Sunday, April 29, 2012

Yellow Bus

Three years ago when Misa boarded her first yellow school bus for Kindergarten, I quickly learned that the bus ride would become a significant part of her day.  One year later, it was the same experience for John-Pio.  Like the elevator in our condo building, the yellow bus is a natural part of our city kids' day-to-day life where what they say and do are sort of part of a larger community.  Every school day morning, they meet their familiar bus driver, Ken, along with the attendant, Tom, with special rituals that signify their come-and-go relationship.  They greet Misa with a hearty hello, and bump-fist with John-Pio or playfully try to take his hat.  At the end of the week, Misa is often given the microphone to sing anything she wants.  When I'm lucky enough to walk them to their bus or be there when they arrive home, Ken gives me some shortened run-down of the kids, and always wishes me a good day.  I feel as attached to these two as I observe Misa and John-Pio are.

In fact, the kids have memorized their birthdays and include each in their holiday gifts.  The other afternoon, Misa was hell bent on making chocolate chip cookies for Ken - just because.   Thankfully, both kids have had the same bus driver and attendant for two years now and although it'll most likely change next year, I have no doubt that a new kind of relationship will develop - whomever the new bus driver and attendant turns out to be.  Hearing others' positive stories about elementary school bus drivers, I bet there are hundreds of others out there who make it on the list of kids' positive memories.

Misa delivered this card from Ken and Tom when John-Pio was sick for a few days.  I just imagine that they have a stash of cards with various sentiments at their disposal . . . 

One event of our weekend was the Badger Kids Fair and Spring Football Game (where incidentally, we froze our asses off, but that's a forgettable piece of the weekend).  Along with 30 of my students, my kids, Jada, and Brad, Peter and Ruth also joined us.  We met at Sherman to board none other than a yellow school bus.  That wasn't very exciting at all to any of the kids or to my students, but it was novel for me to be riding the yellow bus with my brother!  In all our years of schooling, we were never eligible for the yellow bus because we were within walking distance of Palmer Way Elementary and Granger Junior High schools, and by the time we were in high school, someone was able to give us rides or we became licensed drivers soon after entering high school.

Riding that yellow bus on Saturday reminded me of the envy I felt as a student.  I secretly wanted to be a part of the yellow bus community.  I'm not sure I even knew anything important about it - my best friend Karen rode it every day so that was one source I count that contributed to my envy.  And I kind of liked the tone and energy from, "I gotta go - I have to catch my bus!" It sounded urgent and independent, as if the kid who said it had to get home to take a piano lesson or watch their little sibling, when maybe it had nothing to do with that demanding of a task.  Maybe it was just to get home in time to watch the "Brady Bunch" or "My Three Sons" or "American Bandstand."  Whatever it was, I know I was envious then.

Today I'm just happy knowing Misa and John-Pio are happy every time they get on and off the bus.  They confirmed this a few weeks ago when I offered to drive them to school and as a bonus, I would stop at Lane's Bakery for doughnuts.  No deal, Mom.  Their preference was to ride the yellow school bus - so much a part of their routine and so much a part of their day-to-day community experience.

Here's a picture of me and my brother on the only yellow school bus we've ever ridden together.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Backpack Notes

As I was cleaning out Misa's backpack I came across two notes.  Notes like these tell a lot about Misa's day-to-day life and the experiences she has in school.  On Fridays we almost always run into her teacher at the Echo Tap and sometimes I feel self-conscious knowing that little girls can be somewhat intense about their friendships.  And since I'm not privy to the play-by-play of Misa's school life, finding notes like these give insight into the life of girls.  Well, not every girl, but definitely mine.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Mean Girls

It was a hard day with adolescents today. Not the majority of my students, but two really got the best of me.

