The value of a coach: Greg Molnar

1

By William Hetrick

Coaches have banquets.  It has become a time-honored tradition with nearly all sports at all schools.

Athletes get awards, gifts, and accolades.  I suppose it’s a nice way to wrap up the season.

The coach gets a gift and thanks from the booster club, the season ends, and life goes on.  But not always.

Greg Molnar retired as boys basketball coach at Saegertown High School at the close of this past season, a season that saw him register his 100th win, one of only four coaches in our school’s history to achieve that feat.  Longevity.

He spent a decade and some change coaching our boys.  He’s coached pretty much consistently since his first gig in 1984.

It’s not easy sticking with something so long, especially in today’s environment where your credibility is measured in the win-loss column, and you have twenty or more “assistant coaches” in the stands at every game.

Coach Molnar stuck it out–through losing seasons, some good ones despite his record, and through winning seasons, ones he felt could have been better, I’m sure.  It’s the way of the true coach.

You can always do better, get better.  Usually, you remember the close losses more than the dominant wins.  The kids more than the outcome.  And that is why I’m telling you about Greg Molnar.

Sure, he teaches next door to me in the English department at school.  Yes, we’ve had discussions about coaching as we’ve been doing it, though in different sports, for a long time.

We both see the value in sport as a way to see to the core of what kids are capable of doing.  We both see how character is built one drill at a time.

Coaches come and go.  It’s the way of it, the way it’s supposed to be, in fact.  When you leave, the slow ebb of time washes away your achievements, your records, even your legacy.

The full body of your day in the sun becomes a shadow fading into the distance.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t say some things of value about our coach.

I saw him take a technical foul at Iroquois so a unique athlete on their team could make a basket.

It was one of the most selfless and thoughtful acts I’ve seen in my years of coaching.

I’ve seen him play athletes who should have never seen the court because they earned the right in practice.

Greg Molnar 2

Coach Molnar received the game ball from his 100th win at the banquet. 

I’ve seen him allow players to miss practices to attend other activities, like go hunting with a grandfather or attend a school trip; many coaches I know think the world revolves around their practice schedule.

How dare you do anything other than my sport during our season!  Not Coach.  He is a small town coach in charge of small-town athletes.  And he sees the value in each small-town kid.

At his final banquet, Coach complimented his athletes, apologized to many, told his final story. I was there.  It was awesome.  He will go the way of all great coaches.

But I will remember.  His former players will remember.  They are better for having had him teach them basketball.

And life. And that is the real measure of a coach.  Greg, it was a great banquet.  And career.  You deserve to be remembered.

(William Hetrick  coaches cross country at Saegertown High School. He also teaches next door to Greg Molnar. Both are veteran English teachers and coaches.)

Picketing with my father: United Electric lockout strikes home

By Kaitlyn Kozalla, features editor

On Sunday, March 3, I picketed with my family to show support for the plight of United Electric members after a nine day lockout. I was overwhelmed by the community’s encouragement and positivity. Trucks ushered wood for burn barrels so families could stay warm, restaurants supplied food, while the refrigerators and freezers in the united electrical radio and machine workers union hall overflowed. Three days later, United Electric 506 and 618 reached a consensus to end the lockout in Erie’s manufacturing facility.

Union members gathered in front of Wabtec’s corporate headquarters in Wilmerding, Pa. during the lockout.

The union passed a vote on Feb. 26 to initiate a lockout on the facility formerly owned by General Electric (GE) Transportation, which is now owned by Wabtec Corporation. This lockout was passed the day after Wabtec’s purchase of the plant was made official.

As the daughter of a 13-year GE employee, I witnessed first hand the impact of Wabtec’s corporate greed. The day of the purchase, the company released an official statement that included the changes being implemented. Some of these changes included a wage cut of almost forty percent, mandatory overtime and to relegate 20 percent of workers to part-time positions with no benefits.

