On Friday I put on my chaplain uniform, attached my police ID badge, and headed across town to one of the city’s newer elementary schools named for a local judge who died too young. I was scheduled to observe and assist the chaplain who is starting her second year at this school. Her first grade students got the highest scores on the assessment at the end of last year, and because of this woman’s high scores and stellar reputation, all of the new chaplains want to observe her before moving into our own classrooms.
The school is pretty much catty-corner, clear across town, from my house. I gave myself 45 minutes to get there, which was just about right. I probably could have gotten there faster if I had taken the city’s freeways, but I drove surface streets. Our city’s freeways can be quite treacherous. The original mid-town freeway was built with the idea that few people would use it. The lanes are narrow, the on-and off-ramps short with little room to navigate. Then two more freeways were added to the mix and the connectors to these freeways, which I would have needed to take on Friday’s trip, are highly complicated. CalTrans has been reworking these connectors now for a couple of years, making it even more confusing because each time you drive the freeway, something new has been added. Every week I hear reports of accidents on these freeways due to people driving too fast and too aggressively for the road conditions.
We also have a serious drug problem in Fresno, with methamphetamine being the drug of choice. It is manufactured AND sold in large quantities here. More and more people are involved in traffic accidents while under the influence of this horrible drug. A few weeks ago, on a surface street, a woman, high on meth, flew through a red light, in a stolen car, hitting and killing the driver of a car who had the right of way. The young man who was killed was on his way to play golf with his twin brother after working at his job as x-ray technician at a local hospital. The same hospital they took the woman who caused the accident because she suffered broken legs. The judge appeared in her hospital room to read the charges against her, all to which she replied, “not guilty.”
Oh, I’ve gotten far off the trail of my original story…back to the elementary school. The chaplain who I was meeting is 80 years old. She is bright and funny, and full of energy. She arrives just after lunch to spend time with the children on the playground. They all come running when they see her, hugging and saying hi and showing her their new clothes or new haircuts. They, of course, want to know who I am and I get quizzed on my name, my hair, my watch, and will I be coming every week, too. These children are hungry for adult attention.
We spend approximately 30 minutes in each classroom. This week’s activity, in addition to the regular story, involves a pre-assessment that was not done last year. The school district and police department want to see how much growth there is over the year the chaplain spends with the first graders. Testing first graders is a near impossible task. By the time we get to the last class room, it is getting close to 2 o’clock, dismissal time. The students are tired. Their attention span has gone to zero. Each of the eight questions takes an interminably long time. There is no time for the story in this last class, and yet, I feel they probably needed the story the most. “It’s Mine,” by Leo Lionni tells the story of three frogs who bicker and fight all the time over what’s ‘mine,’ until they are forced to share.
By the time we walk out of that last room, we are both frazzled. The chaplain is going to see about rearranging the order of classrooms so that this last room is seen right after lunch. She is hopeful that might be a solution for a group of students who desperately need what she is bringing.