Fantastic Friday: Endings and Beginnings

Bryant schoolThis Fantastic Friday post, which debuted on Down the Gravel Road, is a look back at the last gathering of the last group of elementary students I taught. They were ready to graduate from high school in May of 2011. This year, many of them are graduating from college. Though Bryant School where we had spent their fourth grade year together, had been closed, it was still standing. Bryant School is gone now, replaced by single family houses. Time passes. Change comes. But the lessons learned at their Time Capsule opening 4 years ago still hold true. And when I think of them all grown up, the children they once were still make me smile and cry.

Endings and Beginnings

Yesterday’s Time Capsule Opening was a strange mixture of endings and beginnings. The graduating seniors who gathered were Bryant Elementary fourth graders in 2002-2003, my last year of teaching. Until this spring, the students returned to Bryant to open the capsule.

But not this year because Bryant School is no longer open. So we gathered in the new, bright, and sunny lunch room at Franklin School instead.  The seniors were so busy thinking about graduation and parties and new beginnings, they barely noticed. Plus, they were having too much fun looking through old pictures, sharing memories, and discovering what they put in the Time Capsule to get all mushy and maudlin.

I, on the other hand, felt like a kid in uncomfortable, new clothes that didn’t quite fit. This place wasn’t the well-worn school where we made fourth grade memories. Seven years older, the little children I taught and loved for nine months barely peeked out from beneath whiskered cheeks and prom sun tans.

Their eyes are on the future.
Their hearts are full of hopes and dreams.
Their lives are full of beginnings, not endings.

For me, this spring filled with endings: the end of time capsules, the end of graduation invitations from former students, the end of Bryant School, which will soon be demolished.

I am ready for this ending, as ready as these brave young people are for the end of this phase of their lives. I just need a moment to cry and savor these sweet and tender endings. Then, I’ll learn one more lesson from these fresh and lovely students.

With them, I’ll look at the future,
examine new hopes and dreams,
concentrate on beginnings rather than endings.
With them, I’ll finally graduate from public school.

Endings and Beginnings

Bryant School

Yesterday’s Time Capsule Opening was a strange mixture of endings and beginnings. The graduating seniors who gathered were Bryant Elementary fourth graders in 2002-2003, my last year of teaching. Until this spring, the students returned to Bryant to open the capsule.

But not this year because Bryant School is no longer open. So we gathered in the new, bright, and sunny lunch room at Franklin School instead.  The seniors were so busy thinking about graduation and parties and new beginnings, they barely noticed. Plus, they were having too much fun looking through old pictures, sharing memories, and discovering what they put in the Time Capsule to get all mushy and maudlin.

I, on the other hand, felt like a kid in uncomfortable, new clothes that didn’t quite fit. This place wasn’t the well-worn school where we made fourth grade memories. Seven years older, the little children I taught and loved for nine months barely peeked out from beneath whiskered cheeks and prom sun tans.

Their eyes are on the future.
Their hearts are full of hopes and dreams.
Their lives are full of beginnings, not endings.

For me, this spring filled with endings: the end of time capsules, the end of graduation invitations from former students, the end of Bryant School, which will soon be demolished.

I am ready for this ending, as ready as these brave young people are for the end of this phase of their lives. I just need a moment to cry and savor these sweet and tender endings. Then, I’ll learn one more lesson from these fresh and lovely students.

With them, I’ll look at the future,
examine new hopes and dreams,
concentrate on beginnings rather than endings.
With them, I’ll finally graduate from public school.

One of Those Days

Yesterday was one of those days. You know the kind. You wake up and make your to do list, realizing it’s slightly ambitious but confident that if you just put your mind to it, you can work your way through it and get to the really important stuff, like getting ahead on writing because you’re going to be out of town later in the week.

My list started with laundry, which I started as soon as I got out of bed. I moved on watering the flowerbeds and outdoor pots, moving the hose each time I finished a lap of my walk. As soon as that was done, I hung clothes on the line and was feeling pretty pleased with myself until the phone rang. Someone who bought a copy of A DIfferent Dream for My Child at Mom’s Memorial Day Reunion wanted to stop by and buy ten more. Who could say no to a deal like that? Quickly, I cleaned up, ate breakfast and counted out the books.

The phone rang.

The same lady was one the line, spelling out names for the inscriptions on the books. Once those were ready, I hung more clothes on the line, sent in the monthly Melaleuca order, and posted the day’s blog.

The phone rang.

This time, it was a friend from South Dakota, calling to make sure we would be at the Sky Ranch Anniversary celebration later this week. Of course we had to talk for awhile, and by the time we ended the conversation, I wondered if there would be time in the day to get ahead on the writing so I can leave for the reunion Thursday as planned.

The doorbell rang.

It was the book buyer. Once the sale was complete, I raced to the grocery store and came home to unload them.

The phone rang.

The eye doctor’s secretary called to remind me of an appointment tomorrow. I thanked her and eyed my to do list. So much to do before getting to the writing stuff.

The phone rang.

It was someone from a hotel where I’d attended a college reunion some years back. Were we interested in planning another one? I said no, hung up and went outside to take most of the clothes off the line, folded them and ate a quick lunch.

The phone rang.

A friend from church had been to the daughter’s wedding website and had an enigmatic shower gift question about their superhero kitchen theme. She wouldn’t say much about her plans, and I ended the call, very curious indeed. I took the last few clothes off the line, came back inside and started writing.

The phone rang.

Someone from Des Moines inquiring about a speaking engagement, but it didn’t work out. I went back to writing, but my mind kept wandering to the Bryant School Open House later in the day. Bryant was my kids’ elementary school, and my Camelot for so many years. It’s closing at the end of this school year, and I’m going back for one last visit before the doors are locked forever.

I didn’t really have time, not with that unfinished to do list.

