Category Archives: School

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

And in a flash…it all changes

I had such good stories for the next three weeks leading up to Easter break. There would be puppets for the next week and even candy on the last week. I never give the kids anything to eat except the week before Easter break when I read the book, It Wasn’t My Fault, in which the small narrator has an egg dropped on his head and blames everyone for the disaster. It, of course, turns out to be his fault. Each first grader gets a plastic Easter egg with a chocolate egg inside. I’ve bought all the plastic and chocolate eggs. They are sitting here, right behind me, in my office. But I have no idea when I will read the story and hand out the eggs.

You see, on Friday, just as the school day ended, the superintendent cancelled school for the next four weeks. Devastating news. Especially for the poor children who live south of a main street that runs the width of the city. Columbia is in that area. Children who do not have large, well furnished homes with lots of technology and good food. With a room of their own. Books, art supplies, a backyard to play in.

Nope, none of that. They live in small places, maybe 10 or 12 people living there. Some of the residents who have to sleep during the day so as to make it to their minimum wage job in the evening. Neighborhoods too dangerous for small children to be out by themselves. Libraries too far away to walk. No big grocery stores. No decent parks. What will these four weeks be like for those children?


Time in the season of Lent

Trust me, I have not given up blogging for Lent. I have given up nothing for Lent. So, why have I not posted anything in a few days? Because I’ve given up nothing! I have added on more, it seems. Not intentionally, so I don’t even know if I would get any credit, if there was an entity that does that.

Because the Columbia School staff works so hard, under very difficult conditions, I like to occasionally take treats. This week I went by Sees Candy to pick up such treats for Easter, only to find that the chocolate bunnies had not arrived. My former student, the store manager and a very astute sales person, taught by a very determined teacher, recommended the chocolate leprechauns. So, I bought a dozen along with three bags of chocolate four-leaf clovers. The leprechauns were a huge hit, so much so that I wish I had bought a whole case. I returned on Thursday when the bunnies arrived so to get those for the next treat.

I volunteered to supply the dessert for a church luncheon that happens today. No, I’m not baking for 60 expected guests. I stopped at a local bakery and ordered their fabulous carrot cake. I don’t even like carrot cake, but theirs is so amazing that I eat it every chance I get. It has become very popular with the coffee fellowship attendees so I figure it will go over well with this group of older women. I grocery shopped on Thursday, plus ran a whole list of errands, and picked up a quart of half and half for the coffee to be served at that luncheon. We usually use small containers of nondairy creamer, but I decided for this event, real cream would be nice. Dropping it off at church was one more item on that list of errands.

Today (Friday) I will pick up the cakes, deliver them, cut them, serve them along with the other luncheon items, and then clean up. On Saturday I will be back at church early in the morning for spring cleaning day. Not giving up, just adding on.

An update: the luncheon was attended by 40 women plus about 10 women who were helping host the luncheon. After serving cake and washing a few dishes, I headed home. There were plenty of helpers left for cleanup duty, many of whom won’t be at church for tomorrow’s cleaning day. 

‘The problems are bigger than the school’: Midcoast educators tackle increase in dysregulated behavior – PenBay Pilot

This article showed up on my Facebook feed, and it allowed the reader to share it to their blog. I took advantage of that share feature because it really hones in on some of the behaviors I have been seeing the past couple of years and I hear are happening elsewhere in schools. We are facing some serious problems with small children who have lived in very traumatic situations.


MIDCOAST — A disturbing trend of students, especially in younger grades, exhibiting out-of-control behavior has increasingly unsettled schools in recent years, to the point that superintendents now share coping strategies. School boards have been…

Source: ‘The problems are bigger than the school’: Midcoast educators tackle increase in dysregulated behavior – PenBay Pilot

First graders can be a tough audience

At Wednesday’s story time, the first graders were all gathered around on the carpet while we reviewed last week’s story, which was a really big one. As the kids answered questions, one little blond boy raised his hand and asked:

Do your shoes tell anything about today’s story?

Me: Not this time. These are old shoes that I wore when I taught high school and I really like them.

First grader: Looking askance. Does this story have any puppets?

Me:  Not today.

First grader: Not smiling, shakes his head, oh man.

I think I’ve raised the bar too high!

The chaplain returns for year 6

The pace is quickening. On Tuesday I put on my chaplain’s uniform and headed out to Columbia to check in with staff and students.

Two weeks ago I had popped by to see the teachers for a brief moment during their planning session and let them know I was making plans for the new school year, just like they were. There would be two new first grade teachers. One of last year’s first grade teachers had moved to second grade. One of the long time kindergarten teachers again asked, as he does every year, if I could come to his class. The second grade teachers encouraged me to come to their rooms again.

