Category Archives: Profiles

Urban Education Leader Avoids Modern Administrative Role

Anne Prendergast is a rising star within the ranks of the Chicago Public Schools system. Her ability to engage some of the toughest and most alienated kids in the whole of the U.S. has left Prendergast with the world at her feet. The option to become a principal and run a whole school with her singular vision is right at her fingertips.

But, Prendergast has sidestepped that option and instead chosen to become a Spanish teacher at Westinghouse High School on Chicago’s northwest side. Even though Westinghouse is a selective high school, many would argue that Prendergast, a member of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, should have gone for a bigger job.

Unfortunately, Prendergast saw the work lives of principals revolving around three very distinct spheres.

“Having to deal with low student attendance, things like students not coming to their school. Lack of parent involvement, trying to think constantly about how to get parents involved, and spending lots of time in the office dealing with budgetary issues.”

The time spent on site was also a concern for Prendergast, “Our school day is from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., and I think the principal is there from 7:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If a regular job is nine-to-five, then it’s definitely longer than that.”

Being stuck inside the office dealing with financial headaches appeared to hold no allure for Prendergast. And why would it? Scrabbling around for donation dollars to make up for budgetary shortfalls is both time consuming and tiring, and within Chicago Public Schools, is left solely to the administration team.

And even then, when the money is in the coffers, mistakes are still made at an administrative level that end up putting the school in a bad position.

“Because there’s so much on a principal’s plate, they’re missing deadlines and time-sensitive grant money has run out and we haven’t spent it yet. That money then gets reabsorbed into some sort of general fund and it’s gone for the rest of the financial year,” said Prendergast.

“I think the other issue is that you have to be really clever about the way that you spend it. I remember Ms. Gurley at Michele Clark High School put teachers in administrative roles, but kept paying them as teachers, because you only get a certain amount of administrator funding. She would be like, ‘I’ll have one less security guard, and I’ll take that money and put it into a teacher fund, and then I’ll call that teacher an administrator,’ you know, you really have to be clever. So, it’s an issue of being smart on both sides. You have to be educationally clever, but you also do need to understand money to some extent.”

Often, this dual job role is beyond the ability of many of the nation’s principals who thought they were just progressing from their role as an educator. In Chicago things are no different.

“I’ve seen a lot of schools that are now shifting their funding to include a business manager, because their principal can’t do it. I think the principal’s realize that, so then they have to find the funds to pay for the business manager. It’s just become such a big part of the job,” said Prendergast.

Prendergast and her partner had even discussed the possibility of her going for an administrator’s license within Chicago Public Schools, but had eventually decided against it.

“All they do is manage angry parents and deal with budgets. Assistant principals are being made to do what principals used to do, and principals just spend every day in crisis-management mode.”

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

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Early Starts and Broken Hearts: The Terrible Saga of the Chicago Chelsea Supporters Club

There are certain aromas, that when encountered, evoke strong feelings and associations in the person who inhales them.  To some men, the slightest waft of a fragile, delicate perfume enlivens the senses. Wafts of baking bread brings forth long forgotten neural connections of safety, well-being and parental love.  Napalm, as Robert Duvall’s character Lieutenant Colonel Bill Kilgore enlightened us, “smelled like victory.”

So it is with The Globe.  This hole-in-the-wall type bar, which at one point before the expansive renovations you could barely see into (it was like looking into the singularity of a black hole, you could make out furtive movements and nothing else), has become a light, airy Mecca for followers of the beautiful game in Chicago and beyond.

My irregular weekend pilgrimages to this Midwestern home of football, will now always be associated with the smell of a bar at opening time.  The particularly heady fragrance of a combination of cleaning fluids, old beer, and before the ban, stale cigarette smoke, would be considered anathema by many; but to myself and others, it is the aromatic primer that precedes a morning of shenanigans.

Due to the time difference, watching the EPL in the U.S. is a labor of love.  It involves forsaking all others, committing to the game and friends alike and usually the abandonment of all other activities for the day that don’t involve the word ‘pint.’  The early games are, on the face of it, screened live at an extremely inconvenient time.  But what else as a supporter are you supposed to do? Sit at home like Billy-no-mates? Or drag your carcass up to The Globe and make a day of it?  If you had to think about that dilemma, give yourself a slap.

