Adrift

There’s something American about “lighting out” when the summer sun begins to really shine. Maybe it’s the English teacher in me who thinks of Huck and Jim on the raft, or the guy who likes to read history thinking about life in the US a couple of hundred years ago and what it must have been like to head west where the map hadn’t yet been filled in.

Summer, it seems, is a time for travel, for trying new things, and spending time gobbling up experiences, as Wordsworth described it: “…not only with the sense/Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts/That in this moment there is life and food/For future years.”

I had a series of these moments this week when my wife, kids, and I traveled up the highway to the Huntington Museum and Magic Mountain; one destination for the adults and one for the kids. As a lifelong educator, I’d thought that I might be able to squeeze a little appreciation of the Huntington Gardens from my six year old, and a contemplative nod from my nine year old as he looked at oil paintings from a century past. As reality would have it, the biggest takeaway I got with regard to education came when I was upside down on the Revolution rollercoaster.

As the teenaged attendant lowered the shoulder harness over my shoulders, I looked over and saw how huge my nine year old’s eyes had gotten. Up until this moment his most thrilling ride had been the whirly swings at the Del Mar Fair; he was about to travel out of his comfort zone. Of course he’d been the one to prompt the ride, all spirit and sense of possibility, curious about what might happen, a little nervous, but not willing to admit it.

The Revolution is tucked amid trees, so without riding it, it’s tough to get a sense of just how big it is. I looked through the shoulder harness and caught his eye, asking if he was ready for this, knowing it was too late if he wasn’t. He nodded, always game, and I thought about his willingness to suspend disbelief. Actually, what I thought about was how much the best lessons in school are like a rollercoaster tucked inside a grove of trees.

When things are getting interesting in a classroom we’re on our way out of our comfort zone. We’re safe, the metaphoric shoulder harnesses of norms and routines keeping us from flying out of the car, but we’re not complacent. We’re curious about what will happen, maybe a little nervous about what twists and turns we’ll see, and maybe won’t see coming. We’re prepared to lose our stomach as we plunge over the edge of not knowing, and it’s only in these rushes and rolls that we feel the exhilaration of really learning. We’ll get turned upside down on occasion; we all need to be a little upturned from time to time, and if all goes well we’ll gain our equilibrium again at the end.

The Revolution lurched forward and we climbed the first hill. I couldn’t hold Elliott’s hand; he didn’t need me to. We paused briefly at the top and then hurtled forward, screaming and smiling, him growing up just a little, me growing just a little younger (if only for a few minutes).

My younger son screamed too, at the Huntington Museum, as we were looking at 19th century oil paintings. He’d had enough, and wanted to let me know that he’d prefer a cold drink and some french fries to another minute with George Caleb Bingham’s “Mississippi Raftsmen at Cards.” It was another reminder that even as we help students broaden their comfort zones, we’re wise to do it in ways that acknowledges who they are. Henry is not an art aficionado. At least not at six.

So I snapped a photo, looked one more time at the four men on the raft in the painting, and headed into the sunlight. As I strive to become a better teacher (and all dads are teachers), I’ll do well to enjoy my oldest’s sense of adventure and willingness to try new things just as much as I appreciate my youngest’s understanding of what it means to “light out” for freedom.

They’re lessons I hope to bring to my work this fall, as I strive to contribute to a community that values students’ interests, encourages challenging comfort zones, and is willing at times to turn learning upside down. For the next few weeks, however, I hope to be like those fellows on Bingham’s raft, drifting lazily down the river of summer, to land renewed when returning home.

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Mindset

I’d heard about mindsets, read articles, attended workshops. Friends who are educators had talked with me about Carol Dweck’s work, and I’d bobbed my head. My wife, her masters degree in psychology, had discussed the importance of the ideas Dweck put forth in her book “Mindset” (especially when I’d experienced setbacks and was glooming my way around the house). I thought I’d heard; I know I’d nodded, and I believed I had a pretty good idea about the importance of bringing a “Growth Mindset” to my life and work. Then this summer, on the doorstep of a new principal job, I made it a project to add “Mindset” to my summer reading list. Finally I started to listen.