The introduction of Wabtec’s two-tier wage system was the breaking point for many employees. Former GE employees would retain their wages, while new employees would have their wages slashed. What Wabtec failed to clarify is what would happen to employees who are laid off and later returned – they too would receive a wage cut.  

After walking the picket line for about an hour, I learned of Wabtec’s regulations on strikers. According to the official statement, only ten members (at least five feet apart) could walk the picket. While all this was occurring, Wabtec employees acted as monitors from their warm vehicles.

Union members shouted: “Who are we? UE!” and “What do we want? A fair contract! When do we want it? Now!” Passing motorists honked in shows of support, some possibly being former GE employees

Harborcreek Township resident Chris Merit, a 30-year GE employee, said: “You can’t just bring in people off the street to do what we do.” Wabtec claims to offer competitive wages, but fails to take into account the common adage “skilled labor isn’t cheap and cheap labor isn’t skilled.”

I continued to follow the situation through local media, but saw no change. Another blow was dealt when I learned my family had lost our insurance. Through the bad; however, the union supported workers as much as they could by helping families pay their bills if they couldn’t afford to do so.

This issue quickly gained national support. Senator Bernie Sanders wrote a letter to Wabtec asking the company to keep the existing contract until a compromise could be reached. Sanders continued by saying he will provide his “full support and solidarity” until a contract is set.

UE President, Scott Slawson, spoke for Local 506 and 618 at a Bernie Sanders rally in Brooklyn. He urged Wabtec to respect hardworking families and find a fair deal for both sides. News outlets including CNN covered the story, which promoted worldwide support for the UE members. The UE Facebook page UE Members 506 was filled with messages of support from working families from California to Connecticut and as far away as Italy, Japan, Mexico and Canada.

Wabtec and UE reached an agreement containing a 90-day contract that allows more negotiations towards a long-term deal. It is unknown whether an agreement will be reached by the end of the term, but both parties claim they are optimistic. At this time, the plant will not close and wages will be maintained at their present levels.

Never have I thought that my family would ever go through this. It was, and still is uncertain of what will happen next, and if i’m honest, it’s nerve-racking. I know in the end everything will turn out, we will persevere no matter the case.

Opinion: President Donald Trump’s Oval Office speech yet another spin of broken record

By Kassie Boyd, editor-in-chief

Kassie Boyd, Editor-in-Chief

President Donald Trump began his first televised Oval Office speech in January with claims of “a growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border.” The speech attempted to justify the 35-day partial government shutdown that left thousands of workers without pay, and reiterated his demands for a border wall between the United States and Mexico.

Simply put, there is no crisis along our southern border. According to a Border Security Metrics Reports compiled by the Department of Homeland Security in 2018, illegal border crossing apprehensions in 2017 were the lowest they’d been since 1971. That same report reveals that undetected illegal border crossings have dropped by approximately 800,000 from 2006 to 2016.

Though Trump’s claim that ninety percent of heroin enters the United States through our southern border is technically true, a 2018 National Drug Threat Assessment done by the D.E.A. revealed that most of this heroin is smuggled in cars via legal ports of entry, and physical barriers are already present in sectors with the highest percentage of heroin seizures.

The real crisis is not along the border but rather in the White House. On Jan. 25, President Donald Trump ended the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. Approximately 800,000 federal workers labored without pay or were furloughed, and while the majority will be compensated, many relied on the regular income to support themselves and families.

However, federal workers are not out of the woods yet. The bill signed by President Trump offered Congress an ultimatum: “If we don’t get a fair deal from Congress, the government will either shut down on Feb. 15, or I will use the powers afforded to me under the laws and Constitution of the United States to address this emergency.”

The American people have made abundantly clear that they value the wages of workers above a steel barrier. When asked about Trump’s next move, a poll conducted by CNBC revealed that 66 percent of Americans believed Trump should allow the government to reopen – even without proper funding for his wall.

In an age of unprecedented technological advancements, a wall is perhaps the least effective way to defend the border. House Democrats offered one generous deal after another. They even matched Trump’s $5.7 billion dollar border security budget provided that the money goes towards immigration judges and drones rather than a wall – though it was struck down by the Senate.

