Our school was holding its annual market day simulation where students set up shop with foods, crafts, whatever they can create and sell for a profit, as they learn about capitalism and how a market economy works. Booths were set up outside and the seventh grade become merchants as the whole 6th grade comes out to shop I got my hair braided, bought some home-made honey soap, and a yarn doll for my grandbaby.
Suddenly a counselor came running across the field and said he needs me. He asked me to follow him He moved so quickly, I could not keep up with him. I followed him into the building wondering how much trouble one of my students must be in for him to come running after me.
As I enter the door to the cafeteria stairs, I see another counselor on the stairs staring at me. I look to my right, and there they are….. my angel squad! Four students, whom I dearly love, are standing on the landing arms laden with flowers and chocolates strawberries, hearts laden with love. They were my class family when I last taught them 5 years ago. One of them was with me for all three years of middle school, going back 8 years. At first, I just stare taking in the overwhelming connectedness and joy I feel seeing them again. Such a surprise and I am so intensely happy that it feels like my heart will burst. Happy dance and group hug time! Tears begin to coat my eyes like a fine veil of pre dawn mist, as a flood of emotions washes over me, and I feel myself melting.
We go to the office and sign in. Meanwhile they take in their old middle school, where suddenly everything looks small to them. “Were the lockers always that small?” “I don’t remember us being small, were we?” “Yes you were, in sixth grade.” They all laugh contagiously, reliving the middle school years at a safe distance. “We need to sign in” Two of them take out driver’s licenses as ID.s. Whoa, you all grew up so fast….Three of them are in college and the fourth is working and taking a gap year, before beginning school next year. They once sat in my class, as ESL students, working hard to get into regular classes and prepare for high school. Now, they are well on their way on life’s journey. I always enjoy my students, but their year was extra special. It is not every year that I sob on the last day of school They were a really special group. One of their defining features as a class was how they looked out for one another. Compassion, dedication, resilience, and joy were hallmarks of that class They set off sparks of joy when they were students in my class, over the years, and during yesterday’s visit they continued to do so.
We went outside to market day and collected my students On the way to do so, I arranged the girls around the Swanson sign in front of the school, to recreate the picture we had in our HILT middle school yearbook. When we arrived upstairs, my current class and the girls introduced themselves to each other. One boy started with “I hate reading at home” and another announced, “I hate games.” Sophia, the Queen of optimism, says “Why are you so negative? Talk about what you do like.” This is the same positive energy she brought to my class years ago. Her bigger than life personality with her smile the size of a half moon, and her booming voice bellowing out greetings in English with a thick Italian accent, fill the room. My current students sit mesmerized as I retrieve some of my former students’ work from my google Drive and print out speeches and essays they wrote in another middle school life time. Keity begins to read. Her speech is a reflection of who she is. It is humorous, unpredictable and light on the outside, but filled with purpose and serious content within. She begins talking about her own relationship with food in sentences brimming with self deprecating humor and hyperbole “ “ This is followed by serious questions about world hunger and our responsibilities. Her essay is a thoughtful insightful package inside engaging and playful wrapping, just like the writer.
The bell rings and I look for writing by the others to share with my afternoon class. We go to geography, where we find Mr T. The girls hit the room with me helping current students with their geography projects, they once did this class too….Then they go off to explore their old school. We get together for lunch with some of their other former teachers, laugh, tell stories, and savor the moment. Next they meet my afternoon class, the 8th graders. I find copies of their 8th grade oratory presentations in my Google Drive and pull them up. They deliver their speeches to my current class, who sit there spellbound. “They use really important words… you wrote THAT in 8th grade.” They are wonderful role models as former middle schoolers and as the young adults they have become
One of the girls got choked up reading her speech. She spoke about bad decisions she had made and what she had learned from them and for a moment she was an uncertain 8th grader, looking for answers she has already found. There were tears in her eyes. I remember some of the struggles from those days. My students were really moved. It was a wonderful opportunity to talk about the role of writing. “You were revisiting your 14 year old self in the raw” You will never again write like that 14 year old girl. You may write now about challenges you faced at 14, but you will do so as a 19 year old, who has already overcome them, and that is different There is something very authentic about capturing the moment while you are in it.” We all talked a little about writing and the revisiting of our emotional selves at given points in time. It was a powerful experience.
The girls all noticed how in 5 short years, cell phones prevailed. Five minutes in the hall and they were asking questions…Oddly enough it sounded like more than 5 years between their leaving and the present. “Could it have changed that much since we left?” I don’t know, could it?
What I do know is that seeing these young ladies blossom even more in their lives was a coup de grace beyond anything I could have imagined. They continue to be my inspiration and my joy, and reminder that no other profession can give a person this kind of fulfillment.