Wednesday, November 29, 2017

I Miss Those Days…Before They Felt Like Prisons

I spent the last 14 years of my 29-year teaching career at McAllen High School.  I still remember pulling up to McHi one day last year, suddenly putting my foot on the brake, gripping the steering wheel, and staring.  What in the world?  Surrounding my beloved campus was a tall, wrought-iron fence.  My heart sank.
            First, full disclosure.  During my sixth-grade year, my school was taken hostage by a group that had robbed a local sporting goods store as they made a desperate attempt to evade arrest.  I can still close my eyes and see myself and my classmates sitting on the floor of our classroom.  I remember the fear, the sound of gunshots, the tears.  I remember the SWAT team lining the hallway and leading us outside to our terrified parents after police killed one of the gunmen and the others surrendered.  Last year when I took a concealed-carry class, the classroom portion was a breeze.  But when we walked into the shooting range, each time I heard a gunshot, my limps shook, and I wanted to cover my ears.  I didn’t realize until I got to my car that my body seemed to be remembering that day.
            I want to be clear.  I completely understand why McAllen ISD and school districts across the country have installed such fences. In fact, since I retired, I have visited a number of schools that have gates around their buildings that are completely locked. Visitors must pull up to a box with a keypad, like those you find outside a gated community, and push a button that rings the front office,.  Many schools have their front doors unlocked but then have a second set of doors that are locked and prevent people from entering the office area and school hallways without being buzzed in.
            So you might be wondering why I didn’t welcome the tall, wrought-iron fence surrounding McHi.  Because when I saw it, I wondered how I would flee the building if I were still teaching and a school shooting occurred.  To me, it was more about how I would escape than it was about keeping potential killers out.
            I contacted a couple of my friends who are still teaching at McHi to see how they felt about what felt like “prison walls” to me.  Both responded immediately, insisting the fence made them feel significantly safer.   Especially, they said, with a police officer on guard in the parking area once again.  (Budget cuts several years ago resulted in that position being cut.) 
            In the early 60s when the current McHi was built, district officials did not have to worry about school shootings.  Thus, having countless doors leading inside must have seemed like a convenience.  Today, those same doors scream danger.
            I can’t help but feel grateful that I retired because I know my need to plan an escape would be thwarted by those wrought-iron fences.  I am also grateful that McHi, schools across the Valley, and schools across the country have prioritized safety for our students and for school district employees. 

            But I sure do miss those days….

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Sarina Manahan)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

I Give Thanks

             One of the things I miss most about my childhood is Thanksgiving.  Growing up, we were fortunate enough to live two or three blocks from my Grandma and Grandpa Ardis.  Every day, we would ride our bikes, roller-skate, or walk to their house at least once.  We would go through the alley and then down the short, narrow walkway leading to the driveway, often finding Grandma and Grandpa swinging on the back porch.
            On Thanksgiving, after driving over to my other Grandma and Grandpa’s house to visit, we would go to Grandma and Grandpa Ardis’ for Thanksgiving dinner.  My eight brothers and sisters and I were their only grandchildren, and they loved our laughter and our chatter filling their home.  I still remember the kids’ card table and how we couldn’t wait until we reached grown-up status and could join the adults at the leaves-added-table that stretched through the living and dining rooms.  Perfectly browned turkey, the dark meat on one plate and the white on another, homemade macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, my grandma’s delicious applesauce Jello, melt-in-your-mouth dinner rolls, and more filled the table , leaving just enough room for our plates, glasses, and silverware. 
            My grandpa would normally say the prayer, often becoming emotional as he gave thanks for our blessings—a healthy family, food on the table, and so much love.  Throughout dinner, we talked and laughed as we savored the flavorful feast.  After dinner, my brothers, my dad, and my grandpa would make their way to the couch and chairs to watch football games while my sisters, my mom, and my grandma headed to the kitchen to wash, dry, and put away the dishes.  (My sisters often joke that I could never be found when it was time to do dishes, though my recollection is quite different.)  When the dinner dishes were done, we would serve the pie and wash and dry those dishes, and then we would join the boys to watch the games, head outside to play, or sit in the kitchen talking. 
            Oh what I would do to have all of my grandparents, my dad, my sister (Ann), and my brother (Tim) here again.  I don’t think I would ever want to leave.