This notion of “Fixed” and “Growth” mindsets, that had been buzzing in the air around me for almost a decade finally landed on my nose and began a conversation. In Dweck’s short book (perfect for July, the educator’s month for reading) I saw both a clear explanation of these two ways of engaging in the world and great examples that brought the importance of acting mindfully (as an educator and as a parent) home.

In the “Growth Mindset” I recognized some of the people I admire: a student who delivered his graduation speech on his journey to the US from a small village in Columbia, learning English as a third language, after Spanish and his own native dialect; a football player I coached who lacked the initial physical ability he needed to start on the team, but worked hard and learned from his struggles, ending up a very good player; and a student who took the Beginning Drawing class I taught, doubting her abilities until she saw progress, then progressing beyond the rest of the class as she realized how much she loved putting pencil to paper. These students had inspired me, and as I saw a way to look at the common denominator of “Growth Mindset” (with a focus on learning from mistakes and embracing adversity as a way to get better), I realized how important it is to cultivate this way of engaging with the world both in myself and in my school.

These students were not deterred by failing. They were not demoralized by not getting things right. Instead, all three, like so many whose lives are made richer because of their perseverance and positive attitude, stuck to the belief that they could improve, they would make progress, and they would not be defined by setback. We sometimes say that “all children can learn,” but these students lived it. Dweck’s examples are fantastic, but these students brought “Growth Mindset” to life for me.

I also clearly saw the “Fixed Mindset” (viewing challenges as threatening and failures as catastrophic) and recognized more of this in me than I’d like to admit. As a student, an athlete, and a young teacher, I worked hard, but felt like things either came easy or were tragic failures. I believed that I was able to succeed not because of the work I put in, but because I was somehow simply a good student, a good athlete, a good teacher, and that when I wasn’t successful the cost was more than a low grade, a strikeout, or a lousy lesson plan; I felt like the failures were me.

This, coupled with an upbringing filled with more love than responsibility, helped to foster in me a way of looking at the world that made challenges tough. And challenges always come.

In the face of those challenges, I’m fortunate to have great support, a wise wife, and enough brains to realize that the best way to succeed was to stick to it, whatever it is, and not lose hope. As a person who strives for optimism and wants to continue to learn, “Mindset” reminded me to stay focused on engagement, not the fear of failure, and learning, not the measurement of success. I think I’ve gotten better about this as I’ve gotten older, and know I want to continue to grow as I move forward as a parent and a professional. A “Growth Mindset” is something I can choose.

Reading Dweck’s book was also a nice reminder of how important it can be to go back to the source of things. The discussion of mindsets had been going on all around me, but it wasn’t until I made the time to pick up what she’d written that I really got it. I know many folks reading this will have already read her book, but for any like me who thought the summary was enough, I encourage you to spend the time to read “Mindset” and see if you feel the same inspiration I do.

I am inspired, and now feel compelled to take the student-supporting work back to my school.

The challenge, as I relate it to the work I do, is to collaborate with the teachers, parents, students, and staff at my school to create a culture that goes beyond talking about “Growth Mindset” and rolls up its sleeves and actually gets to work. As we learn together we foster this way of thinking. As we prepare for life (not just tests) and view the education process as more than a series of exercises and exams, we grow. And as we recognize that we all can get better when we’re held to high standards and supported to reach those rigorous goals, we bring out the best in education.

I’ve got a lot to learn about what this looks like every day, but I’m fortunate to work with some pretty great people (some of whom will be getting a copy of “Mindset” as a gift in the very near future), and I’m ready to learn from both successes and failures along the way. Dweck describes the culture created by a “Growth Mindset” as “an inclusive, learning-filled, rollicking journey.” There’s a freedom in that, and one that I look forward to bringing from my beach reading in July to my work in the fall.

