Parkland by Dave Cullen

School shootings have become all too common for the 21st century student — and stopping them is the students’ goal.IMG_2297 (1)

The 2020 election won’t be about the wall or health care or sex trafficking. It will be about gun violence, according to Dave Cullen, New York Times best selling author who has written extensively about school mass murders.

Cullen visited the Hudson Library and Historical Society April 2 to discuss his latest book, “Parkland: Birth of A Movement.”

Cullen wrote the bestseller “Columbine,” and was recently chosen by Apple as one of the 10 authors to read in 2019.

When Cullen said he completed his story about the April 1999 killing spree at Columbine High School in Colorado that took the lives of 13 and wounded more than 20 others, he said he was never going to write or discuss mass murder again.

“I meant it,” Cullen said. “But it keeps sucking me back again. I wrote Parkland as a way out of this ending.”

To understand how much students have changed in the 20 years between Columbine and Parkland, Cullen revisited his Columbine experience. He was in Denver on April 20, 1999, and heard reports of gunfire at a suburban school.

“I thought it was a prank, but it could be serious,” Cullen said. “As a journalist I got in my car and went.”

He said he knew it was serious when he saw a helicopter circling like a vulture.

“My stomach clenched, and I realized something horrible was happening,” he said.

The first day was chaotic with kids running around sobbing — but the next day was completely different.

“No one cried. They had blank faces like zombies. It freaked me out,” Cullen said. “I stopped focusing on the 13 murdered and focused on the 2,000 alive. Would they get over it or be scarred for life? That’s the story I had to tell.”

Both Columbine and Parkland are about tragedy, coping and recovery. Each had different answers.

Because he wrote about Columbine, Cullen said he became the “mass murder guy.” But he said he’s been deeply affected by the survivor stories — and has to limit what he covers for his own mental health.

“Columbine was like a martian attack,” Cullen said. “It shattered their perception of the world.”

Students thought they were safe attending school, he said. Why were they in danger?

Students in this area have grown up with violence with the Chardon High School shooting Feb. 27, 2012; and the country itself has known the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting Dec. 14, 2012, in Connecticut; and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting Feb. 14, 2018, in Parkland, Fla.

In the latter, a former student who had been expelled began shooting an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle at 2:30 p.m., killing 17 and injuring 17 more before he escaped among students and was arrested at 4 p.m.

By the time Parkland occurred, students were regularly engaged in lock down drills, but afterward survivors posted their feelings on social media and wanted to do something more. They wanted the violence to end.

“I went back to Parkland even though other reporters refused,” Cullen said.

He had watched Parkland survivor David Hogg face the public and say, “We’re children. You guys are the adults. You need to take action.”

Cullen said Hogg and others did not act like day-one survivors.

“I felt like it was a punch in the gut,” Cullen said. “They were rejecting thoughts and prayers and wanted people to do something. I had to go and see what these kids were up to.” The high school students were able to organize the March For Our Lives in Washington, D.C., to fight against gun violence in five weeks, which ranks in the top four of one-day protest in the United States, he said. Students across the United States protested by walking out of class for 17 minutes.

Cullen wrote about the birth of their movement and how it originated and blossomed.

“It’s the kids themselves who are speaking,” Cullen said. “It remains to be seen how the revolution will go, but I’ve captured the first year.”

Mothers also support the students, Cullen said. How can parents send their children off to school, knowing they may not return, then do nothing to stop the violence? Cullen asked.

Erin Dickinson of Broadview Heights attended the talk. She is the Akron group leader of “Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America” with 300 active members in Akron.

“We are a grassroots organization working for gun sense legislation,” Dickinson said.

They oppose some laws but advocate “red flag” laws to prevent domestic abusers from gaining access to guns.

Laura Lewis of Cleveland Heights is the state co-leader of the organization and said members will be going to Columbus April 10 to meet with legislators.

“We want to encourage them to take action with the safety of all Ohioans in mind,” Lewis said. “I’m curious about a book where kids effect change. We need loud, powerful voices. We need more people to register to vote and affect what is going on in politics.”

Many of those who attended were teachers or librarians.

Joe Kelleher, a Hudson resident and librarian at Revere High School, said kids and staff are concerned.

“The library is a target,” he said. “It’s a fact of life that we deal with it.”

In addition to schools having monthly fire drills and tornado drills twice a year, they have a lock down twice a year with an active shooter drill.

“We talk about where to go and what to do if you hear noise like a gunshot,” Kelleher said. “The kids take the drills seriously and are well aware of the situation. This is their world.”

Melissa Lindley of Hudson teaches English at the Aurora High School and said students attended an assembly to support the Parkland walkout against gun violence.