I have found myself at The Globe with the other handful of Chelsea supporters, jostling for position, eschewing coffee and breakfast sandwiches and going straight for the golden Carlsberg jugular at some ungodly hour of the morning.  We have sang, we have heckled and we have directed some good natured abuse at fans from just about every other team in the EPL for what seemed like a lot longer than the regulation ninety minutes.  Our fan club has been dwarfed by the traveling circuses that are the Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal supporter’s clubs.  On occasions we’ve all been in The Globe together at the same time (you show me anywhere in England that can boast that), but our small, flag bearing group has always stood its ground.

We’ve experienced soaring highs together, like the 2007 F.A. Cup Final victory against Manchester United; and we’ve suffered catatonic despair inducing defeats together, like the ignominious end to the 2008 European Cup Final against the Red Devils yet again.

We’ve wound people up and conversely suffered at the hands of the wind-up merchants, but we’ve always walked out of The Globe into that harsh sunlight with our heads held high.  As I’ve wobbled off down Irving Park Road, past the normal people out with their kids and dogs getting a coffee and a paper, I’ve always thought I detected a little bit of envy in their eyes.  Could they possibly be envious of our motley crew? We have somewhere to go, people to meet and claims to be staked. We have the EPL and The Globe, and they don’t.

(A version of this essay appeared in The Globe, published by Dark Lark Press LLC on May 15, 2010.)

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

Ryan Barrios: Future Poudre Educator

Ryan BarriosEven with all of the problems that modern teachers face on a daily basis, plenty of undergraduate and graduate students are leaving institutions set on becoming the next generation of educators.

Ryan Barrios, 31, aims to be teaching History in Poudre School District when he graduates, and is genuinely excited by his prospects and some of the teaching concepts he has learned.

“They are talking about how a lot of students, when they’re younger, they’re not literate as in speaking or writing English, but they’re able to understand what they read.”

“With New Literacies some kids are computer literate, but they can’t read a book. Then you throw them on a computer and they can surf the web and they’re technologically advanced.”

Of course the main problem is that the school has to provide the technological equipment that would enable you to develop and utilize the “New Literacies” concept. But, this possible hiccup hasn’t dimmed Barrios’ desire to effect change in the classroom.

“I think the program at CSU is really good. Some of the classes that they are teaching, like the neuroscience class, I mean learning literacy through learning how the brain functions, a lot of schools don’t teach that.”

“The programs here, they give you new information that hasn’t been used in the past. So, when we get in we’ll know it as schools are trying to implement it. So, it won’t be like you’re trying to learn it on the job, we’ll already be trained for that.”

Barrios would prefer to be located somewhere within the Poudre School District, but he understood that it might not be possible.

“I hear that they do really good things, and obviously they are centered on the students.”

The problem with other districts was obvious to Barrios, “Students just aren’t that important.”

Barrios was also concerned with the possible effect of having multiple mother tongues spoken in the classroom.

“I don’t feel I’m well prepared for that situation. I also think that it gets really tough now, because in the past in Colorado it was Spanish. You had ELL & ESL students, so you had to learn Spanish to teach. But now you’re getting students from Asia and Africa, from all over the place and they don’t speak Spanish,” laughed Barrios.

“So how can they require a language in school for teachers, when they have no idea what languages your students are going to speak? It’s really tough, and it’s something I think about all the time.”

It appears that Barrios’ fears aren’t completely unfounded either. The most recent data available on the Poudre School District website states that there are a total of 73 native languages spoken in PSD schools.

Ultimately, Barrios’ excitement for his prospective career was winning the day, “The way that they are training us to teach, it won’t be the same as when we were kids.”

“It won’t be based around the style of rote teaching. It’ll be based around a lot of open dialogue, students learning through experiences, relating things together.”

Barrios felt that had this style of teaching been available when he was in high school, then his own participation level might have been higher.

“I think it would help to keep more students interested, not just keep bombarding them with facts. It helps them to understand and relate to the material.”

“I’m really looking forward to teaching that way.”

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

The Changing Face of CSU: Ye Xiaohui & Lee Seonju

The Changing Face of CSU

The INTO CSU program is set to almost double the number of international students on campus within the next five years. At present there are around 1,100 international students studying at CSU, and almost a third of them are from China alone according to Colorado State University’s 2012-2013 Fact Book.

With 54 students, South Korea is in fourth place on CSU’s list of ‘Top Countries of Origin for International Students’ behind China, Saudi Arabia and India. Libya rounds out the top five with 43 students.

Ye Xiaohui from China and Lee Seonju from South Korea have both been studying at CSU for over a year (both women follow the naming conventions of their respective countries and place their family names in front of their given names).

Though their paths have never crossed, their experiences are remarkably similar.