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The Road to Diegueño 

photo 1Bob Hope and Bing Crosby riding a camel across the sound-stage desert couldn’t be having a better time that Assistant Principal Corey Bess and I are as we prepare for the opening of school. It’s a busy time, not unlike a 1940s “road to” picture, full of big plans, friendly faces, and the exotic landscape of a campus under construction. All we need now is Dorothy Lamour.

Actually what we’re both most ready to see are our students. A school without students is a library with no books, a rodeo without broncos, an ocean without waves. Kids bring life to campus, their spontaneity and curiosity the spark that lights the fire of education. And right now, with a quad filled with hardhats and heavy machinery, what we have as inspiration is simply the anticipation of the start of the year. It’s just over the next set of dunes.

In just a few weeks the summer construction dust will clear and we’ll be welcoming students and teachers back home to a revitalized campus. Folks will still recognize it as Diegueño, but they’ll see wider walkways, a smart new entrance, and a media center that will be the envy of the district. Among the people who will be enjoying this space will be a host of new teachers, bringing their enthusiasm and love of working with students to their new school. Across the curriculum in art, math, special education, English, science, Spanish, and physical education we’re looking forward to welcoming new faces to our Diegueño family.

Corey and I are planning now for the great work to come. Our plates will be full as we dedicate energy to helping kids thrive, teachers innovate, and parents stay connected. We’re still on that proverbial camel right now, traveling through the desert with a song, but as in any road to picture, we know our real destination; at the end of the journey we end up safe at home.

 

After some gentle kidding, a friend convinced me that for the younger folks, who may never have seen a “road to” picture or know Bing Crosby beyond a holiday album (or Bob Hope at all), I ought to provide a clip of something for perspective. I find it impossible not to want to sing along to: Road to Morocco

“Here I am…”

JustinI visited a friend this spring, Justin. Before I moved to Encinitas, he and I served two years together as assistant principals in the bay area. He’s a middle school principal now, and a good one. I stayed at his house over a weekend, and after two days of talking shop (to the curious head tilting of his understanding wife), I had an opportunity to visit his school before I flew home on Monday morning. Here I was reminded of how important it is to have friends who are heroes.

Justin’s school is about the size of my own, tucked in a neighborhood as Diegueño is, and filled with a spirit of opportunity. Their school mascot is the Scorpions, and a measure of Justin’s kindness and patience was his chuckle when I suggested (knowing the swirl of emotions middle school students are subject to) he might change the alma mater to “Rock You Like A Hurricane.” No, he told me patiently; the students don’t know that flavor of rock and roll, but he was looking for a font that would remind teachers of the band as he was designing that year’s staff shirts.

Yearly shirts were the first step he took before the school year began to reinforce community at his school. Next came the important work of collaborating with teachers to develop a climate of caring and rigor, made manifest in everything from the ubiquitous college pennants to the placement of technology near every quad on campus. From what they wore to what they did together, the adults at his school supported student success.

But beyond the infrastructure it was Justin’s infectious optimism and passion for helping that made my morning so inspiring. As I followed him around campus, his face lit up when he talked about specific student stories: here’s where his ASB students painted a mural. Here’s where his 8th graders organized a charity basketball game. Here’s where he saw a student start a campaign against bullying.

I’d always known him to be the administrator who knew his students’ names, and even more their stories, and as I walked with Justin around the school, seeing him so enthusiastic about the work he and his staff were doing, I found myself getting more and more excited about the start of school. More than trying to be a hero to anyone himself, Justin saw heroism in his kids. By keeping a vision of his students filled with potential, he set them up for great things. In education we talk about “growth mindsets” (and we should); in Justin I saw that talk realized: he knows his students can do great things, and he’s there to support them and cheer them on.

A few weeks later, on the eve of 8th grade promotion, Justin texted me a video. It showed his 8th grade class practicing an elaborate wave (side to side, front to back, back to front) in their seats, and I could picture how much fun their promotion ceremony would be. Their smiling faces suggested that they knew they’d do well in high school, and they knew their principal was proud of them. He was.