“The currency of this is so relevant,” Lindley said. “We have drills that students take seriously.”

Michael Cox of Akron said he read Cullen’s book on Columbine and was glad to see him visit Ohio.

“He started out covering Columbine and it was interesting to see the differences between the two massacres and his comments on them and the different reactions.”

Jen Peterson and Loretta Heigle of Columbus drove to Hudson to hear Cullen speak.

“We came to hear more of the insights about the kids and survivors,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to find solutions to help our communities. It’s inspiring to see what Parkland kids have as solutions.”

Cullen has written for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed, Politico, Newsweek, The Washington Post, and many other media outlets. He is an Ochberg Fellow at Columbia University’s Dart Center For Journalism and Trauma and a board member of The Academy for Critical Incident Analysis at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Gooseberry Park by Cynthia Rylant

Unlikely friendships was the theme this year in the One School, One Book reading program revealed in early March, when students learned the title of the book they have spent the month reading. Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 9.08.49 AM (1)

Approximately 400 kindergarten through fourth-grade students at Northfield Elementary School each received a copy of “Gooseberry Park” by Cynthia Rylant at an assembly March 5.

“We have fun things that go on during assembly, and the book is revealed on screen,” said teacher Lisa Bass. “As the children leave, they receive a copy of the book and a home packet. Activities begin that night.”

The assembly committee asked students if they had picked up on clues scattered around the school like displays of trees, acorns and a dog house. The music of “You’ve Got A Friend In Me” played as the students entered the gymnasium and a slide show paired unlikely animals as friends.

Although clues were placed throughout the building about the book, teachers were careful not to reveal the title before the big reveal, Bass said.

“It’s very hush hush,” she said.

First grader Sedinam Vittor said she saw the acorns and trees but didn’t know about the dog.

“I saw the dog house but didn’t know it was about the book,” Sedinam said.

Fourth grader Alex Malafarina has read previous books through the program and has won a pig eraser, water bottle and finger puppets.

“We get to read two chapters tonight and do easy trivia questions,” Alex said after getting her copy.

Along with the book, students received a take-home packet with a reading calendar, trivia questions, a flat character, crossword puzzles, word searches and fun comprehensive activities.

Some of the items include vocabulary words, animal facts about each of the animal characters which include Kona a Labrador retriever, Stumpy a squirrel, Murray a bat and Gwendoyn a hermit crab. Students can write poems about the characters and learn to draw them.

“Reading aloud at home is valuable because it better prepares your child to be an effective reader, and it is also a fun, worthwhile family activity,” according to the Northfield Elementary staff in the letter home.

The program involves the entire school body, staff and community in reading one book at the same time, Bass said.

“This is the fourth year doing this,” Bass said. “The entire school reads the book with their family. Every family gets involved at their own capacity.”

The staff puts together a reading calendar for the students to read one or two chapters a night through March 29, Bass said. Students answer matching comprehensive trivia questions and turn them in the next day.

From Chapters 1 and 2, the trivia questions were “Who is about to become a mother?” and “What are Kona’s favorite animals?” If students answer the trivia questions correctly they are entered into a drawing.

“We have a prize committee that picks a winner from each class from the correct answers,” Bass said. “We try to have as many children as possible win prizes.”

In addition to prizes for correct trivia questions, there is a grand prize at the end of the program, she said.

The school with the support of the PTA has raised money for prizes from different events and they have asked for donations or gift cards from business partners, Bass said.

“It’s grown so big,” Bass said. “We decorate the entire school in the theme of the book.”

A Twitter account allowed readers to tweet out fun things about the book during the program, Bass said.

Businesses and organizations that supported the program include Chipotle, Chick-fil-A, Great Clips, Pulp, Sky Zone, The Nailtique, Cinamark at Macedonia, Costco, Fun-n-Stuff, KFC, Pepper’s Fresh Market, The Goddard School in Macedonia, Northbrooke Tile Co., Westerman Group, William Davidson, DDS & Assoc., Pizza Hut, Wendy’s, Home Depot in Macedonia and Fairlawn, and athletic events at Nordonia Middle School and Nordonia High School.

A couple of years ago the main character was Humphrey Hamster and a live hamster was kept in the school library, Bass said.

“Kids could visit him on their library days,” Bass said. “At the end of the program, a child won Humphrey, with the parents approval.”

To make the program a success, work begins in September with several committees working on each aspect of the program. The hardest part is keeping the book a secret until the open assembly when it is revealed.

Every single person in the entire building was involved in so many ways, Bass said. Co-teachers, administration, parents, the Northfield Elementary PTA, Northfield Schools Foundation, teachers, office, public library and many others in the community.

