry, but support staff are not cupcakes. They are not desserts, that a school can simply decide to not distribute. Denying 1:1 support for children who actually need it is a violation of their basic right to an education.**

This brings me to my thoughts about the MCESC, which is supposed to be the agency responsible for ensuring these children receive the services they need. This is the agency I was employed with this past year, although only through a temp agency, which looking back I should have seen as a red flag right from the start. It would seem that the qualifications to be hired as a classroom assistant are a high school diploma or equivalent, and ability to pass a drug test. I would not see this as being inadequate, as I met and worked with some very nice people this year, however working with children with special needs can be very challenging and truly does take a "special kind of person". Classroom assistants should be given some training and knowledge of the types of situations they are going into before beginning work in the classroom. This past year, I was required to complete 18 online training courses, and not one of them had anything to do with working with children. The only training I received upon hire was CPI/behavior management training, which is hardly relevant to the types of behavior issues staff encountered in the classroom where I worked. How can the ESC expect its employees to serve children with special needs that they know nothing about? A few things I encountered each day, simply because staff receive no education or training, and because enough staff are not provided:

      * Two children who could possibly be toilet trained are not, because there isn't enough staff to take them to the bathroom at regular times and sit with them until they "go".

      *Two children who could be learning alongside their typically developing peers in a regular classroom, but are not because they do not have 1:1 support.

      *An eight-year-old child who is completely non-verbal has never been given effective communication and is still being taught at the most basic preschool level. Over the course of this year, I watched this child go from lethargic to angry, acting out to get attention, but truly enjoying academics on the rare occasion full attention could be given for any length of time.

      *Because they lack qualified support staff, children only attend "special" classes (art, music, etc) when convenient , and not consistently. How are they to learn acceptable social skills to participate in
learning alongside their peers if they do not have regular opportunities? One child, a second-grader, never attended art class all year.

      *A child with cognitive and emotional delays, ADHD and anxiety, is constantly "in trouble", because there is not enough qualified staff to keep ahead of his energy level and sensory needs. Said child is far behind his classmates academically, and "clams up" or acts out when pressured to participate. Because staff do not have an understanding of his disabilities, this child is punished far more often than helped or encouraged.

      *A certain child is favored, because they are "cute", and given special attention, treats, and rewards for undesirable behaviors, while another child is picked on by staff constantly.

      *A completely immobile child has to wait for toileting and position changes, and often is not safe from behaviors of other children (i.e. throwing objects, bumping into child's wheelchair). Said child is supposed to be receiving extensive physical and vision therapies, but mostly gets neglected while staff deal with challenging behaviors from other students. For the better part of the school year, this child's parents thought she was receiving 1:1 care, because the ESC led them to believe this. This was, in my opinion, a deliberate deception.

      *Staff do not get regular breaks and feel guilty just taking five minutes to use the restroom once a day, because the absence of one adult for that little time could lead to the disruption of an entire activity or lesson. I lost 15 pounds this year, because I refuse to try to scarf down a lunch in the cafeteria with little children who should be learning table manners, social skills, and self control, rather than climbing under tables while staff eat. Not to mention waking up in the morning with a flu or common cold and having to choose between going to work and exposing two children with compromised immune systems, or taking the day off and feeling terribly guilty for leaving the classroom short-staffed, because substitute aides are not provided.

I could go on. I have not even mentioned the classroom teacher who is so overworked she has little to no time to actually "teach" (since when did "billing for services" become a requirement of school teachers?). I have not mentioned the other classrooms I worked in this year - one where all students and staff spend their entire day in fear of one student who is dangerously violent because of mental health issues that clearly are not being treated and no qualified staff is provided to keep said student from harming others; another where high school students with "emotional disabilities" who are considered dangerous are kept in the same building with preschool classes, with no real way of keeping the little children separate and safe.

