Tag Archives: school chaplain

The storytelling will resume

Our schools will open next Monday for another year of learning. I went out to Columbia on Friday morning to visit with the teachers and try to connect with the second grade teachers who I’ve not seen for two years due to the pandemic.

This year there will be three each of first and second grade rooms, total of six. Last year I was in four first grade rooms and two of the second grade classes with teachers who had hunted me down and asked me to come read to their students. This year I wanted to reconnect with the second grade teachers and see if they would like me to come back in. I didn’t know how they would respond, but they all said, YES!

They had loved what I had done when I could come even though it was only once a month back in 2019. This year I will be able to be there each week. You may remember, dear Reader, that I had decided this task would take top priority. I was so happy with their reactions.

I had made treat bags for all of the teachers, and whether they agreed to let me come back or not, I would still share the bags with them. They were all delighted and one recalled some bags I had shared in previous years. It’s nice to know they appreciate these small gestures.

The classes are big this year, 28 students in each one. These large numbers will test my class management skills. Last year was very easy, each class having only about 15 students. And, of course, the previous year was all done online so I had no discipline issues. I may be rethinking the way I do things. The second graders will know me because they saw me every week last year and understand my expectations.

This will be Year Nine of this assignment. One of my friends asked me if I planned to do this for 21 years like I did at Fresno High. Well, we’ll see…

And the summer begins

Monday was the last school chaplaincy meeting for the 21-22 school year, and with that I completed 8 years of work with first and second graders. Who knew, all those years ago, that I would still be doing this.

Two other chaplains have been there a couple of years longer than me, one of whom is the leader of the group, a retired elementary school principal, who is one of the smartest educators I have ever met. The other one is at a school whose attendance boundary backs up to Columbia’s boundary. We share similar students, her’s more homeless, though. She started her work at the school before there was a school chaplaincy program because she had a heart for helping unhoused children.

We will meet again in late August, as the summer wraps up and students return to school, God willing. I usually begin the week of Labor Day, allowing the teachers to get to know their students and get their routines in place before coming in and causing some craziness.

The hope is that there will be more of us by the start of the new school year. When the pandemic shut us down, there were 40. Now there are 20. Schools want a chaplain but there are no bodies to fill the positions. This appears to be a problem in many institutions who rely on volunteers. We’ve seen fewer people at church. It seems that jump-starting people is more difficult to do than to jump-start a vehicle that has sat for a long period of time. My feeling is that people got too comfortable sitting on the sidelines, staying at home, taking care of their own needs, and now it’s hard to change that habit.

For now, it’s summer and the living is easy. I have taken on a new responsibility at church–children’s sermon a couple of times a month as well as coffee fellowship once a month. I did ask to sit out the coffee task during July as we will have our grandchildren here for part of the month. I’ll be busy enough trying to figure out what to feed them without having to also think about what to feed the congregation.

The things kids say

Children are very honest. They tell you exactly what is on their mind. Teenagers can be ruthless, and I should know since I worked with them for over 20 years. My high school students often told me that my hair needed some attention. I often ran my hands through my hair, mostly in frustration with the previous class, making my hair stand up for the next class. The students would come in, passing me at the front of the room, and might just try to pat my hair into place with comments like, “what did you do to your hair, Mrs. Zody?”

All of this came back to me on Thursday at Columbia. After finishing with Room 8, I usually step into the hallway and take a few steps to Room 10 for the next reading. For some reason, on Thursday the teacher had her door locked and no one answered my knocks. I could hear her giving directions to the students so waited and knocked again. No reply. I went around the corner, out of the building and got caught in a gust of wind as I knocked on Room 10’s outside door. The teacher opened the door, having not heard me at the hallway door, and apologetic for the locked door.

As the students sat on the rug to hear the story, one little girl raised her hand, “Mrs. Zody, your hair is a mess.”

I patted it into place and explained that I had been caught in the wind. Another girl, sitting on the other side of the rug, raised her hand and said, “It’s okay, it always looks like that.”

I tell you, kids keep you humble.

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.

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.