Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How and Why Does Time Get Away?

School years fly by anymore. I thought it'd be so easy keeping up with this blog, but it's not. It slips to the back of my mind and then the old adage, "out of sight out of mind" is in full swing!


S is a student I taught almost three years ago. She's been through third grade twice and was retained somewhere else along the line. She's still plugging her way through Elementary School. It's hard for her. But she's always smiling.

Two weeks ago, she saw me in the cafeteria and she said, "Mrs. Nations, when you gonna get me some McDonalds and come eat with me?" I thought it was a strange request. I haven't even brought my own son McDonalds to eat with him. I stopped to talk to her more.

"S, why do you want me to bring you McDonalds?"

She replied, "Because I just want to eat with you. And I thought you could bring me something good to eat when we do."

With eyelashes batting and smile fully engaged, I couldn't resist her. "S, I promise I'll bring it. It's going to have to be in two weeks because I have meetings this week and part of next."

You would have thought I'd just handed the girl the $20,000 gold star from Kid Nation!

I reflected on it afterwards. It was kind of an "out of the blue" request. But somehow it seems important to her that we connect. If I really get honest and sift through all the reasons I'm in education today, that is the core reason: to connect with kids.

This is the week I have to go to McDonalds for her. It's the week she's been waiting for. So today when I saw her she said, "If I haven't had a good day, will you still bring me McDonalds?" I thought that was an interesting question.

I asked her, "How long have you known me? And what do you think the answer to that question is?" She told me that she knew that she had to behave to get the lunch.

Tomorrow I plan to bring her McDonalds for lunch. And I hope that somehow in the course of our conversation I have the chance to once again remind S just how special she is. I hope that she will take this insignificant act and store it in her memory bank so that one day she'll be able to say, "I remember when Mrs. Nations brought me lunch and we ate and talked together." And I hope that somehow in the course of a happy meal she feels connected. For then I will have done my job for that day.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

MOST Days I Like PB&J

I truly do like a good PB&J sandwich every now and then. I have my favorite peanut butter (Jif-Reduced Fat-Creamy) and my favorite jelly (Smuckers Grape). Add a nice cup of cold milk, and I am suddenly eight or nine or ten again.

But, around the second week of school, I really hate what the PB&J represents. You see, the school lunch program is a federally funded program. It is designed so that all children can get a well-balanced meal at lunch time (regardless of socio-economic status). Normally, an elementary school lunch consists of a "main dish", vegetable, fruit, and milk. Occasionally there is a roll or something thrown in there as well. On most days, I think they do a decent job of providing meals for our students.

But, on day seven of school, things CAN change for students. If you are a child who has a parent that neglected to fill out the application for free/reduced lunch OR you are a child of a parent who simply isn't responsible enough to hand you your lunch money, YOU are no longer "entitled" to the lunch that everyone else gets. Nope. YOU get PB&J. And for good measure, they'll add the milk! One sandwich and a milk.

Now, picture every five year old you've ever known. They're little. They have interesting thought processes. But the beginning of school is one GIANT training ground for them. Many of them think the people in the lunchroom are "giving" them a lunch everyday. In fact, these are the kids who genuinely LIKE their school lunches. They certainly have little or no understanding of "accounts" and paperwork and applications for free/reduced lunch. I'm not even sure they understand the "IOU" slip they get when they haven't paid. If English is not their first language (and many fall into this category), then they REALLY do not understand.

Add to this picture what I "got" to see and do today. For every child who fits in the category I described above, the scene goes like this.

1. Pick up my milk.
2. Tell the lady whether I want macaroni and cheese or a ham and cheese sandwich.
3. She adds carrots and a roll to my meal.
4. I get to pick out a fruit. I can choose from a banana, pineapple cup, or grapes. I choose grapes.
5. I go to the lady to pay and put in my PIN number.
6. The lady at the "money table" announces, "NOPE. You don't have any money left. You have to have peanut butter and jelly."
7. She picks up my tray and returns it to the first lady who gave me all the stuff to begin with.
8. She brings me a tray with ONE measly sandwich on it and smiles at me when she says, "Remind Mom to send money in with you tomorrow." And then she sends me to join my class while THEY eat mac&cheese and/or their ham&cheese sandwich.
9. While this was happening, one of my classmates is standing with their parent in line waiting to pay for their meals. The parent looks at the lunch lady with great pity because she knows SHE is not "like my family".

Can you imagine the devastation? Can you imagine the confusion? Can you imagine if that is the ONLY "real" meal that child will get today? Can you imagine what happens when a child has no "Mom" at home? Can you imagine what it feels like to be the "most" responsible person in your house and yet be shorter than everyone else and basically ignored?

Yes, MOST days, I like PB&J.

Today, however, is not one of them!

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Reflection on the New School Year...

We have just finished the first week of school. As most of you probably already know, I work in a school that services some of our most needy students. And along with needy students, occasionally, come needy parents (or guardians). One of my "other" duties is Parent Drop-Off and Pick-Up. Now I LOVE this part of my job! I get to talk to parents and grandparents every single day. And some I have connected with over the years. It also gives me a glimpse into their worlds. In some cases children are living in their cars. In others, their cars are chaotic reflections of what their homes must be.

This week, a few "truths" have popped back into my mind via my contact with parents and students:

They are NOT keeping their smartest kids at home!
No matter how chaotic and crazy their worlds seem, most really do care very deeply for their children.
For the most part, parents want what's best for their kids.
And they want them to achieve better and more than they did.
Many believe that their children act the same way at home that they do at school. While some do, some really don't.
It really takes time for those parents who live in a world of distrust everyday, to develop trust for school and educators.
Some really have very limited or NO resources to help their children with academics beyond the school day.
Some are downright scared to set foot on a school campus because they have horrible images of what school was for them.


No matter what world they come from or home life they lead, ALL parents and their children deserve to be taught by passionate and committed educators!

It's my dream that one day this will be true in every classroom across the country.

Monday, June 18, 2007

June and July...Time to Refresh


It's what real educators do in the Summer Months. Even when I am eating watermelon and watching children splash in the pool, my mind is never far away from the next school year. Lesson plans and ideas marinate in my mind like the drenched meat waiting to be cooked on a backyard grill. And in August, "heat" will be added via district, state and school mandates, visions, and missions and a new year will begin to sizzle around us.

I LOVE this time of year...it's filled with sweet anticipation...a new zeal...and a faith that we can, and will, make a difference in the lives of children...I can taste it. Can you?

Happy June and July!!