Behind the closed doors of my classroom, it's easy to believe that a team of 46 students along with three adults share common values and goals. We've been together five hours a day, for seven months in tight quarters dishing up high expectations, often pushing kids well above their next level of learning and behaving. Beyond the classroom walls, I can confidently assert that the entire school shares core values for learning, cooperation, friendship, and respect - these are expected from everyone who's part of Sherman Middle School. If I didn't believe that commonalities like these exist, I'd come home a miserable educator every single day.

Well, today was one of those days. I left the building feeling drained and angry, disappointed and concerned. Still preoccupied, I managed a short run with Brad, cooked a Chamorro dinner for the family, and even went climbing. But when all was said and done tonight, I still can't shake feeling miserable.

I've never doubted mean girls exist in today's world. With the ever-present focus on bullying prevention, victims of bullying, reactions to bullying, bystanders of bullying, it's clear that bullying exists everywhere. With so much attention, I want to believe that the outreach, coupled with the consequences of bullying witnessed world-wide, are sinking in. That to some extent, with my own teaching team's focus on learning, cooperation, friendship, and respect, not to mention zero tolerance of it by our school principal (it's his definitive strength - the way he deals and manages bullying) that perhaps my own team of students would take the high road by disengaging from acts of bullying.

Not so.

Today I intercepted an academic notebook, written between two girls in my class filled with name-calling, sarcasm, threats, and assumptions towards other students in class. They targeted one person in particular - a "friend" - and wrote about her in awful derogatory ways. It was mean.

These girls have a club titled, "Badazzess Club." As written in their exchange, their goal was to make the victim do certain acts in order to be a part of their club. This appears to have been going on for longer than a week, and today's act was to mix peanut butter into a fruit cup, and make the victim eat it. Not physically make her, but manipulate and threaten her just enough so she would do it. Interspersed were comments about the victim like,

 ". . . she annoys me with her so-called issues of self-esteem."

". . . she weighs like 29lbs more than me, I bet she never turns down a hamburger."

". . . why doesn't she just be a vegetarian like me, then she won't have to worry about her weight. But then, she'd be like me, and that would be annoying too. Is that too harsh?"

". . . she turned Emo and is cutting her ankles now because of, what? Because she needs our friendship?"

There's more, but it makes my blood pressure rise just remembering all of it. Included in the exchange were caricature drawings of students in class depicting the bullies views of them. One, drawn with wide eyes and a protruding behind, was labeled, "___________ ass," a student who is often picked on for his high-pitched voice, sensitivity and general confusion during class. Another comment dissed on what another kid was wearing - that kid, was also supposedly a friend of one of the bully's.  There were more - these were just a few of their targets.

Teachers did not go unscathed from these girls' judgements. They said some pretty mean things about their teachers, including their student teacher.  Interspersed in their writing was the comment,

". .  . these teachers don't want us to write notes, but then they walk right by and don't even notice we're writing notes.  WTF?" 

Never ever underestimate the eyes of a teacher.  For a total of 8 pages front to back, I spent my lunchtime reading their notebook, turning each page just shaking my head, irritated that the cynical bullies would make a mockery of the positive learning environment we all work so hard to cultivate and foster.  Even though what they said about their teachers was mean, they were insignificant eye-rolling perceptions towards very thick-skinned women.

What is not insignificant however, are the emotional affects these particular bullies have on their most targeted victim.  I'm concerned about her and she's foremost on my mind.  Tomorrow my teaching partners and I will be addressing the bullies.  Right now, I just want to deal head-on with them.  Use the top-down approach.  Implement consequences with parent conferences, write a full on bully referral, and say some things that should not be said by an adult to adolescents. 

That's my impulse right now.  We'll see how it all goes down tomorrow when as a team of teachers, we get in the faces of the bullies.  Maybe we'll avoid the top-down approach and end up reiterating the common values and goals that have been central to our community.   Maybe we'll have a meaningful discussion about bullying and the emotional turmoil bullies put victims through.  Maybe it'll turn into a psych session to get to the bottom of the bullies hearts and minds.  Maybe. 