The Changing Face of CSU: Ivy

Ye XiaohuiYe Xiaohui graduated from Zhangzou No.1 High School in China’s Fujian province and transferred to CSU in August 2011.

“The rule is, if we can pass the TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) we can come straight in,” Ye explained.

Unfortunately for her, she wasn’t able to hit that mark. That meant a spell in the Intensive English Program at CSU.

“I took some classes,” said Ye. “Like listening, writing and speaking. I was also taking some CSU classes at the same time.”

Ye, or Ivy as she prefers to be known (it’s common for many Chinese to have a nickname), quickly moved on and jumped headlong into regular American university life.

“The writing class helped me,” said Ivy. “I learned the basic principles on how to write an essay. I didn’t like the speaking class, because we all (the international students in the program) had accents. So, it was so hard for me to understand them.”

American life has its own special set of problems for international students. There are cultural minefields for people to navigate. Some students come from cultures where it’s considered impolite to immediately accept something being offered. The student soon finds out that once they have refused, there is no second offer forthcoming.

There can also be underlying tensions between U.S. students and international students about wars, human rights issues and economic problems. There are often just plain old misunderstandings when speaking in a second or third language, and there are moments when you wouldn’t get on with people even if you spoke the same language.

“For my first week, I stayed with one of the volunteer families,” said Ivy. “She was so nice to me, and the reason I was staying there was because the dorm wasn’t ready.”

She continued, “After that I moved into the dorm. My roommate was an American student, but we didn’t talk much, because my English was so poor.”

The fear of having their English language skills judged can lead some students to clam up altogether.

“I was always on my own,” remembered Ivy.

That was a year ago, have things progressed much for her?

“I still feel like a Chinese student,” said Ivy. “Sometimes we hang out with U.S. students, but not that much.”

She continued, “What’s interesting is that right now I’m living in University Village and there are a lot of Chinese students. We don’t talk in English with each other, even though we are in an English-speaking country.”

Could this be the fault of CSU? Has the university been doing enough to promote the cross-cultural aspect of studying at a foreign university?

Is University Village failing to live up to its goal of providing an “academically supportive, family environment for students who are interested in living in an interactive community,” as it states on the Housing and Dining Services website.

Has it been about the almighty dollar all along? And those almighty dollars certainly add up quickly when you consider that an international student will pay almost $25,000 per year in tuition alone, compared to around $9000 for an undergraduate classified as a Colorado resident.

“Maybe we (Chinese students) are not open enough. I am not confident with my English, so I just don’t want to talk,’ rued Ivy.

Regular class life seems the same for Ivy as it does for anyone else at the university.

“Actually, for classes we can understand most of the problems,” explained Ivy. “After class we need to read the textbook, or some document, which can help us understand better.”

Liberal Arts classes appear to cause the most difficulty.

“There are lots of non-academic words,” said Ivy. “So even though I translate them, I don’t get the idea.”

But, CSU appears cognizant of problems encountered by international students like Ivy in class, and is more than willing to take the time to help them out.

“I went to meet my TA (Teaching Assistant) once,” said Ivy. “He gave me a lot of resources. But, I didn’t do anything with them. I just studied on my own.”

This attitude seemingly flies in the face of the point of being an international student. To get to know, and mingle with on multiple levels all of the student body you are surrounded by.

“For me, the big idea is to get a higher education,” said Ivy. “You need to live on your own, you need to do a lot of things by yourself. It’s challenging. When I ask for help, there is always help. But we prefer to work on our own.”

Ivy continued, “I have tried to change my habits, I try to hang out with more native students. It has helped a little. I have an English language partner from the Chinese club, and we help each other. We meet once in two weeks, but that’s fun because you can talk. She’s interested in Chinese culture so we have more to talk about.”

Ivy reflected for a minute or so on the statement she had just made before adding, “One of the reasons that I don’t want to talk with people is because sometimes I feel they are not nice.”

Ivy continued to blow off steam, “We are still struggling with our English, and sometimes when I talk I need to think about Chinese words, to translate, and sometimes I can’t.”

The Changing Face of CSU: Seonju

Lee SeonjuLee Seonju, a senior biology major from Daegu, South Korea, is in her final year of study at CSU.

“I like biology,” said Lee. “It was frustrating, at first, because it was hard to understand everything. But, now I am adjusting, it’s OK.”

Even though, Lee’s study habits are startlingly similar to Ivy’s: working alone and cramming for exams.

“Native English speakers speak too fast for us. I don’t know anyone in my major, so I usually study by myself,” stated Lee.

