Category Archives: School

What’s going on at my school and with my students.

The storytelling will resume

Our schools will open next Monday for another year of learning. I went out to Columbia on Friday morning to visit with the teachers and try to connect with the second grade teachers who I’ve not seen for two years due to the pandemic.

This year there will be three each of first and second grade rooms, total of six. Last year I was in four first grade rooms and two of the second grade classes with teachers who had hunted me down and asked me to come read to their students. This year I wanted to reconnect with the second grade teachers and see if they would like me to come back in. I didn’t know how they would respond, but they all said, YES!

They had loved what I had done when I could come even though it was only once a month back in 2019. This year I will be able to be there each week. You may remember, dear Reader, that I had decided this task would take top priority. I was so happy with their reactions.

I had made treat bags for all of the teachers, and whether they agreed to let me come back or not, I would still share the bags with them. They were all delighted and one recalled some bags I had shared in previous years. It’s nice to know they appreciate these small gestures.

The classes are big this year, 28 students in each one. These large numbers will test my class management skills. Last year was very easy, each class having only about 15 students. And, of course, the previous year was all done online so I had no discipline issues. I may be rethinking the way I do things. The second graders will know me because they saw me every week last year and understand my expectations.

This will be Year Nine of this assignment. One of my friends asked me if I planned to do this for 21 years like I did at Fresno High. Well, we’ll see…

Taking care of Mrs. Zody

Each week I email the first and second grade teachers, telling them about the book I will be reading, any special details about what we will be doing, and including PDFs of worksheets.

This week I wanted to let them know about the treat I was bringing–a plastic egg with a chocolate egg–for each student. This is the only time all year that I bring something for the students to eat. I always leave the eggs with the teachers to pass out in a method they want. I read It Wasn’t My Fault the week before spring break as there is an egg in the story, perfect for this time of the year and perfect for handing out a plastic egg with candy.

I included a note this week that I would be coming without my mask but would be happy to wear one if the teacher wanted me to. It’s been a month since California ended the mask mandate for schools and most students and teachers have stopped wearing their masks. Each week I saw fewer masks. The county’s case load has dropped and we are now rated in the low zone. I’m trusting my vaccines to take care of me. None of the teachers wrote back asking me to wear a mask, but I took one just in case.

Good thing. In the third class, when I walked in, maskless, one student who was masked, raised his hand and asked where my mask was. I asked him if he would like me to wear my mask. “Yes, we don’t want you to get sick.”

As you can guess, I put on the mask and continued with the story. All of the kids lined up and hugged me as I was leaving.

You’re special with a purpose

After reading to three first grade classes (teachers and students all masked even though the mandate has ended), I headed out through the front office. Sitting in the chairs were two girls, one with an ice pack on the her knee, the other offering consolation and company. These were big girls so I assumed sixth grade.

I stopped and asked what happened. A basketball was thrown and the girl’s knee took the brunt of the impact. I commiserated. The comforting friend said, “I remember when you would come read to us. I still have the bear you gave us.”

“Oh, let me see what I have in my bag for you,” I said, pulling out a couple of wiggly salamanders. The girls laughed and said they remembered the story, “Bootsie Barker Bites.” That’s one of the first books I read to first graders, so it’s been almost six years since they heard that story. “Yeah, the little girl who got beat up had a salamander,” one replied. “What are you reading today?”

“Three Hens and a Peacock, look I’m wearing my peacock shoes,” I said pointing to my feet. But they didn’t remember the shoes because I bought them in the last four years, after they had moved on to higher grades. They did remember the story. “You’re special with a purpose,” they recited. That’s the slogan that goes with the story. I was tickled that they remembered.

“I still have all the pencils and stickers you gave us,” the comforting girl said. Wonder if they’ll keep the salamander and star eraser I handed to them today?

But we have so much to say

Every week, at school, the children want to tell me so many things. They start raising their hands before I even ask a question. They interrupt almost every page with comments. I have to hurry on because I only have one half hour in each room, and if I’m late to the next class, that throws me off more, making me even later to the one after that. One week I was so late to the third class that the teacher must have given up on me and taken her students elsewhere. I couldn’t blame her.

Teachers have a lot to do. That’s why I only take 30 minutes in each class. Yet I feel so bad about leaving with questions unanswered, children who didn’t get to make that important comment, or even sharing silly faces and more laughs. I try to get lots of laughs in. I try to get them to pay close attention. I try to frame each question carefully so they can think about their answer. I give students time to formulate their answer and speak. But sometimes, if they don’t that the answer immediately, I have to move to the next hand waving in the air.