As we move through life it’s vital that we choose our friends wisely, and seek to inspire them as they inspire us. My visit with Justin, and especially the tour of his school reminded me of the importance of surrounding ourselves with people we respect and can learn from, people who love what they do and make us better. As we prepare for the fall and the start of school, I look forward to that feeling of excitement that I saw in Justin’s face. I’ve ordered the staff shirts. I’ve talked with teachers. I look forward to getting to know my students’ names, to watching them try new things and make the memories I’ll tell Justin about when I get to show him Diegueño. And I hope he’ll feel as inspired as I did, rocked, like a hurricane.

Hammer Time

roofThe kids are at the beach; the teachers are on their way to vacations, good books, and (for some) even conferences. Administrators are around, wrapping up loose ends and watching construction crews descend on our campuses, their job beginning as our school year ends. It’s a topsy-turvy time, the quiet of a school without students juxtaposed with the growl of heavy machinery and the rattle of pneumatic drills.

By the time the kids get back in August campus will look very different. Here at Diegueño Proposition AA funds are transforming our media center into a state of the art learning space. Flexible, technology rich, and student friendly, our library will provide Diegueño with an academic heart of campus.

Along with huge upgrades to our technology infrastructure –literally 100 times improved wireless and the capacity for all our students to access the technology they need to learn– the media center project is the largest improvement ever seen at our almost thirty year old campus.

This summer’s improvements are part of a multi-year vision for Diegueño, and as with any construction project, ours is a collaboration. To watch our architect, contractors, suppliers, and district personnel work together inspires me. This coordinated effort to achieve meaningful results is a real-life example of the best of education at work.

I see in our architect the person our math and science focused students might become. Planning, communicating, and articulating a vision for the space, our architect shows what can happen when Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs are enriched with a pinch of the arts (some call this STEAM), and a student translated her learning into a career she loves.

Grounded and gruff, I see in my project foreman the adult version of the organized ASB student who takes big ideas and transforms them into brick and mortar reality. Just as a jog-a-thon or school dance can’t happen without someone to stay centered and mind the details, so too our big school improvement projects happen only when someone coordinates the many moving parts.

Schools, of course, are like this, and while we don’t see students ripping out drywall or climbing tress with chainsaws, the collaborative nature of a project like ours, with the planning, producing, and problem solving is increasingly what education is all about. No one at our weekly construction meetings is showing off how many state capitals he’s memorized or how well she can do long division; the measure of success is the ability to work together, adapt to unexpected challenges, and create something of consequence.

That consequential result will be on display for all when school starts up in the fall. Until then I’m blessed with a catbird seat for great collaboration, and a reminder of how important it is for us to raise kids who are able to work together, think, adapt, and produce results. I’m excited to see Diegueño students learn those skills in our new media center, and they won’t even need to wear hard hats.

A Dozen Years

AdileneMy grandniece Adilene was born twelve days ago. In a dozen years she’ll enter middle school. And as I held her this weekend, a nine pound bundle of yawns and blinking brown eyes, it was hard not to think about the amazing changes she’ll see in our world. As an educator, and one who tries to create a space for relevancy and innovation, I wonder what will be relevant for her as she prepares for 7th grade, and what new ideas she’ll bring to a world I can hardly imagine.

A dozen years ago I didn’t have a cell phone; today the phone I carry is more powerful than the PC that sat on my desktop in 2002. A dozen years ago I couldn’t project from that PC in my classroom, the video clips I showed were on VHS, and my students still researched using books. At least sometimes.

A dozen years ago I kept my gradebook with a ballpoint pen, my school began taking attendance on the computer, and I felt progressive keeping a website that I updated (maybe) monthly. The kids used email. Powerpoint was fresh. For my unit on “The 20th Century through the lens of Sinatra” (itself a likely topic of a future post) I distributed cassette tapes, and students could play them in their cars.

And now, cradling this newborn and smiling up as my niece took our photo with her phone and texted it to me to post online, I looked around at world so different than it has ever been, and I thought…

A dozen years from now what will a twelve year old Adilene be learning in school? What will her phone look like? Will it even be a phone? Will she sit in a desk in a row? Will she have desks? Will she memorize state capitals? Dissect frogs? Do long division?