            Thanksgiving is entirely different now that they are gone and I live so far away.  Although it isn’t the same at all for me these days, Thanksgiving remains my favorite holiday.  I love the idea of a day set aside to give thanks for all of the blessings in my life.  I try to give thanks on a regular basis, but I don’t always succeed.  Thanksgiving grounds me and allows me to reflect on every one of God’s blessings in my life.
I am thankful for being raised in a family where love and faith--rather than money--were the foundation.
I am thankful for all of my brothers and sisters, their spouses, my nieces and nephews, and my great nieces and nephews.
I am thankful for the blessing of so many incredible friends—in Peoria, in Texas, in North Carolina, and in other cities and states.
I am thankful to have a home, a car, a warm, cozy bed, food in the fridge, plants in my garden, neighbors who look out for me, and the fuzzy slippers on my feet as I write this post.
I am thankful for the students I taught during my 29-year career, for my co-workers, and for the privilege of teaching.
I am thankful for the opportunity to work in fields outside of teaching now, for those who have given me these opportunities, and for the ability to expand my mind on a daily basis.
I am more thankful than I could ever express for my mom’s amazing brother, Dick, and her friends who all love her so much.
I am thankful for my health, for every breath I take, and for all of the other blessings, both simple and significant, in my life.
And, of course, I am eternally grateful to still have my mom.  As many of you know, my mom lives with Parkinson’s, and that isn’t easy.  Over the past few months, she has taken a number of bad falls and has reluctantly started using a walker.  Through it all, she continues to display her incredible sense of humor.  Through it all, she teaches us what true strength looks like.  Through it all, she keeps getting back up and stubbornly demanding her independence.  And through it all, she remains steadfast in her faith and in her devotion to God.
            For all of this, and for so much more, I give thanks.
            HAPPY THANKSGIVING!  I pray that each of you be as abundantly blessed!

Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Serious Concerns Remain Regarding Regressive Healthcare for Retired Public School Employees in Texas

Since the Teacher Retirement System of Texas held informational meetings two weeks ago regarding the dramatic healthcare changes that will take effect in January for all retired public school employees, I have received a number of emails and calls from people with countless questions and serious concerns about what is about to hit us.  I have written extensively about the bottom line, especially for those of us who are under the age of 65.  That bottom line about what the Texas Legislature has done to us includes:
·         The deductible for the individual retiree is increasing from $400 to $1500 in-network.
·         There will be no copay for healthcare or prescriptions until that deductible is met, meaning the retired employee will pay 100 percent (see only exception below—fifth bullet ) out of pocket.
·         The deductible for retirees who have a spouse/child on their insurance increasing to $3000, and not a penny will be paid (see only exception below—fifth bullet) until that is reached.  It will not be based on the individual but rather on the family unit.
·         The Maximum Out of Pocket will be $5,650 for the retiree and $11,300 for the family for in-network expenses.  For out-of-network expenses it will be $11,300 and $22,600, respectively.
·         This list of standard, generic drugs will be covered at 100 percent.
·         Some retired teachers under 65 still don’t know there are no longer three tiers of healthcare plans from which we can choose.  Now we have only one option—the high-deductible plan.

            I have also written extensively about how hard the Texas Retired Teachers Association fought for us. Their calls to action—and the overwhelming response from public school retirees across the state—played a significant role in making the changes a bit less devastating.  (Take, for example, that the Texas Legislature originally voted to increase the deductible for an individual retiree from $400 to $3000!)  Because “the sleeping giant” (aka retired educators who have a tendency to remain silent) awakened and bombarded Texas legislators with phone calls, emails, and visits to their offices, changes were made during the special session.  The $35 annual fee it costs to be a TRTA member is definitely money well spent.  And remember, the Texas Legislature meets again in 2019!  There is no time for silence! 
            It was TRTA that provided legislators and members with some startling facts, including…
·         During almost half of the 30-year history of TRS-Care, the State funded only 0.5% and the school districts contributed nothing.
·         TRS has more than 375,000 retirees with an average annuity of $1995 per month, while 105,000 retirees receive $1000 or LESS per month.
·         95% of public school employees do not pay into Social Security and the vast majority of retirees do not receive ANY SS benefits due to the GPO and WEP. TRS is their sole form of retirement security!
            There are a few things I learned at the TRS session that at least provide a glimmer of light in this healthcare darkness.  Here is one of them:
·         We will have a service available to us called “Teladoc.”  This service will allow us to speak to a licensed doctor 24/7/365 via telephone, website, or mobile app in fewer than 10 minutes to treat such conditions as bronchitis, pink eye, skin infections, depression, and anxiety.  Their network includes over 3,100 licensed healthcare professionals, including physicians, dermatologists, and mental health therapists who average 20 years of experience.  They are able to provide us with short-term prescriptions.  Rather than paying the cost of a doctor’s visit or an urgent care facility (with no copay, remember), there will be a $40 consult fee if our deductible has not been met--and that fee goes toward the deductible--or an $8 fee if our deductible has been met. 

            More next week on other programs we should all know about as the clock keeps ticking to our new, regressive healthcare plan.

NOTE:  To wake up and get engaged, we should all be members of our local unit of TRTA, too!  Next Monday is the meeting for the McAllen/Mission-area chapter. Although lunch is available for purchase, it is not required.  Annual membership dues are just $10.
To find the unit nearest you, click here

SECOND NOTE:  Have you visited FamilyWize yet?  If you ever have prescriptions, please do!

THIRD NOTE:  If you were unable to attend the TRS sessions on our healthcare changes but want to know what they had to say, visit this page to watch the webinar.

FOURTH NOTE:  If you aren’t familiar with Texans for Public Education, I urge you to go to their website and/or to follow their threads on Facebook.  It’s about non-partisan block voting for candidates with a record of supporting public education. 


Chris Ardis retired in May of 2013 following a 29-year teaching career. She now helps companies with business communications and social media and works as a sales coordinator for Tony Roma's and Macaroni Grill. Chris can be reached at (Photo by Sarina Manahan)