What President Trump has painted as Democrats’ unwillingness to compromise is nothing more than his inability to concede and explore other, more functional solutions.

Opinion: Why the Wall is necessary, not discretionary

By Kaitlyn Kozalla, features editor, and Dustin Steiger, A&E editor

In January, President Trump addressed the American people and the world from the Oval Office. During this address, he tackled the topic of the government shutdown, which started on December 22 and lasted over a month, and how the much-anticipated “wall” plays a role in the crisis on the southern border.

Features editor Kaitlyn Kozalla and A&E editor Dustin Steiger

President Trump commented on illegal immigration saying, “America proudly welcomes millions of lawful immigrants who enrich our society and contribute to our nation. But all Americans are hurt by uncontrolled, illegal migration. It strains public resources and drives down jobs and wages.” Approximately one million legal immigrants are accepted into the United States each year, while somewhere between 11.3 million to 22 million illegal immigrants are estimated to currently reside in our nation’s prosperity. The fact of the matter is, illegal immigration hurts hard-working Americans, burdens taxpayers, and undermines public safety.

America was always meant to be a land of opportunity, not of undeserved advantages. You have the ability to better yourself, not the right to have what you haven’t earned. This is one reason why the wall is such a crucial aspect to the betterment of our nation. As more and more impoverished immigrants flood in- many of whom who either provide little economic benefit to our society or who thrive on welfare, as made evident by the statistics provided by the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) – the general condition of our economy and our society will naturally face a decline. An estimated $116 billion is spent annually due to the effects of illegal immigration, a statistic provided by the Federation for American Immigration Reform. According to the CIS, “Each illegal alien costs nearly $70,000 during their lifetime.” Now, consider this; Trump wants to raise between 5 to 6 billion dollars on the wall. Even if the wall did a terrible job and only stopped around 85,000 illegal immigrants in its entire lifetime, the wall would still pay for itself.

As for the notion that those coming illegally are merely looking for safety and sanctuary, the Mexican government has offered them this. How did they respond? By attacking the Mexican authorities and continuing their march towards the States. They aren’t merely here for protection. They’re coming for the supposedly “free” benefits our nation works hard for, and they don’t care how they get them. Thus, the hard-working citizens of America are forced to fund criminals. They refuse to follow the procedure and instead flood in illegally, many bringing with them drugs and violence. According to Kevin McCarthy, the Republican Leader in the House of Representatives, a third of the women in the caravan have been raped or “violently treated,” and yet, many Americans still don’t see this as a threat. Then, of course, there’s the issue of drug trafficking. As President Trump said in his address, ”Every week, 300 of our citizens are killed by heroin alone, 90 percent of which floods across from our southern border. More Americans will die from drugs this year than were killed in the entire Vietnam War. . . Thousands (of) more lives will be lost if we don’t act right now. This is a humanitarian crisis, a crisis of the heart, and a crisis of the soul.”

Obviously, not all of those crossing the border illegally are violent and aggressive. There are some that are hard-working and will put in the effort to help themselves and our society. However, there are many who aren’t so noble and conscientious. We want to help and to protect, but we simply cannot allow just anybody and everybody to enter without consequences. What does this mean? It means that action must be taken. Ignoring the situation at hand and turning a blind eye to this continuously evolving threat serves only to degrade and destroy our nation. Years ago, President Obama himself said that “we simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, unchecked.” Border security is not merely an option or a last resort. Republicans and Democrats alike agree that it’s a necessity, an essential aspect to the defense of our sovereign land and the safety of our people. It’s not partisan politics; it’s plain and simple protection. The government reopened on Jan. 25 of this year, but the threat still looms. If the situation continues down its current path, it’ll be up to the President to declare a national emergency in order to safely preserve our nation’s sovereign glory.