She has mixed feelings on the preparation CSU provided for her mainstream classes.

“I was nervous because I hadn’t experienced anything in American university,” said Lee. “But, it wasn’t really practical. I didn’t go to a real classroom. I had online lectures. It’s not intense enough compared to the real class.”

The classroom setting presents its own set of unique problems for international students whose first language isn’t English.

“It’s really hard to ask any questions during the class,” said Lee. “I need more time than anybody else. So, I have to go after class or during their office hours.”

Lee continued, “If it’s my major then I don’t think it’s very hard. But, if it’s about American culture or history things that I’m not really aware of, then it’s really hard. To Americans, it’s like common sense, but to me it’s a total strange thing.”

While she was in the Intensive English Program, Lee was bombarded with requests to go to international nights, to meet other international students, to generally find her feet. In Lee’s view, CSU hasn’t really continued to offer that helping hand to integrate with American society.

“I live in Aggie Village with my friend, and I feel that CSU doesn’t really promote any of my outside campus life. If I don’t look for it, I don’t do it,” said Lee.

CSU’s Office of International Programs does have a calendar on its website that lists events for international students, but all of the activities are campus based or university organized. Dating back to the start of the semester, nothing was on the calendar that could be classified as ‘outside campus life.’

“Now they send me e-mails about ‘do I want to be a mentor?’ I need a mentor!” laughed Lee as she considered the possibility.

“I don’t think I’d be very helpful to them. I’m still learning about American culture.”

(This article originally appeared online at http://www.intocsu.weebly.com in December 2012.)

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved

The Making and Breaking of Isaac Peña

As the children stream into Twin Peaks Charter Academy in Longmont, Colo., fresh from being dropped off by their parents in a never-ending cavalcade of cars that stretches from the parking lot back to the main street, most of them know exactly what their day has in store.

There will be the usual trials and tribulations that all middle school kids across the U.S. face, hallway and cafeteria hierarchical dogfights, and the ever-present specter of Señor Peña.

Isaac Peña is one of the Twin Peaks’ Spanish language teachers and his effect on the kids is instantly apparent when he’s running the show. Draped over his university style lectern at the front of the room, like the Mexican flag proudly displayed behind him, Isaac treats the 11 to 13-year-olds in the room like they are his own. This means instilling into them Isaac’s own personal set of values.

These are values such as honesty, integrity, and respect. As the children course around the pastel walled corridors, moving along the brightly colored, cubist inspired floor tiling; Señor Peña’s words are constantly ringing in their ears, “Actions always have consequences,” and, “Make good choices.” The latter mantra is repeated so often in the classroom that the students finish the sentence for him.

“He wants to make a difference in kids lives,” says Sandie Sandman, Twin Peaks’ computer teacher for 1st through 6th grade. “He wants them to be well mannered and polite, when his class is in the computer lab and I walk in the room, they all immediately stand up.”

But it’s not all old school manners all the time, “Etiquette and manners is a big push for him, having integrity, but he’s a person who also wants to have fun as well,” says Sandie. “He’s a clown,” adds Sandie with a wry smile.

Isaac Peña appears at first glance to be a composite of everything America has to offer. Peña’s rags to fine threads story reads like a fairy tale; migrant worker family from Mexico strikes out across the border, scholastic isolation and sporting acceptance, political ambitions thwarted and then achieved, marital joy and strife, naked Capitalism, and the faintest wisps of celebrity thrown in for good measure.

Isaac’s life story is so utterly stunning that it defies belief. Unfortunately, Isaac Peña would have done well to remember his two favorite mantras.

Mind-boggling narratives aside, how do others deal with such a colorful personality?

Olivia Christopher, who works much more closely with Isaac, agrees wholeheartedly with Sandie’s appraisal of Isaac. However, Olivia does disagree with Isaac about some things.

“Isaac was concerned my daughter would grow up without moral character because I’m raising her without any religion,” says Olivia, “that conversation ended badly and we haven’t talked about it since.”

As the sun dipped behind the front range of the Rockies, casting a huge shadow on the face of the twin peaks for which the school is named, it was finally time to see Isaac in action, away from the restrictions of the school workplace. Isaac Peña lives in a converted loft space in downtown Longmont with his two sons, Adam, 12, and Noah, who is 10. When we arrive at his house, Isaac immediately settles into a much more relaxed routine. Homemade Mexican food is simmering on the stove top, beers are flowing from growlers, and Isaac is in a garrulous mood.