Maybe, maybe, maybe. 

Right now, I'm not feeling it.  I'm feeling unforgiving towards the cynicism of these adolescent girls, and the gall they had to create such a club that worships mean acts of torments.  Frankly, I'm feeling miserable - drained and angry, disappointed and concerned - about the victims, and to some degree, the bullies. 

Damn them.

Mean Girls Suck. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Nevermind. I'll Sound it Out."

Here's the funniest video ever.  Most of the time climbing with the kids is fun and easy, and sometimes it can be a little chaotic.  You decide which one this video represents.  (HINT: "How do you pronounce this word . . . ?")

Climbing with Kids from Vera Naputi on Vimeo.

Initially we were going to go to Governor Dodge to boulder, but made a quick decision against it to avoid the dreadful ticks.  Ugh.  Misa and Brad both had one already, and while we typically don't let that deter us from being outside, we opted to choose our bouldering spot carefully.

The West Bluff Fire Road was a great choice.  I mean, the kids love hiking around in the large talus fields, but it takes longer and I end up getting in less climbing time because of the hike.  The fire road was a welcome respite and it was beautiful to see how open the woods were.  We spotted a short little group of boulders, about 6 feet high, and perfect for the kids to practice their footwork, mantle at the top-out, and check-in with their levels of fear.  It's nerve wracking to top-out!

We've been reading the Harry Potter series and Misa decided to name the area "The House of Aragog."  Misa said it's a really simple word to spell because there's a pattern to it, so even if you've never read Harry Potter, at least you'll know how to spell the spider's name if you're psyched to take kids there.

The 45 wall was so fun!  I love the far right warm-up line (v3) and the far left (v4) has great movement with a sketchy top-out.  I think having Brad back into climbing, instead of just spotting and moving pads around for me is going to make my season.  Cross your fingers he stays healthy and gets friggin' stronger than he is - I rely on him to be my beta man!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Stones and Things

Brad and I love Easter season, especially because it was our first holiday together way back in 1999.  Wow.  That was thirteen years ago.  Since then, we've made a life for ourselves specially marked with traditions that help reveal the love and wildness, the peace and creativity that make up our lives.  In a recent blog post written by Emma, she tells the story of stones and the meaning they bring to her personally, and to our family.  She describes our tradition as a "mindless habit" - something we are all subconsciously drawn to collect - whether in the woods, along a lake shore, or while on an urban stroll.  In reality, a single stone was one of the things that drew Brad and me together, so it's no wonder they are integral to our Easter celebration.

When we spent our first Easter with Emma in 2000, stones were an intentional part of her hunt.  She found stone eggs and stone bunnies, and every year as her collection grows, the meaning behind each one feels more ingrained.

When Misa was born, her collection of spherical stones started along with stone animals of all kinds.  She describes them as "stone zoo animals," and it seems every year as she gets older, she has a special remembering behind the one she found the year before.

For John-Pio, he gets rocks - pure and unique from all parts of the world.  His other special find are animals made of Tagua.  This year, his newest Tagua animal was a horse - an animal he has a special affinity for.  And it's beautiful.

Before I put away the kids' various stone collections, I took one last look at each one.  I turned them in the palm of my hand, loving the texture and image of each one.  I carefully tucked them away all the while looking forward to next Easter season's traditional hunt of love and wildness, peace and creativity.

Here are some pictures - Happy Easter and Happy Spring!

Emma's stone eggs.  She found the amber (top center) stone this year. 
Stone bunnies! 
John-Pio's rocks from all over the world.  
His Tagua nut collection.  He was psyched to find the horse this year. 
Misa's stone spheres.  Her new stone was the ocean jasper on the left. 
Misa's stone zoo collection.
Here's a fun slideshow that captures Easter: Hunt, church, barbecue with Peter, Ruth, Chris, and Lisa at their place.  And a fierce game of kickball!