Tag Archives: elementary students

Rainy days at school

It is raining here in central California and we are all thrilled. There are some issues with the rain, though, for those in wildfire areas where all the brush has burned away and the fear of mudslides hangs heavy in the air. There are also issues at school on rainy days.

Puddles, for one. Lots of rain brings lots of puddles for children to jump and splash in as they go from classroom to cafeteria and back again. There is no recess for the students during rainy days so they make the most of any time they can escape the classroom and run free, outdoors.

Keeping children contained, indoors, creates issues with behavior, and I wondered when I got to Columbia yesterday just what I would find. Although antsy, the kids were super excited to see me and find out if I was coming to THEIR class that day to read. It’s all very confusing to me. I know the classrooms and teachers for each day, but I still don’t know exactly which students are in which classrooms so I have to ask and then say, “yes, I’ll be there after lunch,” or “I’ll see you tomorrow.” The first response gets squeals of delight, the second response gets downturned faces. Then there are the second grade classes.

This year I am attempting to read to the second graders (who were first graders last year and know me very well), but I can only do each class once a month rather than once a week as I do for the first grade.. That causes even more confusion as to which class I am seeing on any particular day. I have gotten the second graders trained to know that I only go to second grade on Wednesdays.

This week, a rainy day, the week after Thanksgiving break, and only three weeks to Christmas break, the second graders were a wild bunch. It took their teacher and me quite awhile to get them in place and settled for the story, but once I began reading “You Are Special,” they quieted down, became calm, and were intent on every picture.

Some had heard the story before. It has been around for awhile and is really a parable about God, the creator, and His creations. I don’t stress that part of the story but rather play up the part about how the woodcrafter (God) tells the little wooden boy how special he is and how he doesn’t need to worry about what others think of him. I end the story time by telling each student how special they are and to be confident in themselves. As the teacher dismissed them back to their seats, each one came by to give me a hug and tell me how special I am. Pretty good for a rainy day.

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The end of another school year

When I walked out the door of that large, inner-city high school eight years ago, with no misgivings, no qualms, just joy to be done with a long career in education, I had NO intentions of going back to any school building. God sat back, chuckled, and said, “We’ll see about that.”

MY plans were to be done with the classroom. I didn’t want to be retired, just refitted for another career, but not one in education. I could see myself working for a nonprofit, doing marketing work like events and social media. Contacting potential donors and working with current supporters. Those were areas where I wanted to put my talents to work. Once more, God chuckled.

On Thursday I again walked out of a school, this time an inner city elementary school, finishing four years of work as the school chaplain, but with every intention of returning to that school in September. Eight years ago I didn’t even know there was such a thing as school chaplain. I certainly didn’t plan to ever work with elementary students. My plans were for the big city with big people.

Those small children have won my heart. They need me and what I bring to their school each week. A story, a hug, a smile, a sticker, a reassurance that they are special. It’s small stuff, but I believe it’s making a big difference. There are now 34 school chaplains, spread out over the city. We all have these amazing stories of small children, and even some of the adults, finding meaning in what we do each week. As I’ve often said for myself, and I believe the other chaplains would agree, we put on the uniform and show up and let God do the heavy lifting.

Next school year, my fifth as chaplain, the first class of first graders I saw will be fifth graders. I would very much like to reconnect in some way with those kids. Although they occasionally see me on the school grounds and say hi and give me a hug or ask for a sticker, I would like to do more for them. Remind them of some of those lessons learned long ago in first grade, and reinforce the resiliency they will need as they head to middle school.

Those second graders

This is my fourth year at Columbia as their school chaplain. Seems impossible since I really had no idea what I was getting myself into when I signed on to go through the vetting process to become a chaplain. There was a 29-page application that asked about all the things I’ve ever done in my life. There was a financial background check to make sure I wasn’t an embezzler or had money issues. There were all the calls to my friends and co-workers who had to vouch for my character. The police even checked into my close relatives to make sure I didn’t live with or produce criminals. I sat down with a detective who is trained in questioning persons of interest and suspects. In the end, he commented that I was a really nice person and I would be perfect for the position.

The first class of first graders to whom I read and learned from is now in the fourth grade at Columbia. The students often come by and see me on the playground or in the front office, giving me hugs and high fives and asking for stickers or other prizes I might have in my bag of tricks. When they were second graders they begged me to come read to them as I had in first grade. That’s been the pattern ever since. The second graders wanted to continue the story-telling, but I never felt very comfortable with the second grade teachers. They seemed to eye me with suspicion.

A few weeks ago I was in the library when a second grade class was also there. Of course all of the students wanted to talk to me, show me their books, and beg me to come to their classroom. One of the boys asked the teacher, who is new to Columbia and very young, to invite me to their room. She seemed agreeable to that. She is warm and engaging and appears to really be good with the kids. We decided on a date to give it a try.

I had to find a book to read because these second graders have heard all the books from first grade. I pulled one from my own shelf, Katie Couric’s “The New Kid,” and worked up some talking points. I also pulled out a class-set of the police badge stickers that are like gold to the kids. I only hand them out to the first graders at the end of the year when I give them a certificate. I gave the sticker stash to the teacher to use as she saw fit. Many of the second graders said they still had theirs from last year.

