Education at a Gallop

Published 8:50 am Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

   They’re mere “blips” on the screen of educational innovation, now in a handful of major cities. Their name sounds like a house number, and youngsters therein are challenged to “dig deep” as a core of teachers–largely volunteers–help children 6-18 express themselves through–of all things–writing.

   These store front centers (for want of a better word) are attention-grabbers, front to back. “826,” after all, isn’t a usual name. The first was San Francisco’s 826 Valencia St. It opened in 2002. If passers-by aren’t “grabbed” by the numbers, small letters on the sign help. It reads: “independent pirate supply store.”

After all, there aren’t many such Yellow Page listings there, or any place else.

What goes on at “826s” mostly are projects to hone writing skills. Is it not interesting that such a concept seems to be bubbling again to the top, even if not yet to full boil? (There are actual sales–ie, pirate supplies–with all profits accruing to the non-profit project.)

“826s” are staffed largely by volunteers who realize the importance of written expression. They now have 1,400 such volunteers in San Francisco serving a minimum of one hour weekly.

Simply stated, there is no app for that.

The concept is described as being to education what St. Jude is to hospitals. All children served pay nothing–it’s free.

In the past dozen years, “826” centers include NYC (superhero-themed); Ann Arbor, MI (robots), Seattle (space travel supply) and Boston (Bigfoot Research Institute). Similar programs are offered in Great Britain and Dublin, Ireland. Dublin’s is called “Fighting Words.”

I’ll stop “rat now,” mostly because I know so little about “826.” It seems to me, though, that retirees–particularly educators–might be interested. The concept seems both helpful and doable.

I trust the mentors bear down on the importance of careful note-taking. Throughout life, I have trusted scribbling on paper scraps, making “mental notes” and tying string around fingers. Reminders of painful experiences resulting from failures to remember are frequent and vivid.

Another one has been added to the list–instructions from the carpet store concerning what needed to be done prior to installation. I jotted down something about TVs/electronics/knicknacks. When the inevitable day of discernment dawned, I THOUGHT this “note to self” meant they’d move these items. I reasoned, obviously, that we’d need to arrange furniture removal.

We hired three husky high school footballers, and in just two hours, they had furniture piled high in the garage, bathrooms and tiled areas.

Alas, I remembered instructions backwards. The installers usually remove the furniture, but don’t handle TVs, electronics and knicknacks. They laughed about my mistake, then turned serious upon realization there was no entrance through which to bring in the carpet.

Probably the installers have “seen it all.”

Upon seeing the entrance hallway “stacked up” in a manner to challenge the most slithery of snakes, the workers shook their heads. The same was true for the garage.

What to do? “We’ll remove a window, roll up the carpet and shove it through,” one of the guys suggested. Head-shaking changed to hand-shaking.

It is finished. After the furniture was back in place, we surveyed dozens of boxes in the garage. When they are emptied, cars can be returned to the garage.

Maybe we’ll throw away half of the “stuff.” Up the way, our children likely will toss 90-95% of it in the same manner.

For now, though, we’re enjoying the “feel” of new carpet between our toes. No doubt, my enjoyment will be enhanced when Brenda allows me to remove those protective gauze shoes the installers left behind. And I’ll “whoop it up”–maybe even squeal–when my computer mouse turns up. Man of faith that I am, I expect to see it again, and soon.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: