Yesterday, I knocked out one of my goals for 2013. I volunteered to spend a day at Elliott's school as part of the Watch D.O.G.S (dads of great students) program. The program encourages men to volunteer their time to get involved with and enhance the educational environment of their local schools. When I signed up, I knew the school would appreciate my time, but my main goal was to demonstrate to Elliott that I value his efforts in school and that we are invested in him as a student. What I actually took away from the day was much more.
My morning started in a pre-school class. When I first saw this on my daily schedule I nearly aborted the whole mission. I am frankly not built to spend much time surrounded by pre-schoolers who are not my own, and with no more than two at a time even when they are my own - quite possibly the reason I stopped collecting children after our second one. But I'm going to tell you something magical went on in that class. The dozen or so children in there couldn't have been more excited to sing their pre-breakfast songs, and their teacher no less excited to sing and dance along. I knew I was sitting among 4 and 5 year olds who had possibly had rough evenings or rough starts to their days. But every one of them was smiling, if not giggling. In each of them you could see the hope you'd like to think lives in all children. And it didn't take long to determine their teachers, for that time, were the sole source of that hope.
I then went to spend time in Elliott's kindergarten class. There's nothing like walking into your child's room when you know he thinks he has the best dad in the world, and for the next hour he gets to feel like his friends will come to believe that as well. I doubt they did, but Elliott will never believe that. I'm not sure I'd want him to.
Katie and I had already had enough interaction with Elliott's teacher to know she is awesome. She has kept us continually informed of Elliott's progress and needs, and has more than demonstrated that she cares about him. There is one thing more encouraging, though, than discovering how much your child's teacher cares about him. It's witnessing for yourself that she cares that much about all of her students. I left my time with her amazed that she could engage so many different students at once, and how secure each of those kindergartners seemed to feel as a result.
Then it was on to two hours of lunch room monitoring. I was warned ahead of time this particular duty could result in sensory overload. When hearing that, I quickly multiplied our evening dinner table by a hundred or so and decided, yes, sensory overload could be a real possibility. And it was. But it was also very cool. I had some memorable conversations with young people who are never shy about telling you their life stories. I watched as adult after adult tended to young people struggling to open various containers of their lunches, which is no small feat considering that almost everything made today is packaged to prevent children even the remote chance of opening it. And I saw the principal and assistant principal spend time laughing with kids. Listening to kids. Reassuring kids they were in a safe and healthy environment. The bad thing about the lunch was that it had the chaos of my own dinner table. The good thing is that it had the same feel of family to it.
After lunch I spent time with a group of students working on math. Fractions at that. I was shocked to hear their teacher teaching elementary school students about "parts of the whole" with this insane sense of confidence that they understood a single word she was saying. To further demonstrate her insanity, she left me in charge of 6 of them to play a fractions-based math game. My fractions days disappeared with the arrival of the calculator. It didn't matter, though. These students understood her. They knew their wholes. And their parts. And that the parts of the wholes were fractions. Not only did kids at the school feel safe and cared for, they were learning. They were learning from teachers who still believe in kids' abilities to learn, and have no problem challenging them to do so.
My day ended up in an art class with another kindergarten class. The art teacher had them shredding leftover construction paper from a previous project to be used in a future project. She started the class by asking them if it would be better to just throw the paper away, or try to recycle it by using it in a new project. The kids were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to be young conservationists. The teacher then demonstrated how to soak shredded paper in water and then run it through a blender to make pulp. What teacher doesn't love the opportunity to have kids squealing for the their turn to stick their hands deep into a tub of bright green paper pulp? Those same kids making sure the watch dog had a chance to do the same. Enjoying his squeal as much as their own.
In many ways yesterday touched my heart, but more than that, I learned that for all we hear about what is broken in our education system, much of which I personally believe to be true, there is still so much right about it. There are still adults out there who teach not primarily because they love to teach, but because they love our kids. A parents dream is that when their children are not with them, they are in the presence of adults who believe in their potential as much as their parents do. I witnessed that in every corner of Elliott's school yesterday.
I encourage anyone who gets discouraged by the tone of the world, which is often negative and void of hope, to go spend some time at your local elementary school. I hope you'll be moved by the hope of the children there, and the adults who instill it. I know I was.
THE WALL OF FAME PHOTO TAKEN OF ELLIOTT AND I YESTERDAY