A dozen years from now how will she communicate with her peers? Her parents? The world?

A dozen years from now will terms like “apps” and “bandwidth” seem out of date? Will the word “laptop” feel quaint? Will “Instagram” and “Twitter” be to her what “Mimeograph” and “Atari” are today?

A dozen years from now what technology will she be comfortable with (that scares some of those of my generation to death)? Will I be one of the ones who is scared? Will her teachers? Her principal? Her school?

A dozen years from now what lessons will her generation have learned from my generation’s mistakes, and from the mistakes of the students twelve years old today? Some of today’s twelve year olds may be her middle school teachers. How are we preparing them today to prepare Adilene for her tomorrow?

I’ll be almost sixty a dozen years from today, and the world will look a lot different to me than it will to Adilene. But I hope we’ll both be optimistic and excited about the future. And the present. I hope we’ll both be at schools that value the important stuff: respect, kindness, and a love of learning, and that we’ll both be able to see that technology (whether it’s a VCR or jet pack) is really just a tool in service of something greater.

A dozen years from now I hope my grandniece will remind me to stay young at heart (though I’d be naïve to imagine it will be a message delivered in a way as antiquated as an email, tweet, or text). And I hope that I’ll be able to remind her (probably in a quiet voice over whatever phone she uses) that “all will be well.”

There are few experiences as moving as holding a newborn baby, especially one you know you’ll have an opportunity to love for decades to come. And I know that dozen years I thought about as I watched her yawn will disappear in a heartbeat and she’ll be on the cusp of her own middle school experience, wondering perhaps how different her world will be when she’s through high school and college and about to begin life as an adult – in another dozen years.

Going to Middle School

To say that I’m excited understates it. I’m giddy. Ready. As my grandmother liked to say “Rarin’ to go!” When I found out that I would have the opportunity to be the next principal at Diegueño Middle School my heart leapt. After five fantastic years at La Costa Canyon High, the chance to grow professionally, to engage with another great school staff, with involved parents, and with enthusiastic students has me over the moon.

I took this excitement to my parents’ house, excited to share the news, and I spotted something that added a new perspective to the salmagundi of emotions I was already feeling: a school photo of me as I was going into 7th grade. Of course I look ridiculous. It appears that my mother might have chosen the wide collared orange shirt I’m wearing with a mind to matching my poorly combed hair. I’d like to believe that a certain confidence lurks behind those twelve year old eyes, but I suspect it’s just the usual uncertainty all incoming 7th graders feel, or at best a false sense that middle school would be just like 6th grade.

And as I looked at that photograph, I realized that my current excitement is familiar. Just like that 12 year old, I’m looking forward to making new friends, to finding teachers I love and staff members I connect with. I’m looking forward to being a part of a new school family, of learning, of fun school activities, and of pushing myself to grow. This time around I bring the perspective of being a dad who has raised a middle school student. I’ve seen first-hand how important those two years are. Middle school is not a layover between elementary and high school; it is a vital time to learn skills, set habits, and make meaningful connections that have a hand in setting the trajectory of a person’s life. The dippy kid in the orange plaid shirt didn’t know that. At twelve I was just worried aphoto (3)bout remembering my locker combination and not falling down in front of girls. There’s still a bit of that in me today, but there is also the understanding of the importance for us to be a school family, teachers, parents, and staff working together to help all our kids thrive.

We are the people who will make our students’ middle school years memorable. We are the adults who will hold them to high standards, model kindness and caring, and join them in learning and laughter. My wife, who is my best friend and far wiser than me, offered me this advice: “Bjorn,” she said, “have fun.” It echoed the advice my folks gave me when they dropped me off at Parrish Junior High a lifetime ago. And knowing my own younger kids, now nine and five years old, it’s what I’ll probably say to them when they start 7th grade. We learn best when we love what we’re doing and where we are, and just as I set priorities around building community, engaging students in rigorous learning, and being a good steward of Proposition AA construction, so too I hear those words of wisdom in my ears.