All of these things and more add up to a lousy school experience for some of our most precious students - children who should be receiving extra help and care, but are instead being denied even a safe and healthy place to spend their days, let alone an actual education. It all also adds up to a crummy work experience for someone like me, who is passionate about working with children and families with special needs. To spend each day watching the "system" fail these children, while most of the adults involved seem to have settled for only being able to offer mediocre services, is a tragedy. To try to comprehend how a school system can afford a beautiful new campus with smart boards in every classroom, but somehow cannot afford support staff for its students with special needs, is beyond me. Similarly, the idea of an agency spending money on a brand new office building, yet has nobody in place to interview, hire, and properly train staff makes no sense at all to me. This is a direct reflection of the value you place on the children you serve.

I can no longer be a part of the problem.

As much as I hope my words here will have some impact on somebody at the top, I truly do not have that much faith in the MCESC to think it will make a difference. To say I can no longer be a part of the problem is not to say I will keep quiet about it. I would like to see the ESC actually do something about these issues. For that reason, I have decided to share this letter with everyone I can, to get the word out about how children with special needs are treated in our schools. I will, however, give Austintown Schools and the ESC seven days from receipt of this email to respond before I do that. I am very interested to know - from the perspective of administration - why these children are given second-class treatment, and what might be done about it. My hope is that, ultimately, change will be brought about for these children and for the people who care for them on a daily basis.

In closing, I thank you all for giving me the opportunity this past year to get to know a few amazing young people who are learning to fit into this world with incredible challenges before them. I sincerely hope that each person who reads these words will take advantage of this opportunity to learn and grow, and to do better for these children.

Danielle R. Gregory

I do still hope that some day, some changes can be made regarding this situation.  But what I want people to take away from reading this is that this is not just an isolated incident or situation at this school.  Schools in two or three counties are served by this same agency.  Additionally, I have no doubt a good many schools throughout the state are running under similar outdated methods and attitudes.  Ohio needs to step it up.  A lot.  Parents and caregivers can help by stopping in for unannounced visits to your child's classroom.  And stay for a while, to observe what really goes on.  Be that parent that everybody knows and a few people dread.  Be your child's best advocate.  

"You never have to be afraid to do what's right." 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Day 49 - Are We Meant For Meat?

This is probably the most difficult post I will write in this series.  It's a rather controversial subject, and it may be difficult for some to read.  This will be my last post in this series, and it's the one where we re-introduce meat into the diet... Or, do we?

With more and more people becoming aware of how our food is grown and raised - particularly, our meat - the vegan movement seems to be on the rise.  A great many people are educating themselves about what goes into the animals we eat and how that can effect our bodies once we eat it.  Others learn of the horrors of "factory farms" and how cruelly some animals are treated, and they decide to follow a vegan diet for moral reasons.

The idea that humans were not meant to eat meat at all is not a new one.  Some people will come up with very good scientific evidence to support that claim.  

On the other hand, there are plenty of people who can offer good scientific evidence to support the other side of the argument - that humans absolutely were designed to eat animals.

This is a big reason why I'm such a fan of the blood type diet.  Being a Bible-believing Christian, I have certain ideas about the history of mankind, as well as what we were meant to eat.  I have a hard time with some of the science theory behind the diet, but it makes complete sense to me to think that some people were meant to thrive on meat, while others were meant to avoid it.  

This week, I am giving you the list of meats, poultry and fish that are considered safe for all blood types.  If you have strong feelings about meat (like I do), then you may want to look further into the blood type diet.  I can not say enough about how this diet changed my life.  I would recommend it for anyone.  If you haven't yet, I strongly encourage you to check out http://www.dadamo.com/.

One more thing about meat - a very wise person recently said, "You are what you eat ate." Please be very careful about your food sources - if you have adverse reactions to corn, you may have adverse reactions to meat that was raised on corn.  Always remember that you are consuming whatever your meat source consumed.  As always, listen to your body! 


