After considerable consternation on the part of Sister V about my behavior and continuance in the 6th grade, and this coming after only the first two weeks of school, my mother decided flight was a preferred alternative than a fight; in particular, given that Sister V was not only my 6th grade teacher, she was also the lead nun in charge of the school and in my opinion had the disposition of an injured wildcat. I had been at that same school and successful from first through fifth grade. I maintain that the reality of this particular fallout and subsequent parting was really not entirely of my own doing. Yes, I did toss a rock, albeit small, in sister V’s direction and yes, it was after she had directed me to not do so. Still, lacking the word power to articulate my concerns with her at that time and age I really had to do something significant to make it very clear I did not like her, not at all. That year, I was upset about things at home too and to a 6th grader, Sister V was a justifiably unfriendly target worthy of my angst. I succeeded in my willful defiance to communicate my feelings with her, but I did not fully comprehend the power she held over my young life and the misery that would follow as I returned to “her” classroom, in “her” school. She really did carry a ruler and smack us on the hands if we were talking. (Please do not try this in your classroom.) I do think the priest assigned to hear my confession did actually laugh a bit behind his privacy screen as I described my disdain for Sister V. Whatever he may have thought, he clearly did not show lenience in the assignment of my penance. So with sore knees from I don’t know exactly how many “Hail Mary’s”, and what might have been some type of parochial school record for converting from a nice kid into a bad actor, my mom decided my 6th grade experience at Saint Rose of Lima elementary school was over. I remember looking out the window of our station wagon as mom drove us away and wondering what was going to happen next.
After a rather brisk sign up process at the front office, I was the new kid in the 6th grade class at Parkway School. The school year had started; I did not know anyone, really. I used to be someone at my old school. I had won field day just the year before, but nobody knew that at my new school. I had friends and we had been together all through elementary school. I missed them. Other than Sister V, I felt safe there and did really well in my classes. But there I was the new kid in school, what was I to do? There really was no meet and greet, no orientation to the building, and no introduction to other students. I was assigned a desk and class started and I was left to sort it out. I do not remember one academic related concept from what was left of that year, not one. I don’t know why they passed me on to 7th grade the next year; perhaps they did not want a student in Parkway that had whiskers. My greatest recollection from 6th grade at the new school was sitting next to Phil who was practicing how he could write his name using cursive. He suggested a way that I could sign my first name – and I still use that today. Thank you Phil J. Class time was monitored closely by the teacher who really did patrol the isles. We had marks on the floor and had to keep our desk legs aligned. Once the teacher picked up and moved a desk with a student still in it to realign to the floor marks. He was stern; I wondered if he had been in contact with Sister V and what he thought of me; he never really talked to me. Not knowing what the public school version of penance was and hearing rumors of “hacks” for misbehavior, I decided it was best to just stay in my seat and keep the desk legs inside the marks on the floor.
Now we are all grown up, and some of us even work in public schools. Many things have changed, most all for the better in schools. Still, there are “new” students that come to our class, school, bus, playground, or cafeteria -- just as there were years ago. In fact, students these days might on the average actually be more mobile in schools today. Each new student has his or her own story of change. We cannot really control their “story” but we can be a significant force for good by being active and thoughtful in how their story unfolds when they are with us. How do we make “new” students feel as they transition into our presence? What customs, traditions, rituals, routines, activities, or new student orientation steps do we make happen for each “new” student to help them feel safe, welcome, and connected to our little space in the world? When we do this well, new students can be engaged and productive with academic work in our schools. If we don’t do it, or don’t do it well, the new students struggle in a mighty way and if they don’t feel right, they simply won’t make academic progress. All students learning, means we have to see and support each student and deal with the barriers that adversely impact their learning – being the new student is really hard for many young people in our schools and it is up to us to lead the way for them.
Research shows that mobility can have a devastating adverse impact on a student’s performance in school. It is really hard for many students to change schools, be that “new” student and continue doing well. It takes tremendous support from a family to make that work. For those students whose family situation is in part related to the changing of schools, it takes very smart and compassionate staff at the new school to see these “new” students with insightful and kind eyes and help them make the change and stay positive.
Thank you for being one who sees each “new” student as an opportunity, for acting affirmatively, and for not seeing these as just another desk to assign.