The teacher and I met the next day to discuss how it went. She was very pleased and said the kids were motivated to go right back to the project they had set aside when I came in. She was willing to do it again. Fortunately, the school chaplain director, who is a retired principal, has started to produce a set of curriculum for second grade because more and more schools are asking their chaplain to continue beyond first grade. I will use some of those books in the next three months, probably once a month.

Some good news at school

Last week one of the tiniest first grade girls lamented to me, after lunch, that a second grade boy was calling her names. I told her to point him out to me the next day and I would talk with him. I came home and told Terry about the situation.

“If he’s in second grade, wasn’t he one of your first graders last year and learned how to be kind?”

“Maybe, but he might be new to the school and didn’t hear all those stories last year.” It did make me wonder if what I do makes any difference in the long run.

The next day she pointed out the name-caller, a boy I had never seen. I approached his lunch table, and sat across from him, wearing my uniform with all the police emblems and various pins.

“I’ve been told that you are being mean to one of the first graders, calling her names. Is that true?”

He put his head down for a moment then looked up at me and nodded. I pointed out to him that I had read stories to the first graders last year, but he wasn’t there.

“This is my first year here.” He named another school that doesn’t have a chaplain where he attended last year.

I turned to his neighbor, a boy who was at Columbia last year. “Do you remember what we talked about last year about calling people names.”

He turned to the other boy, and said, “we don’t do that.”

“Yeah, we don’t do that and I want you to stop. Can you do that.”

He nodded his head, yes. I told him I would be checking back in with him, then went and told the little girl that things should be better but to let me know if the little boy continued to bother her.

Fast forward to this week, when I sat with the little girl’s class for lunch. The second grade boy came by and gave me a hug. I asked him if he was doing well, and he nodded yes and smiled. I asked the little first grader how she was doing.

“Good.”

“No more trouble with the second grade boy?”

“No.”

I’ll take every bit of good news I can get.

It’s a miracle

On Thursday I was back in the first grade classroom where I fainted the last time there. We always discuss the previous week’s story before launching into a new book. This time we discussed all that happened last week:

  • It was the 100th Day of School
  • The story was about Jake forgetting his project and asking for help
  • The students finished their Star Chart (a behavioral tool I use)
  • The class got a prize for completing the Star Chart
  • The class got a sticker for the 100th Day of School
  • Mrs. Zody died and came back to life

That was the first grader’s take on the day! We talked more about fainting and how it wasn’t the same as dying, but they were determined that I had died and Mrs. Pierson, their teacher, had brought me back to life!

I complimented them on how well they behaved when the emergency happened and how well their teacher handled the whole thing. A friend of mine had said, upon hearing the story, that was a good teacher who could handle a group of first graders and take care of an unconscious chaplain! It’s a miracle!

Eating lunch with the big kids

On Monday, after running some errands, I went to Columbia to have lunch with the older students. I rarely get to see the older kids as they have lunch while I am reading to the first graders. By the time I finish with the storytelling, the older kids have returned to their classrooms.

I was pleased that they were all so happy to see me. I got lots of high fives, hugs, and smiles. There were many new students, too, who I had not seen before. I asked some if they had been at Columbia last year, and they said no. So, I can still spot a new face. I ate lunch with the fourth graders, the first class of first graders I read to. The discussion was about new puppies and who had dogs and who had cats. Then one of the girls asked if I had a step mom.

“No, do you?”

“No, but he does,” pointing to the boy next to her, a boy who was not at Columbia as a first grader.

“I have a step mom and a step dad,” he answered. “I go to my dad’s on Friday and come back on Monday so I can go to school.”

The girl sitting on the other side, a girl I’ve known since she was in first grade and who always eats her vegetables, told me she also had a step mom and a step dad and she hates it because she has to spend holidays and weekends with her step mom and dad. They aren’t always nice to her. The step mom has children, too.

Such complicated lives for such small children.

Another tale of two classes

On Wednesdays I read to two classes right after lunch at Columbia. The first class was antsy as they lined up to go back to class. One little girl was a puddle of tears so I had her stand by me until the teacher arrived to escort the kids to their room. Although this class is usually rambunctious, the teacher gets them calmed down once back in the room and gets them ready for Mrs. Zody’s story. Today, they were having none of it.

One boy complained, over and over, that he had forgotten his sack lunch in the room, the teacher wasn’t there when he tried to get it, and he had to eat the school lunch which he didn’t like. He wanted his lunch from home. NOOOOOWWWW.

Another boy had not used lunch recess to use the restroom and so made a big issue about having to use the restroom NOOOOOWWWWW.

One of the more troublesome girls said she didn’t want to hear a story. That got a few others saying the same thing. When they wouldn’t be quiet, I told them I didn’t have to read a story and would leave. Which I did. I follow through on what I say I will do.

Since I am usually arriving at the second classroom around 12:30, the teacher was a bit surprised to see me at 12:15, but she welcomed me in, finished up her lesson, got the students seated on the floor, and they loved the story, Tacky the Penguin. There are lots of silly parts, which they laughingly joined in on. They were so well behaved that they got two stars on their star chart and are almost ready for another prize, their fourth one this school year. A couple of other classes have only gotten one prize thus far.

Although I did little to exert myself, I am home, sitting on the couch, weary of such turmoil in the school. As I departed through the front office, one of the first graders in a class I will see tomorrow, was sitting there, in timeout. Two pre kindergartners were brought in for fighting. PRE kindergarten, mind you! I can only surmise that the home life of these little ones is chaotic and disruptive, thus causing them to bring the same chaos and disruption to school.