So with just 99 days until the first day of classes at Diegueño, I’m looking forward to meeting students, and parents, and staff. I’m looking forward to being in classrooms, and maybe even seeing if an English teacher will let me do a mini-lesson on Jack London. I’m looking forward to spirit weeks, talking with students when I’m out at lunchtime, and events in Cougar Hall. Like the twelve year old I was, I’m excited to start school!

“MAVS 4 LIFE”

photo (2)It’s just a key chain. Given to me years ago by someone in our LCC Parent Foundation, bronze and black, the size of a half dollar, with the familiar cow head logo surrounded by the phrase “MAVS 4 LIFE,” it hangs on the bulletin board above my computer and reminds me that wherever I go the experiences I’ve had at La Costa Canyon High School travel with me.

I’ve been looking at the key chain this morning with a bit more emotion, because this June I’ll end my half decade as an administrator at LCC and start a new adventure as principal of Diegueño Middle School. I’m excited about the opportunity, but even as I plan, get to know new people, and prepare for the transition, I find the perspective I bring to the enterprise is that of a maverick.

Being at LCC has taught me much, almost all of it the result of honest and real connections to the students, teachers, parents, and staff that make up our Maverick Family. I’ve been blessed to work shoulder to shoulder with teachers I admire, parents who care, and students whose youthful exuberance knows no bounds.

I’ve been inspired by the power of kindness I’ve seen, most recently with students volunteering to help when LCC was made a Red Cross Shelter for those displaced by wildfires, and throughout my time at LCC in both big ways and small. I’ve been proud to work at a school with a strong Best Buddies program, a vibrant GSA, and a stable of clubs that do work that makes a difference. I’ve found joy in watching our ASB students create events simply to inspire fun and connections between people at the school, and seen teachers echo that sentiment as they build activities to help build community at LCC.

LCC has been my home, a place that has challenged and renewed me. Education can be a rough and tumble world sometimes; we’re in the business of being human after all. And more than once I’ve been presented situations whose solutions were beyond what I could manage alone. The student in crisis, the emergency on campus, the challenge of a miscommunication in need of sorting out. Over and over again in these times the team of professionals around me stepped in to find a way to make things right. I’m convinced that LCC is as strong as its people working together. And that’s strong.

I’m faced now with the emotional challenge of saying goodbye to this school family I’ve grown so close to, and as much as I look forward to starting at Diegueño, I know that before I step onto that new campus I’m first going face to face with one last challenge: Goodbye.

I’m like a senior on the brink of graduation, but with the knowledge of what it is to be an alumnus, and the understanding of how precious the time is I have left at LCC. This is my last LCC prom, my last band concert, my last MAV Awards. I know myself well enough to know that I’ll get emotional on the Senior Boat Dance. And even more, I know that the memories of all of this, the memories of the people I work with, the Maverick Family I’ve been a part of, are quite simply a defining part of who I am both professionally and personally.

Truth be told, MAVS 4 LIFE is more than a key chain; LCC is a state of mind.

Tomorrow

Hundreds of car keys jingling on their rings filled the auditorium with the noise of impatient teenagers. Graduation rehearsal had gone long, longer than we thought it should anyway, and the North Salem High School class of 1987 had had enough.

In a few minutes I’ll walk down to our practice for tomorrow’s commencement ceremony and be on the other end of those rattling keys. Truth be told, the students at La Costa Canyon aren’t key jinglers.  Sure many are ready to move on, at 17 that’s a healthy state of mind, but more than most are kinder than the world at large would expect. These are the kids who say “thank you” to administrators as they leave dances, who reach out to each other to offer support, and who are much more likely to start taking selfies during lulls in graduation rehearsal than try to make some kind of subversive key related statement. These are students who provide hope.