My wish would be for more relaxed time, more opportunities to listen to the students. Maybe when the virus numbers are better, and students are no longer required to wear masks, I can again hang out in the cafeteria and on the playground. Maybe next year things will be different. And by different, I mean better.

The last week of October was the first week at school

The last time I was here we were having a terrific rain storm. That storm broke records for rainfall on that day. Our backyard was afloat for awhile, but the rain slowed to a nice pace and the water soaked in to our very dry ground.

The rain on Monday provided a good example of a storm for my storytelling on Wednesday and Thursday at Columbia. The book this week was It’s Mine about some quarrelsome frogs and the neighboring toad, who although he didn’t like their bickering, still rescued them when they became frightened during the storm and had nowhere to go.

It was good to be back on the campus, with the children and the staff. I saw many people I had not talked to in almost two years. There are many new faces, too, so I had to make introductions and explain who I was. The staff seem to be doing well, and the children are quite happy with being back at school, even with masks attached to their faces.

There are big changes on the campus. A new building is going up. It will have 12 classrooms, restrooms, janitor room, and teacher’s work room. Because it is being built on the former site of the parking lot, a new parking lot will go in where the portable classrooms now sit. The playground equipment was temporarily moved to a site behind the cafeteria, fenced in from all the construction materials that are sitting on the large yard. Not as much room for running as there had been, but I didn’t notice the students being unhappy about that. They were still running and racing around at lunch recess before heading back into their rooms.

It looks like I will be at Columbia Wednesdays and Thursdays as I have six classes that want stories–four first grade and two second grade. There are new stories to pilot with the second graders as Columbia is not the only school that has asked the resiliency coaches to continue their work with the next grade. Since this year’s second graders pretty much missed out on a year of school, it’s probably a good idea at this time.

The second graders do know me, though, through the virtual storytelling I did last year. They are so excited to have me IN THEIR ROOM so they can talk to me and show me things and I can mingle up and down the aisles and among the students. And give them stickers and other things.

I was tired when I got home Thursday afternoon. After being at home for almost two years, I’m out of practice in the classroom and have to think more about what I am doing with the stories.Telling the story six times, I sometimes forget what I had or had not said.

A Saturday in June

It’s a gorgeous morning here in central California. Beautiful blue sky with no clouds. A cool breeze blowing through the sunshine and shadows. The air is even clean. Terry and I were both out early to work in the yards before the day’s heat will descend, later, after noon.

The first week of summer vacation has arrived with the advent of this sunny morning. Lots of warm (hot) days ahead of us. This next week promises temperatures over 100. We will need to do lots of watering, leading up to those wilting temperatures. I will run my errands and do my chores before noon each day.

School starts again August 12 for students. I’m sure teachers and staff will be there a few days in advance. Because of such an early start, I may begin my storytelling gig before Labor Day. We’ll see how the back-to-school days play out and what the teachers would like. That’s two months away with lots of time for summer relaxation.

Virtual storytelling

I’ve done two virtual sessions with the Columbia students. Monday’s class was second graders who I had as first graders last year so they knew me. It’s still weird to be reading to a screen versus live, wiggly children. All seemed to go well and I learned that I can get papers to them through the lunch pickup program. It’s held at the school whereas I thought the district had farmed out the lunch pickups to a variety of different sites rather than the child’s school. Glad to learn that information is wrong and they can get their meals at their own school site.

This week’s story was Last Stop on Market Street. CJ and his nana go cross-town, on a city bus, after church, to serve in a soup kitchen. CJ feels sorry for himself, but in the end he “bounces back” when he realizes that nana always sees the beautiful in everything and everybody and if he just looks around, he might, too. We talked about how CJ and his nana left the church building and did good work, just like we can do lots of learning outside of the school building.


Virtual storytelling

That’s a wrap for another school year

It took me a couple of days to prepare 102 packets of stickers and other items to hand out to the 6th graders at Columbia’s drive-thru promotion. I hadn’t really thought about how much work it would be, but that was okay because I wasn’t able to do the end-of-the-year awards for the first graders. I had time and energy to put into the project.

