Tag Archives: school chaplain

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.

Overwhelmed teachers

I think it’s the time of the year. Almost summer vacation, but not quite close enough. Still lots to do. State tests still on the horizon, and getting closer by the hour. Then there are the issues children are facing in their homes. Crowded homes. New babies. Unemployed parents. The need for new spring clothing but no money. More neighborhood violence. There have been three killings in the southwest community in the last month. Many shootings. It all adds to the trauma.

The teachers are feeling the trauma, too. It affects their classrooms. Outbursts. Meltdowns. Inappropriate behavior. Inattention. Some of the teachers are asking for leaves of absence. The testing season is here and they just can’t handle it. How will that affect the scores?

I have no solutions, and that hurts my heart. I want to wave the magic wand and make it all better. I really hurt for the teachers right now. In a couple of weeks, California has what it calls, Day of the Teacher, when all teachers are shown some appreciation for what they do. In the well-to-do schools, parent clubs put together lovely breakfast or lunch buffets. The children bring gifts to the teachers. The administration makes a big deal of their teachers. In the hardscrabble inner city schools, not so much. It’s the tyranny of the urgent, and while attempts are made to honor the teachers, more pressing items must be attended to. Site funds must be spent on the students’ urgent needs.

I found a gift box of post-it notes with a super hero theme. The store was able to get four boxes for me to give to the four first grade teachers with whom I work on a weekly basis. I would love to give these super hero notes to all the teachers, but I’m a retired teacher on a pension. The funds just aren’t there for that extravagance.

Although planning to give these boxes to the teachers the week of teacher appreciation, I changed my mind after seeing the disposition of the teachers. I wrapped the boxes, selected some special note cards, and then wrote this on each one:

Super heros are asked to save the world.

Super héros go to the hardest places.

Super héros are tasked with the impossible.

Super héros use their wit and instinct to overcome chaos.

Super héros never give up.

YOU are a super hero, saving the world, one child at a time.

Not much, but I hope it keeps them coming back for a few more weeks. That they will know there are those who see the hard work they are doing.

Heading into the last quarter of the school year

April is here, and it’s feeling like spring. Last week, Holy Week, was very quiet around here. I tried to be contemplative and was moderately successful. I feel recharged, ready to take on the world (or at least my world) again.

There are 10 more weeks of school for the children, eight for me. I have six more books to read to the first graders and two to read to second graders. There will be an assessment day for the first graders of which I am not fond but it is necessary so as to show some growth, hopefully due to the work I’ve been doing with these children. My all-time favorite day will come the week of May 22 when I get to hand out certificates and various prizes and awards.

Teachers are looking tired at this time of year. They too are hopeful that the spring break helped to revive them enough to carry on through the end of the year. We all hope that children will come back recharged and more curious about what they will learn. Maybe the routine can be changed up a bit and we can do things in a different way. I’ve got to work on that with my materials and my “bag of tricks” so as to spark some enthusiasm for the last few weeks. Although the first graders like routine, they also enjoy some gentle surprises sprinkled in the mix.