Westward Movement

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baseball and bat

I shared this story with my friend, and she told me I must post it. So here you are:

T, a frequent guest of my blog, has quite a story to tell. Her dad left T and her mom a few years ago, and T's mom has done her very best to provide for T. In my opinion, she's done incredibly well, as T is a marvelous human being. Last year was a tough one for both of them. T's mom lost her job and went back to school for a specialized certificate. She relied on T's aunt for weekend care as her program went from Friday through Sunday. Every Friday, T's mom picked her up one-two hours early to drive T to meet her aunt. T and her aunt then took a four hour journey by city bus to the aunt's home in the valley. Sunday night, T's mom picked her up to go back home. This went on for nearly the full year.

Several weeks in, T walked in one Friday morning. She hugs me every day, and on this day, her hug felt different. A little desperate. I asked her what was going on. Nutshell version, T was nervous about going to her aunt's. She didn't like it. Why? Her 18 year old cousin bothered her. Hairs up on my arms. How does he bother you? He calls me really mean names. Such as? At this, T broke down. She was so afraid to say anything because not staying the weekend at her aunt's meant her mom would have to drop out of school. They were close to being evicted. So much on nine-year-old shoulders.

T told me about her cousin. I spoke with her mom that afternoon. She immediately reassured T that her daughter's safety and happiness came first. Things changed right away for the better. The sour piece is that T's mom's school lost its license, and her schooling holds no merit.

Where's the baseball, Stern? What about the bat?

Earlier this year, T and I were chatting after school. Out of nowhere, T says, "You really went to baseball for me, Ms. Stern." I looked at her, confused. "Baseball?" "Yeah, you know, you really went to baseball when I had to stay with my aunt and my cousin last year." Ohhhhh ... "You mean, to bat." Ohhhhh ... "I mean, to bat!" We both smiled. And I got two hugs that day.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I began this blog with the intent to focus only on my kids and not to allow school business that has nothing to do with children to color my entries. I'd be remiss, however, if I didn't mention that my school is undergoing tremendous transition. After 20 years, I find myself making choices I didn't plan on just yet. After 20 years, my philosophy and that of my school no longer align. After 20 years, I'm looking at the next 20 (or so) through a very different lens. And, while change is hard, it's also exciting. My next blog site will certainly follow a different slant. Stay tuned for that.

Meanwhile, it's all about the kids. For several years prior to this one, my students wrote weekly letters in response to self-selected literature. This year, as referred to in previous posts, my students are writing weekly responses to prompts of varied genres. Some weeks, the writing is just plain great, others I know I didn't give enough support and guidance, and on occasion, my kids bring me to tears. This was one of those weeks. Pardon the length of this post, but I'd like to share three of those journal entries.

My kids were asked to write about a hero in their lives. A few wrote about famous figures - MLK, Jr., Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi - and most wrote about their fathers or mothers. 

L, a funny, funny boy, wrote eloquently about both parents. They are marvelous - supportive, kind, understanding, tough. "We all love each other. They are the reason I am working hard for an exceptional life. They need money. That's another reason. We need a house and when I am older, I will help them find one." These words demonstrate L's maturity and grasp of quite adult matters. "My parents care for me and I care for them. They are like Barney. They're kind, caring, loving and protective, but they're not as fat." These words ... well, need I say more!? I laughed out loud.

B has not yet been featured in my blog posts. She's a beautiful 5th grader who has worked hard and made such tremendous progress in all academic and social areas. Her dad, released just six weeks ago, has been in prison most of her life. The little bit of time he's been out since she's been my student has made a noticeable difference. He helps her with her journal entries, and I know he helped her with this one, but the content is all B. Little pieces:
"I would like to write about my hero. Although he doesn't have super powers, he has a super heart."
"My daddy is always giving me ideas on what careers would be nice for me to study. One of the ideas he gave me is to study law. He has also mentioned to consider architectural work."
"Last, but not least, my daddy is my hero because even though he has been back and forth lately, every time he comes back from his trips, he shows me how much he loves me. I love him because he doesn't have to say that he cares about me because he is always showing me."
Finally, again I share T with you. Bright, beautiful, full of spunk T. She, and others like her, remind me over and over again why I love what I do. She, and others like her, make the idea of big changes to come form lumps in my throat. Pardon the length - her entire essay must be shared.
"My hero ... is ... Ms. Stern. She is my hero because she has supported me for 2 and counting years. Ms. Stern is a person you can trust with secrets. She makes you feel welcomed. She is always giving me hints to write better. She loves to hear your opinion. Sometimes I feel that Ms. Stern is another person I can trust. She is a happy and calm person but becomes aggravated when you mess up. I think she thinks that all of us have a future and in her eyes sees us graduated.