Halfmoon fish
Orange roughy
Red snapper
Brook Trout

Duck egg
Chicken egg

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Day 42 - Milking It

Every so often, I am taken aback by something I find myself eating, and I have to stop and remind myself what exactly it is I stand for and what I am trying to do.

This happened to me this weekend, after a trip to my favorite health food store.

I have had some extra things going on in my life the past few weeks - a slight change in schedule, and it's added an extra inconvenience to my already complicated dietary issues.  To make life easier on myself, I've allowed myself to spend a little extra and indulge in my favorite treats as well as trying some new ones.

For lunch both Friday and Saturday, I fixed an extra big salad, with organic field greens and baby spinach, and I added salsa, turkey, and vegan cheddar shreds...

This is where it got a little weird...

I do sometimes use substitute non-dairy "cheeses".  I know these are not real food, and I don't eat them all the time.  But I know as well as you do that if you don't bend sometimes, you'll break eventually.  So, there I was, eating my lovely salad with cheese, and reading the back of the package like one would a cereal box over their morning coffee.  When I turned the package around, I noticed something I had missed earlier - the words "New Formula" were boldly printed on the front of the bag.

That really made me think!

Exactly what kind of food is described as a "formula"?!  

Yipes!  I didn't even want to spend time wondering how this was an improvement on the old "formula"!

This is where eating for your health can get tricky.  I know there are certain things that I simply can not eat, because those things really hurt me.  Those with food allergies or lactose or gluten intolerance will understand what I mean.  If you have spent 28 days on our very strict anti-candida diet, you may have noticed some adverse reactions to some of the foods we have re-introduced so far.  While it can help a great deal to avoid those things in the future, it is also wise to educate yourself about the available "substitutes".  Let's face it, vegan "cheese" isn't cheese, just like tofurkey and soy-based "meats" aren't meat at all.  Gluten-free processed junk food is still processed junk food.  And the healthiest foods have five or fewer ingredients - ingredients that can be pronounced and don't require a degree in science to recognize.

Beware of clever marketing.  Words like "vegan", "gluten-free", "natural flavors" are all used in labeling with the purpose of selling a product to health-conscious folks, who may be willing to spend a little more if they believe it is "good" for them.  We've already determined that fresh veggies are pretty affordable and make great meals, so don't get caught up in health-food fads that are making somebody a lot of money and not really helping your health at all.

I thought my fake "cheese" story would be good food for thought this week, as we introduce dairy products back into our candida + blood type diet.  I think grains is unsteady ground for many folks trying to improve their health through diet; milk is more like thin ice.  Between lactose, casein, and all of the "stuff" that gets added, it's no wonder so many people have so many different adverse reactions to milk and milk products.  Things to watch out for here include gastro-intestinal woes, skin problems like eczema, excess mucous and respiratory problems, to name just a few.  For me, personally, just the tiniest amount of cheese brings on debilitating congestion that starts within hours after eating the offending food and can take weeks to get over.  At the same time, their are certain dairy products I can eat with no problems, like butter and mozzarella cheese.  I don't know anything about the production of these foods, so I can not tell why some are safe for me and some are not.  

As you try adding dairy into your diet this week, pay close attention to your body and any messages it might be sending you.  As always, I am using http://www.dadamo.com/ as my source for the list...

Almond milk
Almond cheese
Rice milk
(The above may not be considered "dairy", 
but they are listed here as possible substitutes if you must avoid milk.)
Farmer cheese
Feta cheese
Goat cheese
Mozzarella cheese


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Day 35 - Are You Still With Me?

This past week, I have really been enjoying my salads for lunch every day.  I make a great big bowl of salad at the beginning of the week, and it lasts me all week long.   (put a paper towel on top of the salad before covering, and change it when it gets damp - I think that helps a great deal!)  

I've also been enjoying apples, plums and pears, and  fruit juice (real juice, without added sugar).