Column: President’s visit reinforces the ‘Divided States of America’

By Taylor Munce, sports editor

(Note: This is the third in a three-part series on the Trump rally in Erie on Oct. 10.)

IMG_8023

Taylor Munce, sports editor, The Panther Press

President Donald Trump came to Erie for a rally focused on promoting his campaign and fellow Republicans. Thousands of supporters, as well as many protesters, took to the streets of Erie to share their beliefs. I came as a journalist for the Panther Press and to experience how a Trump rally would feel for a Democrat like me. My experience can mostly be summed up in one word: uncomfortable.

The first person I interviewed was a protester. The woman was very pleasant when my colleague Dustin Steiger asked her opinion of the president. She calmly stated why she was upset with the president, citing things like his racism, sexism, and bigotry.

The next thing I encountered was getting to skip the long line of supporters trying to get in. Showing our press credentials, Dustin and I were instantly admitted and security checked us for any metals. Personally, I found this to be refreshing as I was panicking a few hours before about security and safety. I was worried about the possibility that I might be involved in a violent affair, such as the ones I’ve witnessed on television, where people have actively heckled and threatened journalists covering the event, many times at the urging of the president who has called them “dangerous and sick” and “the enemy of the people.

As soon as I arrived at the press area, I took note of my surroundings. Among the journalists present were reporters from the Washington Post, Fox News, the Erie Times-News, the Meadville Tribune, and many others. It was exciting to be in the midst of so many professional journalists from so many outlets. I also noticed the overhead display that flashed messages for those in attendance.

“If there is a protestor, simply hold your sign above your head and shout TRUMP TRUMP TRUMP. Do NOT touch the protestors and the police will take them out.” I found this unsettling. Though it may seem reasonable to President Trump, shouting at protesters does not seem like a good choice. Yelling in general does not get through to people as it causes chaos and misunderstandings, and angry people say things they later regret. Though I did not witness any protesters being removed, if this situation had occurred, I would have wanted to leave due to the mayhem that could have erupted and quickly become violent.

The overhead display also proclaimed: “Trump wants to protect your First Amendment along with your Second Amendment rights.” Of course, the First Amendment protects speech and the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms; however, it is well known that this president commonly refers to members of the press as  “enemies of the people.” I spoke to Paul Farhi of the Washington Post about this issue: “We are not the enemy of the people. We are the friend of the people. I believe that he [Trump] likes the attention; it helps his campaign. He only says things like that because it riles them [supporters] up,” Fahri said. It seems contradictory for President Trump to claim that he protects First Amendment rights, even though he himself cannot seem to accept that media outlets have the right to publish whatever they want.

During the rally, Trump emphasized that he isn’t focused on “putting money into Washington’s pocket.” This claim seems interesting in light of the fact that many sources have recently reported that Trump himself has already raised more than $100 million for his 2020 campaign.

Then he claimed that Democrats “are a party of crime” and they “only act out of anger and rage.” He mentioned them banging on the doors of the Supreme Court after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed as an Associate Justice, and he claimed that Democrats don’t like the “principles this country was made on.” Shortly after this, he stated that he loves “all of America.” How can this be true if he condones and encourages hatred against an entire political party? More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton (about 2.9 million), but Trump won the election due to the electoral college vote. What about those 65,845,063 Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton? Does President Trump love them too? And if he does, then why demonize them and their party by calling them the “party of crime”?

At each mention of the Democrats or anyone closely related to them, the crowd would boo and Trump would nod in agreement. Now, it’s fine to disagree with people, but spreading hate in order to push your agenda is ridiculous, especially when both parties came together to create the principles our democracy was founded upon.  

There may not have been parties exactly like we have today when the Constitution was written, but the seeds of agreement and dissent that have made America great and led to compromise and progress were present, and to speak so negatively of those who disagree with you seems unnecessary.

Prior to the president’s arrival, Glenn Thompson, U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th congressional district, said: “That’s what Americans do. We stand up for each other.” If that is what Americans do, then why is it that we are at a war with each other when it comes to politics, race, and gender, just to name a few divisive issues?