My second hero is my mom. My mom is my hero because even though sometimes it seems she has failed, it turned out she succeeded. She is a mother who has to take care of me by herself. She also never gives up for me or her. She says she is the future of this family because my dad left me. I love that she is always defending me and talking to me.

My other heroes are my class. They are my heroes because they treat each other like family. We are any normal family. We fight, make up, and then we're best friends again. They have taught me that anyone can be my family member, it does not have to be blood. They are the best little brothers and sisters I've ever had. Each one of them is a mystery I have to crack. All of them teach me new things like how to share, how to love, and much more because I am an only child. They make me feel so welcomed that sometimes I do not want to leave. I hate that I will leave them this year. 

P.S. Ms. Stern, when I wrote this I was sobbing so hard my mom asked what happened."

How honored I am to be a part of these lives. Thank you for letting me share.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pick me because ...

Young Storyteller's Foundation is a wonderful program matching screenwriters with fourth and fifth graders. The kids and mentors meet for seven weeks, culminating with "The Big Show" ... a group of professionals acting out the kids' screenplays.

This program has been involved with my school for many years. Generally I choose the participant. I have five fifth graders this year. J participated in the fall program, and two from my class will participate when the program begins Wednesday. I offered D, B, T and E the same opportunity as J. Because there are just two slots, I asked each child to write a letter to me, persuading me to pick him or her.

T and E won the spots. (They were also the only two to write letters)! These are their words, with no editing.
E: I should be in Young Storytellers 'cause I like makeing funny stories and I love writeing a lot of nasty and imaginery storys. I know that I am not a good spelling guy but makeing funny storys that is fun for kids. And I know a lot of funny things to put in a story and crazy things. That is of one of the hobbis for me that I really like to do everyday. That is why I want you to pick me to enter Young Storytellers. I hope you pick me. :)-

T: I would love to on Young Storytellers because one year ago I lost intrest in writing, saying in my mind "I will never be a good writer." But when I found out I was getting good at writing it got my hopes up again. I think YST will even inspire me more to even try to make a book. Love, T

They have both completed the pretest they must take, turned in their parent permission forms, and told me yesterday they hope the weekend goes by quickly because they can't wait for Wednesday (day one). That inspires me!

President in a taxi

Last week, my students responded to the following prompt: You are running for president. You must give a speech to a group of people voting for the first time. What do you say in your speech?

As I read their words, I was ever more a believer that young children should make the rules by which we live. They get it.

Here are a few tidbits from the work of my kids:

J: We were slightly affected by the bombing on September 10, 2001. Many can’t afford to pay their health insurance. People get sick, they are brought to the hospital and the government pays for them. The others are not given proper medicine so I believe this problem is about the health insurance companies.
I am glad the wars are over. We have achieved our goals. Our soldiers are back. Unfortunately, we had a lot of casualties. This is the prize (he meant price - and that's priceless) of freedom.
Friends, what can you do as citizens of America? The solution or answer is in you. This can’t be solved without you. If I shall be elected, I promise to serve you the best I can.

L: We need to develop our children’s education to be able to have smart personnel in every organization.
This could be hard if we are all selfish and are not cooperative and never care to start making things better. We are not going to make things improve if we don’t want to start.

E: Getting rid of wars may be hard, but not impossible.
They will vote for me because I come from a working family and want things to be better for all.

Lance: I like many things like candy and I dislike many things like bad people. I am running for president because I think I can make the USA a better place. I will change police into robots because robots don’t get hurt much and we don’t have to pay them. I will also make regular gum into never-lasting gum so it is very fun. I will also make nannybots to take care of babies.

And ... my personal favorite:
A: People will remember that I will lower their taxis.

I'm going to be very careful the next time I call for a ride to the airport.

Happy Groundhog weekend.