I made dessert this week, and it stayed around for almost four days - this is a big deal for me, because in the past, I could make dessert and eat it all in the same day.  By dessert, I mean, a small cake or pan of brownies, or a dozen cupcakes.  I would easily eat the entire thing myself, in one day, and sometimes make more!

Sugar cravings are hard to beat, and they are hard to satisfy!  But, once you know what is causing the cravings, you can educate yourself and learn to tackle them!

I hope you decided to stick with the "plan" and pay close attention to your body's reaction to the vegetables and fruits added this past week.

For the coming week, I am adding grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes to the list.  I am only adding foods that are neutral or beneficial for all blood types, according to http://www.dadamo.com/.  If you haven't already, I strongly encourage you to check out the blood type diet.  It changed my life, and the reality is, eating real, healthy food is at the heart of it.

Essene bread (manna bread)
Ezekiel bread
Rice (white, or brown)

Flax seed
Walnut (English, or black)

Cannellini beans
Northern beans
White beans

When you consider the limited food list we've had over the past month, I realize this doesn't seem like a lot to add.  I would caution you to be very careful when buying foods that are marketed as "gluten free", because they are usually loaded with all kinds of other ingredients that act as gluten, and our bodies often can have a hard time telling the difference.  If you already know you have a gluten sensitivity, then your best bet is to avoid most grains.  If you have never noticed problems with gluten, then feel free to try other whole grains that are not listed here, and pay close attention to your body's reaction.  A good rule of thumb is the fewer ingredients, the safer the product.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Day 28 - This Is Where It Begins...

It seems like just twenty-eight days ago, I was nervously anticipating starting a new job and not sure how I was going to manage getting up early and staying awake all day.  

It was perfect timing, though, because two weeks into my anti-candida diet, I can honestly say I was feeling better than I have in many years.  I have energy enough now for work, errands, and little things besides.  I am not going to deny I am pretty worn out by the end of the week, but rest is just as important as diet in achieving better health, and so I take advantage of my weekends off and try to do as much relaxing then as I can. 

I promised you a 28 day sample menu, in case you are just deciding to do this.  Unfortunately, I am the worst at planning, and I typically do things "in the moment", including planning my meals.  Therefore, this sample menu plan for you is very basic.  I do encourage you to eat a variety of different foods - even during this most strict period of the candida diet + blood type diet.  Be sure to include garlic and onions whenever you can.  A "salad" should include as many different types of greens as you like, along with broccoli, onions, zucchini, celery... whatever you can chop up raw and throw in!  

Also, use the ideas I have shared over the month, as well as the "allowed" food list, and do whatever you like with what you like best.

I would love to know if you have, are, or plan to follow the diet and continue with the next four weeks to identify your trigger foods.  Please leave me a comment letting me know if you have experienced feeling better with this plan.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Day 27 - Looking Ahead

This weekend, I tried kombucha for the first time.  Kombucha is one of the latest "health food" trends, and somewhat rather controversial among blood type dieters, since it is made with black tea (and black tea is not recommended for most blood types).  The reason I tried it is because it is supposed to be full of those lovely probiotics that we so desperately need when fighting candida.  Because I am such a big fan of the blood type diet, I actually would not drink this stuff very often.  However, I realize for many of us trying to make big changes, this would be a much better choice than soda or some other options.

I also bought a few other fermented foods over the weekend, in an attempt to "kick start" my gut health.  I am ready for the next step.  Since I already know my trigger foods, I will not be following as strictly this "re-introduction" period, but I will give you a simple plan to follow for bringing other food groups back into the diet over the next four weeks.  The most important thing here is that you determine to continue eating real food, and keep out the artificial stuff completely.  Remember, your body is bound to respond to any real attempts you make at treating it right.

For the next week, I recommend sticking with the same food list we've used for the first 28 days, and adding the following vegetables and fruits:

Beet greens
Brussel sprouts
Portobello mushroom
Squash (winter and summer)
Water Chestnut


Again, I have taken these foods from http://www.dadamo.com/ and listed only fruits and veggies that are listed as "neutral" or "beneficial" for all blood types.  Pay attention to how your body reacts to the foods you eat.  You may want to include others fruits and veggie not listed here - just be aware of what your body is telling you. 