“I’m the youngest of seven kids and all of my siblings were born in Mexico,” says Isaac. “When my brother Adam was three, he passed away. My father then decided to move to the states and I was born in southwest Kansas.”

Isaac’s father had been a laborer with the “migrant worker” program during the 50’s and 60’s before his move to the U.S. But the Peña family’s assimilation into American culture was slow going. “We all didn’t speak English when we went to school,” says Isaac, “we grew up on a farm out in the country so we didn’t have a lot of contact with anyone outside of school.”

School itself presented the Peña kids, in particular Isaac, with plenty of difficulties. “Because I’d had no contact with English speakers, we all got stuck in special-ed classes,” Isaac explains, “people around me were my family and profoundly retarded people.” Getting out of these classes became Isaac’s main priority.

This was the early 1980s in Kansas, and in 1984 Isaac says he, “became cognizant of my race, and where I stood in relation to the rest of society.” Isaac wasn’t the only person cognizant of his race, “I remember a principal and some teachers calling me a wetback.”

A couple of friends and Isaac’s mother kept his spirits up. His mother told him, “Look, you are blessed to be born this side of an imaginary line, and you’ve been given a lot of opportunities.” The young Isaac didn’t squander the chance. Through all of his schooling Isaac continued to work in the fields with his family, and to keep his eye on the prize.

Sporting plaudits came along with academic awards, and Isaac had found an outlet that allowed acceptance from his peers, “Everybody starts to like you when you win.”

As the food started to arrive at the dining room table, Isaac continued to describe the trajectory that his life had taken from his family’s humble beginnings.

A sporting injury finished Isaac’s plan of athletic greatness, and so he threw himself into his academic study with even more fervor. College loomed on the horizon, but still Isaac was out working in the fields. The work was backbreaking; it involved making sure the water flowed around the irrigation channels on massive fields. Before the advent of the giant irrigation machines that ponderously circle crops nowadays, getting the water flowing into the right place involved placing a pipe into one irrigation channel and forcing it, by means of gravity, to start running into the next channel. The reward for this daily grind? Experiencing the kind of discrimination that made him ashamed to be the only true American in his family. “You need to get off our property or I’m going to call immigration”, was how one landowner responded to the Peña family request for wages due.

The threat of deportation was a big problem, “One of the most vivid memories I have is us hiding from immigration in a drainage ditch under a building. We would wait and pray. Once we were under there for 48 hours.”

These intensely religious experiences have obviously affected Isaac. The bookshelf in his loft is full of the writings of Gandhi, Tutu, King, Mother Theresa, and rather incongruously, Glenn Beck. A massive wooden cross dominates the landscape of the wall. The sense of faith, lofty Utopian ideals, and concept of family is almost palpable in the room. Into this troika of ambient reassurance arrived the burritos.

After the meal was done, Isaac suggested that we take our beers down the giant wooden staircase inside the center of his building and ensconce ourselves in front of the fireplace, away from the ears of his two young sons.

“As soon as I went to university in 1998, after finishing my associates in 1997, I was done,” says Isaac. “I met the boys mom, she got pregnant, I put her through college, through nursing school, paid everything. But basically I’d married an alcoholic.”

The struggles continued and Isaac began working as a parent educator, “with babies birth to three, giving parents anticipatory guidance of what to expect, and what they could do to foster development.” Isaac feels this work, “taught me how to be a better parent.” Peña describes it as, “helping people that didn’t have parents to teach them how to be parents.” This work was also his first insight into, and the start of his taste for, “Public policy, trying to change a generation of people.”

By 2001 Isaac was, “pretty much done with the wife, sick of her antics and the back talk.” Growing up in a Hispanic household, “We don’t hear the backtalk,” says Isaac, “I’m sitting here providing for you, and you’re pissing on me.”

This marital discord finally resulted in catching, “the boys mom with another dude.” In this terrible moment for any marriage, Isaac is still proud of the restraint that he showed that day, “Don’t get me wrong, I punished the guy physically, I spit on him,” says Isaac, “I looked at her, I said thank you, I’ll be taking the boys and I won’t be seeing your ass for a very long time.”

After some time for reflection and anger venting, Isaac returned to the home of the man who had been cuckolding him, “I want to apologize to you,” Isaac said to the man, “because I have no right to put you in that position, to physically hurt you, and to make you beg for God’s mercy.” Against this backdrop, Isaac wondered what he was going to do with his two young sons.