There were also instances during his speech where Trump encouraged his audience that they needed to vote an all Republican Senate. That seems odd to me, too. If it’s understood that not everyone can get along, then how would having an all Republican Senate reflect the country? If senators were all from the same party, would the United States turn into an oligarchy? If this were to happen, only the laws Republicans wanted would pass, and this would most decidedly not reflect the will of the people.  

In the midst of all this uncomfortable rhetoric, there were two moments where I felt positively connected to the people in the arena. One was the praying for those in the path of Hurricane Michael and the other was the honoring of veterans. All veterans were asked to stand up as everyone honored and praised them for their service. Pennsylvania Senator Michele Brooks said, “It’s because of them that we can be here today and that we can enjoy the freedom we have today.” Even though I disagree with most of what the candidates said at this event, I will admit that it was very fulfilling to have the veterans recognized for their service and to know that we were united in praying for those affected by the hurricane.

When the rally ended, I felt unsettled. Although I gained valuable insight into how to cover a political event, I was left feeling as though I was not wanted in the arena due to my opposing political views. In fact, I left feeling like the president should not be making people like me feel so disconnected. As the President of the United States of America, he should be uniting, not dividing, all Americans.

Column: Covering presidential visit was ‘positive and exhilarating’

By Kaitlyn Kozalla, features editor

(Note: This is the second in a three-part series on the Trump rally in Erie on Oct. 10. Taylor Munce’s column will be published Friday.)

As a student journalist interested in the presidential agenda, I decided to take to the streets of Erie to find out what a “MAGA rally” was all about. Upon arriving at the Erie Insurance Arena on October 10, I saw a sea of patriotism and “Make America Great Again” apparel. Protesters waved signs which said “Promises made, promises broken” and “Liar-in-Chief,” standing up for their beliefs. Regardless of partisan opinion, President Trump attracted crowds Wednesday night in Erie.

20181010_184514 (1)

Kaityln Kozalla, the Panther Press, with Jim Acosta, Chief White House Correspondent for CNN

As soon as I stepped into the long line outside the arena, I noticed an overbearing number of vendors swarming the huge crowd. Loud music played, and I watched people dancing and singing, excited for the coming event. As the line moved forward, protesters continued to chant “Trump has got to go,” and “Impeach Trump.”

Although the rally almost didn’t take place because of Hurricane Michael’s impact on Florida’s panhandle, President Trump stated that he did not want to let down the thousands who had probably lined up to attend in advance. That being said, the nine-thousand seat arena was packed and thousands more watched on the big screen outside.

President Trump’s  speech focused primarily on his victories and foreshadowed a “red wave” in the upcoming election. One of the most rehashed topics of the night was the creation of jobs and the drop in the unemployment rate. “Under Republican leadership, America is booming, America is thriving, and America is winning like never before, because we are finally putting America first. Just two days ago, the unemployment rate has fallen to the lowest level in 50 years. It was just announced that manufacturing confidence is at an all-time high,” President Trump said.

He also included his initiative to bring back American-made steel. “We don’t need this product coming in untested from other countries,” Trump said. “We don’t need it, folks. We’ve got it here. We don’t need it.” And he covered the recent confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. This controversial topic drew mixed reactions, with both boos and cheers coming from the crowd.

20181010_185537

Kaitlyn Kozalla with Glenn Thompson, U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District.

In addition to hearing the president speak, I also had the once-in-a- lifetime opportunity to meet Jim Acosta, CNN’s Chief White House correspondent. As a right-wing conservative, I was impressed with the friendliness of this noted journalist from what most consider a liberal news outlet. I also met Glenn Thompson, U. S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District, who asked to have his picture taken with me. He mentioned that this was the first time he had requested to be photographed with any member of the press.

And in what was probably the most random and interesting thing to happen, I was approached by a Saegertown alumni who works for the Secret Service. The agent, upon seeing the Panther Press shirts my colleagues and I were wearing, presented us with commemorative secret service pins.