Closing assembly on March 29 will have lots of fun activities and grand prizes awarded, she said. As students leave assembly they all receive a secret surprise.

“And they keep their books forever,” Bass said. “It’s truly magical.”

Maternal Failure by Barb Baltrinic

Families keep secrets, but with DNA and genealogical searches, children are uncovering the mysteries their ancestors hid.SS Barb Baltrimic book

A Munroe Falls resident, Barb Baltrinic, 67, was an English teacher for 35 years at Ellet High School and worked seven years at the University of Akron in the College of Education. She has worked three years as an education consultant and written three books.

Baltrinic always wondered why her mother, Dorothy Clark, couldn’t love her. She had given her up for adoption and then reclaimed her, but not for maternal affection. It would take her years to find answers and in her third book, “Maternal Failure,” she shares the journey of her mother’s upbringing, her own horrific childhood, the resulting dysfunctional relationship and the search that unearthed the skeletons buried for so long.

“My mother made choices which would become the secrets she carried to her grave,” Baltrinic said. “I had been born illegitimately, put up for adoption, but at 9 months old I was taken out of the process when my mother married the man who eventually adopted me.”

Even though her mother took her back, she didn’t bond with her, Baltrinic said.

After marrying her husband, Michael, and her two sons, Mike and Mark, were born, Baltrinic began the research to find her two illegitimate brothers and biological father and to understand her mother’s inability to love her.

“After her death in 2000, I pursued uncovering all her secrets,” Baltrinic said.

“Maternal Failure” follows the many dead-ends, shocking revelations, and extraordinary twists and turns Baltrinic faced in her research.

“My mom never gave me the correct info,” Baltrinic said. “I remembered some things she said and put that into my detective work.”

Baltrinic discovered she did not have the only troubled childhood among her family members. Her mother and grandparents suffered from generational dysfunction influenced by poverty that created the inability to love their own children. Dorothy made the wrong choices, and she spent her life hiding them, she added.

“I share the dysfunction and behaviors toward me, the physical and emotional abuse in the book,” Baltrinic said. “I came to learn she [Dorothy] couldn’t love herself. I became her scapegoat for her unhappiness because I was a reminder.”

The cover of the book is a photograph of her mother Batrinic found in a drawer. Dorothy tore the picture apart and then taped it back together.

“I couldn’t figure out why she would tear up such a beautiful picture,” Baltrinic said. “But it’s symbolic of the mother and daughter relationship.”

Baltrinic found her mother’s intake papers [social worker’s notes] when she gave her three illegitimate children up for adoption, including Baltrinic. The attitude at the time toward unwed mothers was negative and both the mother and child were considered mentally deficient by social services, yet Baltrinic and her two brothers she found six years ago are very successful.

“I think my background helped me to become a good teacher for urban schools,” Baltrinic said. “I was a good role model and taught them to reach for what they wanted. Education is your ticket out. I knew that would get me out of where I came from.”

The paper trail answered some questions, but DNA revealed family members she never knew existed.

“It was finally DNA which uncovered the biggest secrets my mother kept hidden,” she said. “This book offers hope to others who seek answers about their adoption, finding bio-parents and bio-families, and using DNA testing to help solve the mystery of their beginnings.”

Baltrinic does not regret her search.

“My life is now incredibly rich with the answers I have found and embraced,” she said. “My search for answers helped me overcome my own feelings of frustration with my mother and her inability to love me. I now believe she did love me, but her many secrets blocked her ability to build a relationship with a daughter who only wanted her love.”

Part of the book is about the search for answers, and Baltrinic hopes others can follow her leads in their own family searches.

“I walk people through the journey of searching and finding family members,” she said.

With the popularity of ancestry shows and the availability of DNA testing, Baltrinic said her book appeals to those searching for long-lost family members. In addition, her book shows how she survived growing up in a dysfunctional home and had a successful life, she said.

Her sons did not know her story until they read her book, which was published in October of 2018.

“Both were appalled by what I went through,” she said. “It gives them a better appreciation for what they have in life.”

Writing the book helped Baltrinic forgive her mother.

“You don’t forget, but I forgave much of what she did and have come to peace with it,” Baltrinic said. “I had to wait [since the book’s publication] to be able to talk about it without getting emotional.”

Book launch set for March 4

Baltrinic will host a book launch at the Tallmadge Library at 6:30 p.m. on March 4 with a book sale and signing prior to and after her presentation from 6 to 7:30 p.m., which is open to the public. The book is also available on Amazon.

Her previous two historical novels, “A Founder For All” and “A Patriot’s Price” are set around the Revolutionary War period.