Tag Archives: school chaplain

We all have those days

This week’s story for the first graders was Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. It’s been around for a long time, and I think there is even a movie made from it. I have a sign with the words “a terrible horrible no good very bad day” that I hold up at the right points in the story for the first graders to read aloud. Gives them a part in the storytelling, which they all love. Also reinforces the title for them.

Each book that I read also has a jingle which is part of the curriculum which has been written by a former teacher/principal who now heads up the school chaplain program through the police department. He is very clever. This week’s jingle was “If start the day getting up mad…stop and think before saying something bad.” The kids love these jingles, too.

Because a previous story, The Bad Mood, was similar in message, I decided to print out the jingle for that story and bring it along. It proved to be a reminder for the story and a reinforcer for the lesson. The jingle is “Be polite until you’re alright.” Badger, the main character who wakes up in the bad mood, changes his mood in the story by doing something he loves, gardening. Alexander, in this week’s story, never gets over his bad mood. We discussed the similarities and the differences.

I leave the jingle for each week in each classroom. I kept, though, the copy of The Bad Mood jingle and had it in my bag of tricks when I left the last classroom and headed down the hall. Because I had a series of texts and emails on my phone that needed responses, I decided to stop, midway in the hall, and sit on a chair to make those replies. While doing so, the school counselor came by and asked for my help. There were crisis all over the campus and she couldn’t handle them all.

I went to a second grade class to help a little boy who was having a meltdown–throwing his shoes, screaming, and pushing papers off of the desks. Since Calvin (not his real name) knew me from last year, he was willing to get his shoes and finally go with me. We sat in the hall and talked about his “bad mood.” I reminded him of the stories and even showed him the jingle. He remembered. I asked him what made him get over a bad mood. Playing a game.

The librarian brought me some books and toys to help. The counselor let me use her office. Calvin played and calmed down. After 45 minutes, I pulled out the jingle again and reminded him that Badger apologized to his friends for his bad mood. Could he do the same thing? Yes. I gave him the paper with the jingle, walked him back to his room where he went in, went straight to the substitute, and apologized and showed her the jingle. I slipped out the back door.


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.


“No more trouble with the second grade boy?”


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

Thanks comes in many ways

Tuesday is Senior Citizen Day at Salvation Army Thrift Store which means I will get an additional 25 percent off of anything I buy. It’s usually the day I go to look for items for the kids at Columbia. The home liaison had mentioned the need for girl’s pants, and they can always use coats and backpacks. I found lots of things that fit the bill and when checking out, the cashier asked if I qualify for the senior discount, so I told her about my volunteer work in retirement. After ringing it all up, and giving me the senior discount, she thanked me profusely for what I was doing.

“So many kids don’t have people like you to do these things for them. And I know you don’t get much thanks from the kids (actually I do), so I want to tell you how much this means to me to hear what you do.”

How kind of her.

I delivered the items to school and learned they also needed girls’ underwear so I stopped at Target on my way back home and cleared out the clearance rack. When checking out, the cashier remarked that I must be stocking up at the good prices.

“Actually, these are going to a school where I volunteer. The office manager asked for some to have on hand.”

The cashier stopped, and asked, “what school?”

I told her and she actually knew where it is.

“Thank you for that. My daughter has gotten clean clothes from her school so many times. It means so much to me. She’s only in preschool, but she has accidents and they always take care of her.”

Glad to be of help.

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!

People and their money

There is a small piece in today’s newspaper about a paper cup allegedly used by Elvis Presley six decades ago in Oklahoma that is up for auction, and bids have surpassed $1,200. The things people will spend their money on.

Today’s paper also reports a banquet at the current president’s Florida estate that will cost $100,000 per couple to attend. I would almost like to see who these foolish people are, but not enough to check into it. I could do so much with $100,000, and it wouldn’t be for this event.

At the beginning of the school year I purchased packages of socks and underwear for Columbia to have on hand for kids who had accidents. They could quickly change and go back to class rather than wait for a parent to bring a change of clothing, many of whom never arrive. I also brought in many pairs of pants for the same reason.

Yesterday I checked with the home liaison about the supply of these provisions and learned that the girl’s underwear and pants were all gone. Could I bring some more? I stopped at Target on the way home and found a variety of sizes of underwear in the clearance section. No luck with pants that were really inexpensive for my retired teacher’s budget, so next week I will go to Salvation Army and look for more. I can get a señior discount on Tuesdays.

So, that $1,200 for a cup once used by Elvis? I’d use it to buy clothing and supplies for kids. That $100,000 for a ticket to supp with the current president? I’d use it to update the school library’s books and make sure every teacher had books in their classroom.

Rain in the new year

We are grateful to be getting a few raindrops in these early days of the new year since we are far behind our normal rainfall numbers. It could be another season of drought if the rain totals don’t begin to add up. The new year snowfall check was very poor, too. Not only has there been no rain in the valley, there has been no snow in the mountains. One of the local ski resorts closed up before the new year as there just wasn’t any snow on its slopes.

Because of the fires in California, and the fact that the San Joaquin Valley is just a large bowl that collects all the air pollution from around the state, we have the worst air in decades. Just the other day the air in Fresno was worse than the air in Beijing. The bad air irritates throats and nasal passages. Coughs, colds, and respiratory infections are on the rise. If I’m outdoors for very long I get a headache and I know it’s the bad air that’s causing it.

These three weeks of school vacation have been nice. A chance to catch my breath, sit and contemplate the new year and how I will go through it, to read and relax with no demands on my time and energy. I continue to take my probiotics and to eat well so as to build up my immune system. I’m sure I’ve stayed well because I could spend so much time indoors and away from small children who cough and sneeze on me.

Next week that will change as school goes back in session and I get my bag of tricks ready to return to two days of storytelling. I’ve already been to the bank and gotten my lunch money. I will sit with small children and eat lunch. I will get hugs from these children and their small hands will slip into mine. I will be outdoors, breathing the air that may still be polluted if we don’t get enough rain to wash it away.