I’d had a day. Not a bad one, not exactly. Some really good things had happened that day: half a dozen great kids helped with a project to celebrate our school’s history, we played a song to start the day performed by a current student which was an unexpected delight, and an alum visited campus and gave me an exquisite two panel oil painting of a dead rat. But it was also a day when I got to meet some very nice paramedics, had a staff meeting with lots of honesty and an unexpected and gut-punching turn, and ended the evening with a couple of concerned emails from folks who had been given inaccurate information that led them to feeling more than a little frustrated. All in all, by the time I got home I felt a little like that rat.
Sleep eluded me, and I found myself at my desk very, very, very early the next morning preparing what needed to be done for the day. Once the emails were returned, a plan was set for some work with students, and the day’s to-do list whittled down to items that couldn’t be accomplished alone in a predawn schoolhouse, I spotted a stack of papers from a turn I’d taken in a 6th grade classroom.
I do my best to teach a bit every year, mostly English (my bread and butter for a dozen years) or art (another subject I taught a bit), and to start this week I had an opportunity to step in front of a Wellness class in our 6th grade wheel. My usual topic with this group is community and kindness, and I led with those topics, but as the 90 minutes progressed, I wanted to get the kids thinking about our upcoming move (as the school is razed and rebuilt) and the things that they love about our school and want to be sure we work hard to keep alive, even as we’re off site for a couple of years.
For this part of the lesson I asked them to warm up by listing three words that describe our school.
The responses were wonderful.
…and not too unexpected.
I asked what students wanted to be sure to remember about our current building, a structure that was built as an elementary school in 1949 and has been the home to our school since its opening in 1992.
The beautiful artwork on the walls. It inspires me!
The cafeteria, because it’s a fun space.
The light up hallway. I don’t know why, but the strings of lights always make me joyful.
The library. Because, library.
I showed them some of the posters we’ve been making of the murals, talked about working with a couple of the original muralists to get new work, and the ways we were planning to keep that student art alive in our hallways. We discussed the things we could bring with us, and have again when we got back: the lights, the library, the hanging art.
An idea for a quilt of sorts came up, and by the end of the day we started the planning for it.
But as I sat at my desk, a cup of coffee (and a long day) in front of me, what caught my attention was the top sheet of paper and the student’s answer to my question: “What do people not know about your school?”
Written on an index card, this student had captured beautifully why we do what we do.
“What people don’t know about my school is that everyone is so nice to you. Instead of thinking of people as classmates or teachers, I think of them as family.”
Family: imperfect, forgiving, kind, and worth working hard for.
The stressful meeting, the emails, the challenges to be overcome, those all eased a bit as I read her card. With a lot of stress in the world, there are times when “nice” is harder to come by than others, but like a family we do want the best for each other and are willing to invest the energy, emotion, and work into making it so.
I started reading through the other papers.
What people don’t know about my school is that there are counselors that help you.
What people don’t know about my school is that there are quite a few people here who are LGBTQ+ and they get treated like perfectly normal human beings.
What people don’t know about my school is that we have math every OTHER day.
What people don’t know about my school is that you can talk to anyone and feel liked by random strangers.
The list went on, and I found myself moved by the honesty and unexpected perspectives on our little school. We are not perfect; no place is, but we care deeply, we allow ourselves to feel emotions (good and bad), and in our hearts (and large those hearts are) we are committed to supporting one another as best we can.
What do people not know about my school? That we’re family.