Also, keep in mind that fruit and certain root vegetables equal sugar.  If you, like I, have been battling symptoms of candida overgrowth, then you still need to limit sugar in your diet.  Be sure to eat plenty of vegetables, drink plenty of water, and eat a variety of different fruits
(think, different colors) to get all the nutrients you need without over doing it. For every year of candida symptoms, a month of anti-candida eating is recommended.

My commitment to myself this month is to stick with the fresh veggies, enjoy a variety of fruits in moderation, and keep my mind off of less-wholesome sweets!  

Next week, I will add grains, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes to our list.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Day 26 - Eating Out

Throughout this month, I've tried to give you some ways to be frugal about doing this diet.  I think one of the big reasons why people eat processed junk food is because it can be convenient and cheap.  If you are on the go a lot, it can be difficult to learn to take time for shopping and preparing fresh foods.  

If you are on a tight budget, the expense can be overwhelming. 

I've already told you I personally can not afford to buy all organic - if you can, then you definitely should; but don't let money be the reason you don't eat real food.  Carrots, celery, broccoli and greens are all very affordable.  You can save money by NOT planning ahead and instead buying what produce and fresh meats are on sale.  I regularly buy meat that is discounted because it is close to the sell-by date; I use it right away, or put it in the freezer.

If you garden, shop local fruit stands, can your own foods, or raise animals for food, then you are way ahead of the game - celebrate your wise way of life, and remember to share with and educate others.  

Don't be ashamed to take advantage of local food banks either, if you really need to.  Unfortunately, much of what comes through these charities is the worst kind of processed foods, but, you also can usually find rather healthy staples like rice and beans, and even canned veggies are better than no veggies at all.  I simply pass on the things I will not eat to other charities or to people I know who will use them. 

The reality is, we all do "splurge" once in a while, sometimes because we can afford to, and sometimes because a crazy schedule or sudden change in plans calls for it.  

If you are right in the middle of a very strict 28-day anti-candida diet plan, and something "comes up", then you are faced with a serious choice - you can choose to forgo the diet and go right back to your old habits, or you can stick with it and figure out a way to make it work.  Don't fool yourself into thinking you can skip the diet plan today and pick up where you left off tomorrow - do you really have that kind of self discipline?  

This weekend, my husband decided to surprise me with an overnight stay away from home.  His romantic gesture means a little extra thought and expense for food, without much prior planning.  We will be eating at least one meal at a restaurant, whether it be fast food or sit-down.   Salad is the best option for me right now - hold the tomato, cheese, croutons and dressing.  (I should state here that, once you get used to eating real food, you will find you don't need to smother your salad anymore - just of splash a lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt really brings out the flavors of fresh vegetables.)   Fish, turkey and vegetarian dishes can also work.  If you suffer from debilitating pain or fatigue, then you already know you have to learn to make the best of a difficult situation - otherwise, you will just be miserable.

I will also buy food this weekend that is convenient for "on the road" dining (in a motel room, or in the car).  Seaweed chips are a favorite of mine and really very inexpensive.  Some deli's offer turkey (and other lunch meats) that are minimally processed and contain no artificial ingredients or added nitrates.  Veggies that I usually cook are great (and much healthier) raw - broccoli, celery, and even zucchini are wonderful crunchy snacks.

Once you have made the choice to change the way you eat and better your health, don't look back.  Give your body a time to cleanse itself of all the garbage that's been in control for so long, learn your trigger foods and how to avoid them, and celebrate your health.   For me, it only took a few weeks to see real results, but it was a whole year before I had no more pain - and even then I was still dealing with fatigue and food cravings, which is why I decided to do this diet now.  

Stay the course - I promise, your body will thank you.