It was only an hour’s ceremony, from 9-10 due to the forecast for 103 degrees later in the day. Wearing a mask in the heat can be daunting, but all of us who were there did it. With a smile on our faces. Even though you couldn’t see it, you could hear it in our voices as we greeted each student as well as each other. I knew I had missed this group, but just not how much until I was actually there again on the campus. The staff was all very appreciative of my presence and made a point of telling me they wanted me to come back next year, whatever it might take. I’m praying that God will provide a way. I really want to see more 6th grade promotions.

On Thursday morning I was up early to take my walk as today’s forecast is for 107 degrees. I was on the sidewalk at 6:30, wearing my Fresno High Class of 2000 t-shirt. If you aren’t familiar with high school traditions, each graduating class designs a t-shirt with the graduates’ names on the back and something special to them on the front. I was the advisor for the Class of 2000 and helped in getting the shirt designed, produced and delivered as the group started their senior year. Yes, even after 20 years, I still have my shirt.

As I walked, I thought about yesterday’s event in juxtaposition to the ceremony in 2000. Those 2000 graduates are now 38 years old. Yesterday’s 6th graders are 12 years old and will be the Class of 2026. At the high school level, you only know the students for four years. I had been with those 6th graders for six years. Not every day, but every year I was there and somehow connected with them–on the playground, in the office, at lunch, This year I was in the 6th grade classroom a few times to read a story, bring some books, hand out crayons and advice.

As I walked off of the campus, most of the staff was still in the parking lot, helping to get things put away. I waved goodbye, and said what I often say to my family and friends, “I’ll see you when I see you.”

Finding joy

On Tuesday I drove south, towards Fresno’s downtown, but not quite that far. The plan was to go farther on Wednesday, but on Tuesday I was only going as far as the Tower District where the Fresno Police Chaplaincy office is located in a building that once housed an insurance agency when I was young. During my middle years it became an office for a nonprofit agency that helped other nonprofits. Now, in my old age, the building has morphed into the heartbeat of a group of very dedicated people who serve the city with their compassion skills.

The building has been remodeled as of late to also house a trauma team who can see people at any time of day or night who have had a traumatic event such as a spouse being murdered. A child drowning. A parent taken to jail. Sexual abuse. Physical abuse. Verbal abuse. Racial strife. It all takes a toll in this city. The police believed it to be better to treat the root of the problem than try to arrest all of those who have been traumatized and gone on to assault and terrorize others.

The school resource coaches (of which I’m still one even though the last 11 weeks have done nothing) have an office in this building. I needed more stickers and wrist bands to hand out next week at the sixth grade promotion at Columbia. I still don’t know how that event will look, but I know that I am going prepared. Just planning to take part in this event fills me with joy. The head of the coaches, John is a wonderful retired school principal who is also a very smart teacher, not only had the needed supplies, but also stories and advice.

We usually meet once a month during the school year, but haven’t seen each other since February, a few weeks before the shutdown. John shared with me what a few of the other resiliency coaches have done with recording their storytelling. I told him of my fractured attempt. We both agreed that it needed to be done with more professionalism. There might be ways to do that when the chaplain’s office makes another move to a larger building that has room for a recording studio. Many of the coaches will not be returning in the fall, no matter if the school district wants us or not. There are health considerations that will keep them home until a cure and/or vaccine becomes available. Since we have no idea what the school days will look like, we don’t know if there will be room for our stories. It’s all a wait and see.

In the end, we talked about joy. What gives us joy. How to spread joy. Next week’s event will provide joy. We are hopeful there will be joy next fall, too.

What I’m pondering

My previous post was about some actual physical tasks that occupy my time. There is more going on, though. I do a lot of reading and a lot of thinking about what is going on. Especially in education.

What will school look like this fall? Will children come back to an actual classroom? Or will there still be online classes? Who will stay home with the children if parents must get back to work? Schools are the major form of childcare and if the schools remain closed, how will parents get to work? How will students get to school? Will more buses be needed to transport children if they are to be spaced apart? How many more teachers and classrooms will be needed?

I wake up in the night thinking about these questions. I have so many friends who are teachers, not just retired but still on the frontline, and I am concerned for them. I have seen the students who need lots of attention and care, in a normal time, and cannot imagine how they will react if they must remain still and in their own personal space. These are children who don’t understand these constraints. Teachers will have much to catch up on since students have been away from a formal school setting for months.

That’s one aspect of life in this pandemic that makes my mind spin. There are others, but that’s enough for now. I’ll ponder more later.