I wanted to make plans with the first grade teachers for the exact day and times I will come to their classrooms so that was my main purpose for Tuesday’s visit. I also had a bag of full of clothes to drop off at the front office for kids who might have accidents. The home liaison who usually handles that is out on maternity leave and the woman filling in for her happens to be someone with whom I worked with at Fresno High. We had a good time catching up and reminiscing. I also had chocolate bars to hand out to the office staff.

Off to the cafeteria to see the kids. The new first graders don’t know me, but the second graders do and they all cheered and called out my name when I walked in. I don’t think I made any points with the new vice principal who was trying to maintain order. I had a chocolate bar for her, too, which helped a little.

Two of the first graders are returning from last year. Both had some hard times so I wasn’t surprised by their repeat performance. I sat with one who had been required to stay in, missing recess. I don’t think this is the answer for problem children, but I can only go along with the rules. He and I chatted about his father who had a brain tumor and is now blind. He told me his dad is currently in the hospital. I hugged him and gave him a puzzle page that I had copied in the office before heading out.

The copying machine is another story. When I went into the workroom, the repair man for the laminating machine was there. Although I said good morning, he didn’t speak, just kept his head in the machine. I set up the copier but it stopped midway with a light telling me it needed paper. This happens to me a lot. I muttered my lament, “why me!,” and got out a ream of paper to reload the machine but continued to grumble that this might not work. I said my prayer over the machine and hit the reset button. It worked! I gave a shout of joy and a “thank you, Lord,” noticing that the laminating repairman was continuing his work and shaking his head at the same time. I thought perhaps he needed some prayer, too!

After checking in with teachers around campus, I have a game plan and will return next week with schedules and supplies. There will undoubtedly be more chocolate, stickers, and pencils to hand out, too.


Early childhood education is important

The U.S. child population continues to increase and grow more diverse — especially in California, Florida and Texas. But the overall rate of 3- and 4-year-olds not attending preschool — 52% — hasn’t changed since 2010, according to the 2019 Kids Count Data Book, which has been tracking child well-being at the state level since 1990.

The report also highlights the steady upward trend in high school graduation rates. “Students who graduate from high school on time have many more choices in young adulthood,” the authors write. “They are more likely to pursue postsecondary education and training, make healthier decisions and engage in less risky behaviors.”

Our daughter, when she was small, attended preschool. She did well in school and graduated on time. She pursued two college degrees and lives a very healthy life. She has never smoked or taken drugs and only occasionally has a glass of wine. Our grandchildren attended preschool. They are currently doing very well in elementary school. Our granddaughter, though, has said she’s not interested in college because it’s just more school. We’ll see what she says in another eight years. Her parents, both college graduates, have told her they want her to go to college.

Working with small children these past five years has made me very aware of how important preschool and kindergarten can be for success in higher grades. Fortunately, Fresno schools offer preschool and transitional kindergarten free of charge. Yet, at Columbia, the preschool is not at capacity. Some parents don’t take advantage of transitional kindergarten for those too young to start regular kindergarten in August. It does take work to get kids enrolled and then to school every day.

Last year I saw one of these children who missed kindergarten, a little boy whose family had a major trauma the year before and had not sent the boy to school. First grade was so hard for him. He did not have the socialization skills to be around other children. He was unable to take directions from the teacher. His academic skills were minimal so the work was hard and he became frustrated. There are others like him who have missed out on those early years of education, nor had parents who taught them number and letter concepts and required satisfactory behavior. Those children struggle in school and then in life.

It was a ‘bounce-back’ day

Julia came into the cafeteria on her own today. She smiled at me and gave me a hug. I asked if it was a better day, and she nodded ‘yes.’ I told her I would bring her something in a little bit and she seemed pleased. I greeted more students and then checked to see where Julia had landed for lunch. She was right in the middle of her class, where she should be sitting. I took her a “Bounce Back Kid” sticker and told her how pleased I was to see her bouncing back today from what was a rough day, yesterday. I asked her how she felt and she said, “good.”

“I hope you have more good days, but remember you can ‘bounce back’ from a bad time to a better time.”

Speaking of bouncing back, I went to a first grade class after lunch and was given a beautiful pinky/purple orchid from the class (and the teacher).

“You do so many kind things for us, we wanted to give you something as beautiful as you.”

I was practically in tears.

We get by with a little help

Some days we just want to be seen. Some days we just want someone to take care of us.

The little girl was skooched down on the cement, behind the cafeteria door that was propped open to allow the students to enter for lunch. I could see her hiding there as I stood inside the cafeteria greeting the first and second graders as they entered. She could see me, too, and we waved to each other through the glass.

Julia doesn’t have an easy life. She acts out in class. I’ve seen her parents come to school and march her out the front door of the school, treating her none too gently. I don’t think she does the work she is asked to do by her teacher. All that said, I have not had many problems with her. She gives me a hug when I see her. Sometimes she smiles.

