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.