Knesset Israel Nursery School is lifeblood of Annapolis’ small Jewish community

In the back hallway of a massive and elegant synagogue in the heart of Annapolis sits a preschool with 36 children. From the outside, one might not recognize the school as anything special. It’s just a Jewish preschool. But walk inside the double doors, and the school comes alive — a lifeblood of a Jewish community that is small, but still thriving in this city by the water. [Read more…]

Ask Mesila

Question: I lost my job and we have had to make drastic cuts to our family’s standard of living, which have significantly affected my children. I worry I am not providing the things they need and are used to having. How much should I involve them in our financial situation?

Answer: The first thing you and your children need to know is that you are not alone. Today’s economic crisis has affected almost every family. While this situation is painful, there are ways to minimize the pain and still adequately provide for your children. [Read more…]

The Flow Of The River

Healthy marriages make healthy children

Water flows easily in a river when there are few or no rocks, sticks or other debris.  I visualize communication in relationships to be like a small river or stream. When you say something complimentary, kind and loving, you strengthen the waters of the stream. On the other hand, if you say something hurtful, you “throw a rock” into the stream. After days, weeks, months or years of rocks being thrown into your communication stream, a blockage or dam develops, and no or little water can flow. [Read more…]

Just In’ Time for Winter

Justin Berk and son Brandon developed an app that teaches kids about the weather.  Photo Provided

Justin Berk and son Brandon developed an app that teaches kids about the weather.
Photo Provided

Justin Berk has gained a considerable following during his more than a decade as a meteorologist in the Baltimore region.

That following has grown in recent years, as Berk quickly learned how to reach out to an ever-expanding audience via social media. It was the desire to explore social- media opportunities more that eventually led Berk to walk away last January from WMAR-TV, where he had forecasted since 2003.

“The face of media is changing,” Berk said. “Those in old media are now adjusting to how to best utilize new media at a time when people expect their news and weather instantaneously, many through their smartphones.”

Berk said he spent the first part of last year working out a plan on how to move his career forward. This included working on the schematics for several smartphone apps.

However, the idea he eventually moved forward with didn’t come from him; it came from his 6-year-old son, Brendan, who suggested a weather app designed specifically for kids. This led to the recent release of the Kid Weather App.

“I had some idea of what I wanted to do with an app, but I realized that Brendan [was] onto something special,” Berk said. “I come from a family of educators, and it was important to me that I develop something that people could learn from. A weather app for kids, designed by kids — I think accomplished just that.”

Berk said the app has something to offer children from toddlers to preteens. Along with weather for local communities, the app also features trivia, safety tips, temperature graphing and a Fahrenheit-to-Celsius calculator. There are also several avatars people can choose, and users can “dress” them based on the weather.

“Weather is something that interests people of all ages,” Berk said. “I’ve found more and more kids are getting their weather from some kind of mobile device anyway. This helps make it fun and educational at the same time. Science, technology, engineering and math [STEM] are such an integral part of a child’s education today. The app offers parents and even teachers a new interactive platform to engage children in those subjects.”
The Kid Weather App became available for iPhone in November and for Android last month. Berk said he already has had several thousands of people pay $1.99 to download it. Those who have purchased it have come from across the country with several dozen more coming from as far away as Australia, despite the app not yet having international forecasting abilities.

Gina Miller was one of the first to download it. The Woodbine mother of two, a 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, said she first put it on her phone because her daughter would ask her every day what the weather would be during recess.

“My kids love it,” Miller said. “This app appeals to kids of all ages. It teaches them about weather in a practical, hands-on way that is age appropriate without ‘dumbing down.’”

Sherri Sibel Thomas also downloaded the app. The Sparks mother said her daughters, 9 and 12, had never taken an interest in the weather until now.

“It’s truly an exciting application for children of all ages,” Sibel Thomas said.

Berk said Miller and Sibel Thomas learned of the app, like most who have purchased it, via social media. Most of Berk’s marketing is done on Facebook, where he has more than 23,000 followers. More than half of those started to follow Berk after he left WMAR.

“This huge following really opened my eyes to the impact of social media,” Berk said. “I get instant feedback on everything from the weather forecast to what people do and don’t like about the app. The key moving forward is learning how to best leverage that audience.”

Berk said developing the app has been an amazing learning experience. It is the centerpiece of his company, Just In Weather LLC, which also has Berk offering metrological consulting work for several businesses. Berk, a 1995 Cornell graduate, also continues to teach meteorology classes at Stevenson University.

“The response has been tremendous,” Berk said. “What has made this even more special is that I got to go on this journey with my son.”

Berk added that the lesson he taught Brendan through this process went far beyond the weather.

“Getting this app off the ground was not an easy process,” Berk said. “We had to adjust along the way and had to hold off including certain features on the app. There were also issues ensuring it worked for both iPhone and Android devices. All of these delays taught Brendan the value of patience and that hard work does pay off in the end.”

Step Back

I remember writing my essay for Haverford College on New Year’s Day. I don’t remember writing the essays for the other schools, but I remember, very clearly, sitting on my bedroom floor with my back pressed against the footboard of my bed and writing about New Year’s.

I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but I would guess my essay was filled with all the hopes and dreams for the future, as one would imagine an ambitious 17-year-old would write as she sat on her bedroom floor dreaming about college. I do remember the final line, “Happy New Year.” In my mind, the line was read in a dramatic whisper. (A very dramatic whisper, as said by a 17-year-old girl who considered herself very dramatic and inspiring.)

I smile when I think of that girl. She comes to mind often now, as I begin the college search with my daughter. She’s a high school junior and not yet in the essay-writing stage. But that hasn’t stopped me from requently suggesting possible essay topics for her.

And, I truly think I’m being helpful. More than that, I truly think I’m awesome because I’m merely suggesting topics and structure and not actually writing the essay for her as rumors have it that other parents do. But earlier this week, I accompanied my daughter on a tour of a local university. After explaining the differences between all of the various schools and programs offered by the university, the admissions officer took some time to give the kids application tips. Take a challenging curriculum, let us know that you really want to go to our school, and finally, as great as your parents are and as much as they should absolutely proofread your application, do not let them tell you what to write for your essay.

Wow. OK, not even suggestions?

No. Not even suggestions, because, as the admissions officer wisely explained, the moment it becomes someone else’s topic is the moment the essay stops being authentic.

I thought about that. My parents didn’t discuss my essays with me. And how would I have felt if I had told them my essay topic and they didn’t like it? When I think back on that essay, although I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, I remember it truly reflecting who I was at that moment.

I realize now I need to let my daughter do the same. It’s so frightening though. If only I could be the one to write the essay — then I could make the school see my child the way I see her.

But maybe that’s not the way they should see her. I don’t necessarily know everything about her anymore. I can’t say for certain that I know exactly what her dreams are or how she sees herself. My vision of her is filled with memories of her playing tea party and singing made-up songs. My vision is clouded with ideas of who I think she is when she’s at school or with her friends.

But that’s not her. Only she can paint that portrait. As parents, we need to let our children tell their own story.

At some point, we have to stop leading the way. At some point, we must step back and walk side-by-side with our children. And, if we’re very lucky, they’ll allow us to hold their hands as we walk.

Happy New Year.