Tag Archives: school chaplain

The demand is great

Thursday morning I was up at 5 am so as to be at the monthly school chaplain’s meeting at 7. With the time change to daylight savings, it’s again dark in the morning. This doesn’t save me any daylight! I need sun early in the day, not in the evening.

Big turnout for the meeting. We are now at 40 chaplains. There had been 42 for a few months, but two of the ladies have returned to the paid workforce, giving up their chaplain activities. At both schools, there are other chaplains stepping in to fill in for the rest of the school year, which is about eight more weeks. One of the schools was quite adamant, the chaplaincy is part of their school program and must be filled. They even want more chaplains as the upper grade teachers want to know why they don’t have a chaplain coming to their classroom.

When I got to Columbia, I chatted with the principal for awhile. One of the sixth graders came by to say hi and I gave her a pencil. She was quite pleased, and the principal said it had all the answers to her math work. I wasn’t so sure, and told her she could use it for her essays. (Writing is more my thing than math.) She said she is very good at math because last year her teacher used money to teach math. She likes working with money. The principal continued to chat with the student while I went off to see the second graders and then help a tearful first grader get her lunch.

After lunch, before I headed into the first grade classroom, I again saw the principal. We chatted briefly about the second graders who I read to once a month. “How about you come every day? We could use you everyday.”

“No, I’m retired, remember?”

Yes, the school chaplains are in great demand throughout the school district.


Rejoicing in the small things we can do

Each month, during the school year. I get up super early on the fourth Thursday and drive across town for the school chaplain’s breakfast meeting. I like these meetings because they are uplifting and encouraging. We hear good stories of what is happening in the various schools where there is a chaplain. We hear about schools requesting a chaplain and the continuing need in our community for people who will love on children once a week. It’s an opportunity to connect with other chaplains, people just like me, who are giving heart and soul to a project they believe in–helping children.

In the five years I’ve been a school chaplain, I have missed only one of these meetings. There are now 45 chaplains, and although today saw a crowded room, many were missing. The reasons for absentees were mostly health related. It made me realize that being in a group of a certain age, there are many who are facing challenges that I have been pondering here in these posts.

Shoulder replacement, spinal fusion, respiratory ailment, wife with broken leg. These were just some of the people mentioned. While chatting with a chaplain who also attended high school with Terry, I mentioned his recent difficulties. She nodded and said, “yes, 70 seems to be the great divider.” One day things are going along like usual, the next, not so much. She is taking one day at a time and will be remarrying next month. Her first husband died about two years ago, and she has again found happiness with a new fellow. That inspired me.

All of us, of a certain age, are looking at new challenges. Life will not be as it once was, but joy in the everyday occurrences can still take place. Some of us chuckled this morning that we are out of bed, we are upright, we are driving across town at 6:30 on a weekday morning. Later we will be among small children, telling stories, giving out stickers and hugs, and praising their teachers for another week of hard work. We can rejoice in the ability to do these things. We can pray for those who are struggling to do those things right now, that they will again be able to return to the work that does give us joy.

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.

Life takes a turn

The cafeteria has become too difficult for me to maneuver. The children love to talk and they especially love to talk to me. The noon time assistants won’t allow talking. They have a microphone and they yell, into the microphone, for the children to be quiet and NOT TALK. I say hi to the children as they enter and get their lunch, unless the noon time assistants start screaming at them even at this point. But whenever they start screaming, I leave the building.

Yesterday as I walked out of the cafeteria I saw a very attractive woman standing on the sidewalk. She was well dressed, nicely coifed and made up, she smiled at me and I smiled back. I noticed she was wearing a school lanyard and thought she might be a substitute. As she continued to stand there, I approached her, and asked if she was a visitor. She then told me her story.

Her grandson is having difficulty in school. The teacher has requested someone be with him as he blurts out and doesn’t concentrate. First grade is his first school experience. No preschool, no kindergarten. Kindergarten didn’t happen because his father was diagnosed with a brain tumor that turned the whole family upside-down.  Blindness, paralyzation, no short-term memory. No longer the father he once knew. And yet, we expect him to do first grade like everyone else.

I went to work. Found the school counselor and asked her what she could do to help. She gave me her card and said to have the grandmother call. Today I talked to the attendance officer and found that the grandson has missed a lot of school and is late even more. Of course. In that household it might be hard to get ready and get out the door. The attendance officer wanted to talk to the grandmother. I leave her office, walk out the door, and there is the grandmother, just arriving after helping her daughter take care of her paralyzed husband.

The grandmother was kind and appreciative for the help. I complimented her on her appearance, again she was so well put together.

“My parents were hard on me. My mother always told me how ugly I was. For over fifty years I’ve lived with that. I work hard to be a good person and do the best I can.”

Life…it comes in many shapes and it takes many turns.


The inability to meet all requests

While standing in the office at Columbia yesterday, waiting for my agreed-upon time to go read to the second graders, I talked with a fifth grade boy who was also waiting, waiting to cool down and regain his composure before returning to class. The current fifth graders are the first group of kids I read to, when they were first graders.

Boy:  (after telling me why he was in the office) Who are you reading to today?

Me:  One first grade class and one second grade class. I’m going to be able to read to all the second graders this year because there are only three first grade classes. When you were in first grade there were five first grade classes.

Boy:  How come you don’t come read to the fifth graders?

Me.  Because I’m old.

My worlds collide

Or, another way to put it, it’s a small world…

Friday turned out to be one of those days that was over-scheduled. In my retirement life, that rarely happens, but when opportunities come, I like to take advantage. I had a lunch date with an old friend, a parent of a former student. This woman helped me so much when I was doing the yearbook for that large, inner-city high school. Because she loves to take pictures, she did a lot of sports and other event photos and I always rewarded her with each year’s yearbook. We laugh at the same things and have high expectations of everyone and everything.

She took a half day off on Friday and met me downtown for lunch at a place I just knew she would love. It’s an old 1880s newspaper printing office that was turned into a men’s club for many decades in the mid 1900s. Now it’s reopened as an upscale restaurant and event venue. The architecture is amazing and the newspaper’s printing press still sits in the main dining room. The bar from the men’s club days is still in place. Great place to wile away a couple of hours over lunch.

I would have loved to continued our time together, walking around downtown and checking on renovations, but I had to get home to finish up some chores because I had a second event in the late afternoon–a retirement party for two of the teachers in whose classrooms I read stories as school chaplain. Both are amazing teachers and both had moved on to other schools for this past year. I had missed them and was immensely pleased to be invited to their joint party hosted by another Columbia first grade teacher.

The party was on the other side of town, a 30 minute drive from my home during the best of times, but during commuter traffic, even longer. Because I’m not good with late-day events, I wanted to arrive just as the party was starting, hug the ladies, say my congratulations, and head back across town. I only took a couple of pictures which is unusual for me, but time was fleeting.

I posted the pictures of one of the teachers to my Facebook page and immediately got a response from the friend with whom I had lunch earlier that day. The retiring teacher is her cousin! None of us knew how we were connected until I posted that photo. I’ve known Delores for 18 years, Patty for 4, and just learned how our worlds overlapped, all because of a Facebook post. That’s the value of social media.

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.