Then again, graduation rehearsal looks different than it did a lifetime ago when I was in the audience. Committed to brevity and frighteningly well organized, the commencement ceremony moves almost five hundred students from the baseball field’s outfield grass to the stadium, provides several students speeches, student bands, and diplomas all in about an hour. This morning’s practice will simply ensure that students know how to make the trek into the stadium and up to the stage without incident. It’ll go well.

Last year’s only hitch, and perhaps my favorite part of the entire rehearsal, was a phone call from a neighbor asking us to turn the music down. At graduation practice we don’t actually play music; Mr. Van Over sings “Pomp and Circumstance” over the PA system. I’m hoping he sings again this morning!

And as Mr. Van Over belts out his song, I get to see a sliver of campus life that too few have the privilege to enjoy. Everyone packs into the stands to cheer graduates at commencement, but rehearsal is different. It’s at rehearsal that LCC grads, relaxed and unencumbered by mortarboards that fall off fancy hairdos or dress shoes that would rather be flip flops, sit together for a final time in the familiar comfort of each other’s company. No one has to perform. No one has to speak. No one has to do anything except enjoy each other’s company …and practice standing and sitting in unison, which (if we’re honest) shouldn’t be all that tough for a group who have done this well in school.

So provided no student reads this blog in the few minutes it’s up before we all head to the stadium this morning and gets a wild idea about jingling keys, I look forward to another kind of magical morning, my last with the class of 2014. I anticipate smiles and the hallmark kindness I’ve grown to expect from La Costa Canyon High students. I’m confident in the preparation that has been done, and I’m looking forward to a song. And when we finish graduation practice, I know I’ll have complete confidence that all will be well tomorrow.

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Boat Dance

To be honest, the notion of a high school dance on a Tuesday night seems like a bad idea. Dancing until eleven on a school night, and then driving home from San Diego doesn’t exactly sound like common sense. The kids, flushed with the energy of youth and fueled by the novelty of dinner and dancing afloat on Mission Bay, know that they’ll get to sleep in the next morning, and then come to campus to be fed pancakes and sausages by parent volunteers before filing in to watch the Senior Slide Show. The handful of chaperons – our ASB Director, and our three site administrators- wake up to a usual Wednesday morning. And yet…

The Senior Boat Dance has become, in my five years at LCC, one of my very favorite student events.

It may be that the event is only for seniors, and occurs when all find themselves in the emotional limbo of having finished finals but not yet participated in commencement. It may be because any senior can attend; tickets cost less than a half-tank of gas, and no one has to rent a tux. As likely is that the boat dance seems to perfectly capture the unexpected and slightly goofy nature of high school, a few hundred kids in semi-formal attire dancing on a sternwheeler.

Each June I feel a little like James Garner’s Maverick as I walk onto the boat and look up at the stained glass ceiling of the dining room. And each year I reflect that with the distractedness present at graduation rehearsal and the formality that comes when seniors all don caps and gowns, the night of the Boat Dance is the last time I’ll really get to see the students in the senior class in their natural environment.

Well, not quite natural.

While formal attire isn’t required, everyone cleans up a bit, and it’s in these button down shirts and casual dresses that I see a flicker of the young adults these students are becoming. Hair in place, but not sculpted, smiles present but not forced, these students (dressed as if ready for a job interview) stand on the cusp of great things …and dancing!

Actually there’s only one deck reserved for the DJ and dance floor. Above that is dinner and desserts amid a flotilla of tables where students linger to talk about the days gone by. Above that is the roof deck, where students lean on railings, look out over the bay, and reflect. I spend most of my night on this deck.

To see these thoughtful seventeen and eighteen year olds begin to understand the finality of the last week of high school is profound. I think they see that the era of wearing a Maverick sweatshirt or LCC shorts every day are almost over. High school will be supplanted by life, and even as the memories of LCC will travel with them,  the end of their high school voyage is as close as the riverboat returning to the dock.

Still, before it does we all enjoy an evening on the water under the stars. We see each other through the heart-softened eyes of the last week of school, we think about the memories built in four years together, and we can all almost forget that it’s really a Tuesday night.

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