“What is the best way to help them succeed? I’m into politics right now, I’ve got to figure out a way to better their future.” Most important to Peña was not giving them, “some bullshit ass America that’s going to be hated by the rest of the world.”

This drive to be able shape public policy, and work on the resolutions to problems, lead Peña to seek official office. In 2002, Peña says he ran against Eber Phelps for a seat in the Kansas legislature for District 111, which encompasses the whole of Ellis County. When Representative Phelps was contacted to give his assessment of Peña, Phelps’ response was enlightening, “I think he may have talked about running but don’t recall any campaign effort. He was not on the ballot in 2000, 2002 or 2004.”

As we continued talking, Peña explained more of the rationale behind his thirst for political power, “I was in D.C. from the end of 2002 to 2005, when I was a Fellow for the Bush (George W.) administration.” The White House Fellows program is an annual, ultra-prestigious program for leadership offered to a handful of the most exceptional young people in the United States. After finishing their year with whichever class they are in, Fellows often move on to become some of the most influential people in American society.

“Basically I worked in the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Education,” says Peña. “We kept track of any new legislation that affected those three areas and on a monthly basis we’d report it to the Bush administration.”

“I’d literally go across the country to California, Arizona and Massachusetts to look at head-start programs to see if they were being run efficiently,” says Peña.

This kind of position is highly coveted, and it takes a special kind of political zeal to get into. Isaac’s girlfriend of almost 6 years, Jenn Wilson, says that, “I get worried about having to move, or be away from our family in order for him to accomplish his dreams of making an impact on politics.”

There is also the downside of Jenn not being, “strongly involved with, or opinionated about politics, so sometime his passion for it can be a little much for me.”

This passion for politics, and the need to be involved with it, may ultimately prove to be Isaac’s undoing. The work involved in becoming a White House Fellow may require a Herculean effort, but uncovering the data about previous recipients is a Sisyphean task all of its own. Thankfully, Rice University has kept a comprehensive list of all recipients since the inaugural class of 1965-66. Isaac Peña is not among them.

So what exactly is driving this overwhelming desire to affect change on policy? As the night dwindled down to embers, Peña sank some more beers and mused about his marijuana themed merchandize business, and his attempt to get onto American Idol.

Peña’s ‘420’ business, which he set up in the 1990s with a friend, specializes in t-shirts, watches and other drug themed items.

The original plan had been to, “Create a watch company, call it ‘420’ watches, and then sell fucking watches with ‘420’ on them,” says Peña. The company turned huge profits in its prime in 1999, “Just a little under $100,000 in cash,” grins Isaac.

Peña had let the business slacken off for a period but was now considering resurrecting it because, “I could have cheese out of the wazoo.”

But how did Isaac see his ‘420’ brand, with all of its connotations, gelling with his own personal religious ideologies? In deference to his devout Catholicism, Peña had changed the meaning of the ‘420’ brand. With a seriousness more readily associated with visiting foreign dignitaries, Isaac explained that, “Instead of the International time to smoke pot, it became the International time for peace.”

With a straight face Peña continued onto how ‘The International Time For Peace’ brand would jibe with his Republican political affiliation, “Good luck trying to argue with a Republican about making money,” said Peña.

The American Idol story is a little harder to pin down. Peña says that, “My thought process was about how I was going to get into office.” He saw American Idol as a possible route in.

“Do you realize how many people watch American Idol? Do you realize how big of a market that is? It’s huge,” says Isaac. Isaac went on the program and sang a Stevie Wonder song and a couple of Spanish songs by Juanez. Peña didn’t make it far in the initial stage, and as such his plan for political domination remains unfulfilled.

Jenn Wilson suspects there might have been a little more too it anyway, “I think he probably did have a logical thought of promoting his political career but I would venture to guess that he would probably enjoy those 15 minutes of fame too! Why not right?”

As the evening reached its conclusion we climbed back up the slatted wooden stairs to Isaac’s loft where his two sons were preparing to help tidy up.

“Sometimes it can be annoying,” says Adam, “Or interesting,” interjects Noah, as the brothers talk about what it’s like to live with a man as driven as Isaac.

“It’s definitely a fun life, he encourages me to play lots of sports, just like he did at school,” says Adam.

Both Adam and Noah are in agreement about the ultimate life lesson that they have drilled into them every single day from the Isaac Peña handbook. A lesson that should be immediately obvious from the tenacious way that Peña sells his story to outsiders.

“Never give up,” says Adam as Noah nods in agreement, “Never give up.”

© 2012 Jamie M. Bradley All Rights Reserved