Currently, twice a week, I work with a third grader from Vietnam who reads at the first grade level. The teacher and I think she is about to make a breakthrough. I want to be there when she does.
In Pittsburgh I had a friend who was born in Hungary during World War II. At the end of the war, when she was about three, they moved to West Germany and two years later to the United States.
She told me about a phenomenon she called being “between languages.” During that time, she saw Joseph Welch tell off Senator McCarthy with the “Have you no decency?” reprimand. She knew something good had just happened, but she didn’t know exactly what it was.
One morning recently, I saw a demonstration of creative teaching and enthusiastic learning as a parade of first graders pulled decorated shoe boxes on wheels. Some were wearing national outfits. The boxes were their floats.
Cheering them on were classes of older children, some waving homemade pennants, and an assortment of parents, grandparents and friends.
The parade route circled the building and ended at the playground. There they sang their school song, which includes a verse celebrating their diversity: “We’ve got people from Africa ... Ukraine ... Vietnam ... Mexico, China and Peru. We’ve got people from Tibet, you bet! And we’ve got you!”
We were invited back to classrooms where the paraders sat with their floats on tables, ready to explain how the decorations and symbols on their floats and clothes they wore.
The parade and classroom explanations were a demonstration and celebration of what they had learned in a unit of study about families.
After the celebration, I thought about the variety of knowledge and skills they had experienced. My list covered a page and included, in part, history, sociology, geography, writing, map reading, art, public speaking and the level of mechanical engineering necessary to make wheels for a float out of jar lids.
Many of the observers are also volunteers in those or other classrooms, and they are almost as diverse as the classroom population.
I encourage everyone to attend some event at a nearby school to find a niche in the volunteer corps to keep ourselves joyful and hopeful.
Nancy Minard - Contributing editor
Copyright © June 2014 - The Fig Tree