As the rally came to a close, I was not disappointed. Covering the president’s visit to Erie as a student journalist was a positive and exhilarating experience.

Column: President Trump stops in Erie to ‘Make America Great’

By Dustin Steiger, arts and entertainment editor

(Note: This is the first in a three-part series on the Trump rally in Erie on Oct. 10. Columns by Taylor Munce and Kaitlyn Kozalla will be published Thursday and Friday of this week.)

When I got into my car after school last Wednesday and headed towards Erie for President Trump’s rally, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how large the crowds would be, how fiercely the protestors would oppose, or how ecstatically the supporters would cheer. I didn’t know what our great President Donald Trump would say or what he’d do. I didn’t know if he’d leave with a rallying cry and thundering applause echoing from the stands or if he’d leave with a defiant resistance booing him off the stage.

There were a lot of unknowns tumbling through my mind as I headed into Erie. But by the day’s end, I wasn’t disappointed.

One of the first things I noticed as I arrived was the massive line that stretched out from the doors of the arena. Thousands of supporters stood there, with miscellaneous vendors selling Presidential apparel to the eagerly awaiting crowds. Protestors stood around sporadically, holding signs with sayings such as “Super-Callous-Fascist-Racist-Sexist-Braggadocious” and growling at Trump supporters, such as my colleague Kaitlyn Kozalla. Though we wanted to look around, we didn’t have time to see the sights. We were there to work.

We were handed our official press passes by security and led through the building to our specified area, a fenced-off section for registered journalists and other important guests. There were news anchors dressed in suits and ties, security guards, massive camera crews, and the whole nine yards. As far as I could tell, we were the only high school journalists in attendance. There we sat, with journalists from notable news outlets such as CNN, The Washington Post, and FOX NEWS mingling and working all around us. Although I did notice a few college journalists, one thing was certain: we were the odd-ones-out.

We still had quite a while to wait before Trump gave his speech. It was only five, and Trump was to speak at seven, so I had time to get some interviews.

Zachariah Lofgren, a high school junior from General McLane, was eager to see President Trump. “I would say Trump has made a positive impact in society,” he told me. “He is strong and stands up for the American people in the world and in the country itself. He is smart and knows how to keep America safe and build the economy.”

IMG_8027.jpg

Dustin Steiger, The Panther Press with Paul Farhi, The Washington Post

Possibly the most impressive conversation I had at the rally was with Paul Farhi, a journalist for The Washington Post. “He [Trump] knows how to get the crowd going,” Farhi said. “There’s always this sort of call and response like you hear in church.” He cited Trump’s campaign against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, and how even now people love to shout “Lock her up!” “It’s formulaic,” he explained, “but they eat it up. These people love him, and he gives it back to them.”

A short time later, an excited roar filled the stadium, and I knew that the president had arrived. He talked about a wide range of subjects, covering everything from Kavanaugh to coal to “Crooked Hillary” (at the mere mention of her name, there arose from the crowd a nearly unanimous “boo,” just like Paul Farhi had predicted). The midterm elections were something he discussed with fervor, encouraging the people to vote Republican. He mentioned the drop in taxes and how it has improved the lives of the American people.  Then he talked about the massive drop in the unemployment rate since he took office. He also expressed his concern about the dreaded Hurricane Michael with a moment of silence before continuing.

“This has been the greatest revolution ever to take place in our country,” President Trump said. “This election is about keeping America safe… strong… proud… and free.”

It was inspiring. You could see it in the crowds, an admiration for the most influential man in the country, and most likely in the world. There was no restraint or fear in President Trump’s voice. He didn’t hold back. His words struck at the arguments of his opposition, his influence radiant with his promises and power.

“We will never give in,” he told us. “We will never give up, we will never back down, and we will never surrender, and we will always fight for victory. Because we are Americans. And our hearts bleed red, white, and blue.”

And, just like that, the speech was over. His final words echoed in my ears as he left. It all seemed so short in hindsight, though there was no denying the impact he had on those in attendance.