But the sounds of Bryant School rang in my ears – happy voices of children playing outside, chanting multiplication facts, and singing Christmas carols, my former co-workers laughing in the teachers’ lounge, their tears when tragedies struck, their encouragement when life grew hard, and their good-byes at the end of each school year.

I didn’t really have the time to go, but I went anyway. The to do list could wait. Saying good-bye for the last time could not.

Good-bye, Camelot. Good-bye.

Once, We Taught in Camelot

Last night, I went to Camelot, and so did many of my teacher friends. Now, we didn’t think we were going to Camelot. We thought we were going to a retirement party for a fellow teacher who devoted over thirty years of his life to the children in our community. But as we honored him and told stories about the practical jokes he played on staff members, of his sense of humor with students and the high expectations he had for them, one thing became clear. Those of us who taught together at Bryant School for ten or fifteen magical years, starting in the mid 1980s, worked in Camelot.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Things weren’t perfect back then – not the administration, the faculty, the staff, the kids or the parents. We didn’t always agree with one another. We didn’t always like our job assignments. And we certainly didn’t realize what a great and wonderful gift we’d been given.

What we had was this: a faculty and staff who had high standards for students, put the needs of kids first, showed respect to the people in the building, and knew how to have fun. At least once a week someone brought goodies to the teacher’s lounge, and we exchanged recipes with abandon. At lunchtime that lounge, all five by ten feet of it, was the place to be. Sometimes, we vented and ranted about work, and sometimes we cried about life’s heartbreaks. But usually we talked and laughed so hard our sides ached.

Through it all, because of it all, we bonded in a sweet and unique way I’ve never experienced in any other work environment. Best of all, the camaraderie among us helped our students. Each afternoon, we went back to our classrooms smiling, able to give our students the positive encouragement they needed to succeed.

Like all good things, our Camelot came to an end as people retired and grade levels were moved to different locations because of building projects and new schools. Our beloved Bryant School will close at the end of this year. The classrooms and the tiny teacher’s lounge will be empty.

But the bonds forged there remain strong. Once in awhile, we have a Bryant reunion. Or a teacher retires and we gather to celebrate. We hug, we cry, we laugh, we smile. We realize, as we did last night,  that “once once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment that was known as Camelot.”

As we go our separate ways, I whisper a prayer that somehow in some other workplace, that spirit is growing again. I hope that a new generation will one day also be able to say what we say each time we gather.

Once, we worked in Camelot.

Time Capsule, 2009

Last Friday afternoon, I went to a reunion. Fourteen of my favorite people in the whole world came to the elementary school where we did fourth grade together. We gathered, a few weeks shy of their high school graduation, to open the time capsule they put together about this time eight years ago.

The young men were so tall and deep-voiced, it took a few minutes for me to match them with the little boys who hugged me good-bye almost a decade ago. The young women were poised and lovely, the fulfullment of the promises I had glimpsed beyond their ponytails and  the chipmunk teeth that overpowered their nine-year-old faces. Not everyone returned for the festivities. Some I couldn’t locate. Some lived too far away to return for the party. Some chose not to come. Their absence was an emptiness in the crowded room.

My former students looked different, but their chatter was the same, as they watched the videos of their fourth grade year. Squeals of laughter and little screams filled the room as they found photographs of our Halloween party, field trips and playground fun. They read the stories they had written, full of their perfect penmanship and childhood wishes. “I don’t remember much of fourth grade,” several confessed. But by the end of the afternoon, they did – the broken clipboard, the multiplication songs, our class fundraiser, science experiments, social studies presentations, and one book they said impressed them: a true story written by children’s author Peg Kehret about her childhood battle with polio.

Eight years ago when these kids entered my classroom, they wormed their way into my heart. They’ve been there ever since. As they came up one by one to open the little token they placed in the time capsule, I marveled at the young adults they’ve become and rejoiced to hear of the dreams they have for the future.

Nothing dimmed the magic of the afternoon. For an hour, the soon-to-graduate seniors were fourth graders again, and I was their teacher. And I prayed that the memories of childhood and the sweetness of our days together will be one small, link in the chain of events that holds them up and carries them into the future. In that future, I hope they will experience one of the greatest privileges I have ever known: to watch a youngster discover the potential he’s been given and then use it to give to others.

A Day Turned Wonderful

Friday was a wonderful day, though on the surface it looked a bit dicey. The weather was cold, windy and gray as I hauled bags and boxes full of party supplies, along with an eight-year-old time capsule to my car. Shortly after noon I pulled up to the service entrance of Bryant School, where I taught for many years. A thunderstorm was in full progress and the rain came down in sheets. Opening doors and hauling in supplies was a bit tricky with an umbrella in hand, but I managed.

A few minutes later, I was in one of the school’s empty classrooms, getting ready for a party. Everything was in place when the guests of honor, my former fourth grade students who are graduating this year and their parents, arrived. The seniors entered, self-conscious, trying to be cool. But as they looked a the memorabilia laid out on the tables – their elementary yearbook, the class scrapbook, photographs, and notes they’d written and old projects they asked me to save – the cool vanished. When they realized the video playing on the TV was of them in fourth, they began to laugh.

That’s when the day turned wonderful. The sense of camaraderie and innocence they’d shared when they were nine and ten descended upon them again. The oneness that had developed during nine months of learning together settled upon them like a blessing. The room filled with delight. When the program began, and each student came forward to reclaim their time capsule treasure and tell us their plans for the future, the blessing continued.

I have high hopes for these former students. I hope they all use the remarkable talents they’ve been given for good. I hope they have happy and meaningful lives. And I hope the memory of our year together and the time spent celebrating on a cold, rainy afternoon takes root inside them and continues to bless them.

I hope one day, they will recognize the blessing and pass it on.