As the noontime assistants pushed the last students through and started to close the big doors, I pointed out the little girl hiding out behind the door. They ushered her in, against her will. I met her at the door, put my arm around her and assured her that lunch was necessary to have the energy to get all the work done during afternoon class. She didn’t speak, nor seem too happy. I got her milk, picked up a napkin/spork/straw packet and made her carry it. Then reached across her tiny frame and took the lunch boxes from the lunch lady. Today was chicken fajitas and a hoagie roll.

I let her pick a spot to land and unwrapped all of the food and opened the milk carton. She went to get a tangerine that was part of the meal that I had missed. I noticed she made a sandwich with the chicken and roll. I punctured the tangerine rind, making it easier to peel and I peeled back the foil cover on the applesauce. After throwing all of the packaging and extra trappings away, I went back to her spot to find that she had spilled the applesauce and looked about to cry.

“It’s okay, I’ll get a paper towel.”

She appeared grateful that I had mopped up the mess and continued to eat her sandwich. I made my retreat to the playground to visit with the older students.

Just as lunch for first and second grade was ending, I saw Julia dashing across the courtyard and into her classroom. I hope her afternoon went better.

Some days are harder than others

Sitting on the couch, decompressing, after coming home from Columbia, and thinking about the second grade classes which makes me sad. There are only three of them, or there were, but one of the teachers has gone out on maternity leave and her class has been split in two, with a substitute in each room. These are kids who do not have a lot of stability or consistency in their lives, and now this.

They are, of course, acting out, and the adults seem unable to improve the behavior. I certainly don’t have the answers, but I believe the turmoil of the past month has worn on these children, and their behavior reflects it.

Today I was able to go into one of the split classes and read a story to the eight kids in the room. I do not know where the remaining five were. I think they may have been in the office, in trouble, or some other form of absence. I did not ask, but rather gathered the kids into a circle and read the story, “What if Everybody Did That?” There were stops and starts. Three of the girls wanted kleenex. One girl could not sit still or even remain seated. The lone boy lay on his back for most of the time, but I didn’t care as long as he was paying attention. I reminded them of how they behaved as first graders when I came and that I expected them to be even better now.

The teacher said they had been looking forward to my visit. I’m hoping I can be the carrot for better behavior. I saw one girl in the hall, returning from the bathroom as I was leaving, and we had a discussion about being a leader and showing the others how to be good students. She assured me she would try. I encouraged them all to be “bounce back” kids so they could learn everything they need to progress to third grade.

One of the first graders today asked, when I finished my time with them and told them I was going to a second grade class, how well the second graders behaved and how they liked the stories. I explained that I read a different story to the second graders but the expectations for behavior are the same as for them. She seemed satisfied with my answer. Just wish I could say I was satisfied with the second graders.

A new school year is about to start

My former teacher friends have been dropping off supplies for the school where I am chaplain. They hear my stories of need and they remember what it was like when they were in the classroom. Generous women. My computer/office room is beginning to look like an Office Depot. I found these suggestions for those who want to help a neighborhood school but may not have someone like me in their circle of friends who can make suggestions.

Here are five tips to get you started on getting involved with your local schools.

  1. Donate Supplies – Teachers often end up spending money out of pocket on school supplies and classroom needs. Ask a local teacher or principal for a list of needed supplies, then invite your neighbors, members of your Bible Study, or co-workers to chip in to fill in the gaps of the school’s needs. This is how my retired teacher friends have stepped up.
  2. Appreciate Teachers and Staff – Take time to recognize the important work of your neighborhood teachers and staff. Consider bringing fresh fruit or gift cards into the staff room. A handwritten note of kind words will go a long way to uplift and encourage those who serve your neighborhood kids. I would also suggest occasionally taking goodies to the teacher lounge.
  3. Show Up and Support – Attend Friday night football games to cheer on your local team or listen to your young neighbors at the school band concert. Both students and teachers appreciate a full, supportive audience to see the results of their hard work. I recommend this if you know a student at the school.
  4. Pray for Schools – Take the time to pray for your local schools. Pray these places would be a source of positive influence for students in your neighborhood. Consider regularly joining with others in prayer for schools that contribute to the fabric of your community and equip children to achieve and thrive.
  5. Form a Long Term Partnership – If you have the time and commitment, a great way to make an impact is to be consistent and form a long term partnership. Pay attention to what the school needs and be flexible and willing to help. This is sort of what I have done as school chaplain, but it could take many forms.
  6. Bonus Tip! Remember Your Role – As a community member, your role is to support the priorities of the school, rather than set your own agenda. Make sure the school, administration, teachers, students, and families take center stage. Your relationship with the school will deepen as you uplift their story and give them the credit for their investment and hard work.