Our president has made an evident and positive change in America. He has provided for the people by offering them protection and bolstering the booming economy. He has enforced laws that have been ignored for so long and has expounded on them, working to make our country great. He has moved our nation’s money back to where it belongs- the pockets of the people- and, according to promiseskept.com, he “removed the red tape” that has held our country back. He’s kept his word, and, with any luck, he will continue to keep America great.

Overall, it was an incredible experience. We heard viewpoints from all over the country and all over the political spectrum, standing beside nationally acclaimed journalists and listening to the words of our powerful and prominent president. Our president showed us who he truly is at the rally; he’s a Titan, a powerful and influential force standing for justice, rallying for prosperity, and fighting for a better America.

Above: Taylor Munce, Dustin Steiger, and Kaitlyn Kozalla. 

Stachuletz Stories: Wel-‘Cone’ to school – a German tradition for elementary kids

by Paula Stachuletz, staff writer

The “school cone” is a German tradition based on a story that children were told back in the 19th century. According to the story, teachers owned a school cone tree; and when the cones had grown big enough, it was time for the six or seven year olds to start school. Every child was handed his or her own cone as a sign that they now were “big kids,” not kindergarten children anymore.

School cones come in various shapes and sizes, but the most common ones are a little smaller than an average first-grade student. In the federal states that belonged to West Germany before the wall fell, the cones are usually round; while in East Germany, they are hexagonal. The big, open end is traditionally closed off with tulle which is tied together with colorful strings and ribbons. Parents usually spend between 50 and 100 Euros (60 – 120$) for a complete school cone.

The cones themselves are on sale a few weeks before the school year starts (depending on the federal state that can be around late July or August). They are made from cardboard or hard plastic and can be plain, uni-colored, or have pictures of animals, movie characters, fantasy creatures and cartoon figures on them. A lot of parents, like mine, actually buy plain cones and decorate them to make them more personalized for their children. In my case, my mom stayed up long nights turning my cardboard cone into a very cool one with a princess and red and pink flowers (I still have this cone and I love it). I wasn’t allowed to see it until the day my school induction ceremony took place, and even then I couldn’t open it until that event was over – I’m telling you, for a six-year-old, that seemed to take forever!

Traditionally, all the children starting school get dressed up very fancy on the day of the induction. For girls that’s usually cute dresses with bows in their hair. The boys wear a shirt, dress pants, and a flie or little tie. Then the ceremony starts with a welcome program prepared by the fourth-graders because in German elementary schools, they’re the oldest and will leave for highschool when they enter fifth grade, so it’s their goodbye and welcome for the new students at the same time. The program varies every year and at every school; it contains songs, dances, little theater performances, and speeches from teachers and the principal.

Then the newcomers line up on stage and get their cones. Because of the myth of the “school cone tree,” all the cones are hanging from a metal construction resembling a tree, and they’re “harvested” by the teachers who hand them to the kids. After that, the children are split up in the classes in which they will remain until they leave elementary school.

And of course, the cones aren’t empty. After the ceremony, children return home with their families, open the tulle, and turn the thing around so everything falls out. The cones are filled with candy, school supplies like pens or erasers, little card games or puzzles, legos, and stuffed animals. Some parents put in practical supplies like lunch boxes, water bottles, or watches, while others give their kids little books and quiz games to motivate them to learn. I remember that my cone had a big plush unicorn on top, and my little brother’s had a rabbit. We both got lots of chocolate and gummy bears, memory cards, plastic animals, CDs, and pencils.

We raided through the contents of our cones, eating way too much candy and covering the whole room in wrapping papers and string. It was so much fun. For me, the cone is one of the most exciting things about starting school in Germany.

(Stachuletz is an exchange student from Germany. She can be reached at pastachuletz@psdmail.org.)

Note on photos above: To the left is Paula’s brother’s cone, in the middle is Paula’s cone, and to the right is her school’s cone tree.