Literally…California history is first studied in 4th grade. It’s a state requirement. If you should move to California as an adult, and you want to be a teacher in the state, you will be required to take a class on California history. We think it’s that important around here.
Part of the state’s history is the missions. All 21 of them. Every 4th grader in the state is to study about the mission system and either write a report after visiting a mission (what my daughter did), or make a model of the one of the 21 missions. Some schools are fortunate enough to have field trips to the missions. The closest one to Fresno is San Juan Bautista, about 2 hours away. The inner city schools, like where I am chaplain, don’t have that luxury. Their experience with the missions comes from books and model-making.
Models of the missions requires a long list of supplies. Supplies that most inner city 4th graders cannot acquire on their own. Their parents are unable to get the supplies due to time, transportation, money. There are no craft stores, or hardware stores, or even Targets in the poor side of town. My friends, the retired teachers, are banding together to provide the supplies to one of the 4th grade classes at Columbia where I am school chaplain.
I thought the teacher was going to cry when I first approached him with the idea. Then I showed up at his classroom to get a list of the supplies. He introduced me to the class and had me tell my story as to why I am at Columbia. Some of these students (32 4th graders crammed into a small portable classroom) are the ones I’ve seen in the office for misbehaving in class. I’d misbehave, too, to get out that cramped room where most of the work is rote and worksheet-based. Some of them come to my after school craft days (which I am doing later this afternoon). Those students had seen me before. Most, however, did not know me. When I finally told them that we were going to provide the supplies for their missions, they cheered.
Suddenly the classroom was frenetic. Students were pulling their mission books out of their desk, telling me the mission they were making. They started shouting lists of materials they needed. Students were turning to pictures of missions in their books and putting them in front of me. I got a piece of paper and started writing.
We made plans for me to return next week with the supplies and then we would make a plan for checkpoints and see what else might be needed. I told them about the group of retired school teachers who want to help them. They asked if we could come see their missions when they are finished. Sure we can! The excitement in the room was thick. As I walked out the door, with the promise to be back next week, they applauded.