Posts Tagged ‘school’

I have mentioned previously that I volunteer at my grandson’s school. He is in Kindergarten. Usually, I do one of two things. I either help with kids’ printing practice, one on one, or I take a couple out in the group work center (in the hallway) to work on an art project. I think it’s sad that there is no time for the kids to have an art project as a whole group but there is so much to be covered that there just is no time. I enjoy doing the art projects, though so it’s a good fit for me.

Before Christmas, I was asked to do an art project where the kids would be working on making a Christmas tree picture using their shapes. We were using a large triangle, a small rectangle, and circles. The instructions were for them to (1) draw a large triangle then a (2) small rectangle touching the bottom of the triangle. They had a sample to look at and I explained it slowly and carefully to each of the two (at a time) students. There was more to it but I only gave those instructions until they had completed those steps. The first three kids really had a problem drawing the triangle and we had to erase a lot. So I thought to lightly draw three dots and have them connect them with their pencil to form the triangle. It worked like a charm but I only did it for those that were having trouble with the triangle. So when it was Anderson’s turn (that’s my grandson), I drew the dots for the other child and then turned to help Anderson. When I turned, he had seen me draw the dots and had drawn his own three dots, and was connecting them! No help needed. I was very pleased but the triangle wasn’t quite like the others. It was narrower and not quite as large as the others. However, I did not have the heart to tell him to erase it. He had done such a good job with no help! So what if his was a little different?! I think he made a perfect little Christmas tree!

The last steps were to use a large marshmallow in paint to fill in the triangle and the rectangle; then a small marshmallow to paint ornaments on the tree. Kind of a clever way to incorporate triangles, rectangles, and circles (which they were studying that week) into a seasonal project!


Anderson’s Three Shapes Christmas Tree

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When I was teaching fifth grade in Glendale, California, I liked to use current writing that would appeal to the kids in my class who were mostly from immigrant families. However, most of this writing was not district approved.  Not because there was anything wrong with with it but because it was new and had not yet been reviewed by the school district or even “leveled”, so I was asked to use only materials provided by the district from our textbook room.

One book that I picked was A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle.  It was nearing the end of the year and I wanted something different from what we had read but I liked the fact that a family was featured in this book, with the young girl being the main character.  We hadn’t read any books in which the main character was a girl.  We hadn’t read any fantasy or science fiction.  So I checked to make sure it was leveled for 5th graders and that there were enough copies for everyone plus our two educational assistants and myself.  Perfect.  The numbers were all there and it was considered appropriate for 5th to 7th grade.

We began reading it and the kids really enjoyed it.  They had to read in it at home so they took the books home.  Two weeks after we began reading it, a very irate parent came in after school.  I knew who she was but had not had any run ins with her but she did have a reputation for being loud, abusive, and very confrontational.  I ushered her toward the front office where I could signal for an administrator to come to this discussion (that was the routine when parents confronted a teacher on school grounds).  Her problem was the book we were reading.  It was “demonic”, in her opinion.  The assistant principal asked what was demonic about it and she said she hadn’t read it but “just look at the cover; it’s evil; its’ the devil.” She wanted the whole class to stop reading it.  I suggested that we give her son a different book to read.  She said no. The very presence of the book in the classroom was evil.  And what did the administrator say?  Well, she should have said that the boy could read a different book.  She should have said that he could go to another classroom while the rest of the class read the book aloud.  And she should have been used to it because her son was also dismissed to wait outside the classroom during the flag salute and during any discussion of holidays and any school parties. They were Jehovah’s Witnesses and were used to being dismissed to another class.  But she insisted.  The administrator gave in.  She didn’t back me up.  She told me, in the presence of the mother, that I was to collect all the books and return them to the text book room and pick something else.

It wasn’t a formal banning.  In fact the book was approved.  It wasn’t a new book.  It was published 40 years earlier!  The entire class had to stop reading in the middle of the book and I had to pick something else that was not as interesting to the others and something that was a lot shorter because we had already spent two weeks reading this book and the school year was about to end.  And the school had set a precedent for allowing parents to come in and censor not only what their child was reading but what an entire class was reading.

Censorship takes many forms.  And while I agree that a parent has a right to object to what their child is reading if they think it is objectionable, I don’t think a parent has a right to interfere or censor what the entire class is reading or studying.

A Wrinkle In Time is still on the list of challenged books.  It has been challenged as being too Christian and as not being Christian enough. Go figure.

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I keep thinking about an incident that happened in 2000 that keeps popping up.  It bothers me.  I’m not sure it should.  I’ve not mentioned it to anyone but I think I’m ready to write about it.  I think it will be soon. Why? I think it has been bothering me because it’s important.  It’s an important issue, especially for women, and clearly for young women.  So I will get busy on that and see if I can organize my thoughts.  Or maybe just tell it like it happened and let you decide what is important about it and why.

Another thing that has been on my mind is age.  I know I am not a spring chicken.  I am the first to tell my age…59.  I’ll be 60 in a few short months.  I used to think that was old but now as it approaches, I have come to realize that it’s just another in an ever escalating list of numbers. It doesn’t mean that I’m done. It doesn’t mean that I should go hide away in a corner and stay quiet. It doesn’t mean that I have nothing to say.  It doesn’t mean that no one should listen to me.  But that’s how I feel at times, more and more so.  It seems that people see an older person and instead of thinking “gee, I wonder what I can learn from this person”, they think something like “oh they’re so out of it; they’re over the hill and I don’t have anything to learn by listening to them.”  I guess it’s natural for the younger ones to ignore the wisdom of the older ones. But I don’t like it.  I don’t ignore those older than me. There are a lot of older bloggers out there…yeah, older than me!  They have something of value to say and I will listen to them.  There are also a lot of much younger than me bloggers with a lot to say that I want to hear. If I can help them and support them in any way, even if it as just a cheerleader or a surrogate mom, I’m there.

School.  It’s starting up again.  Well, local kids have another month before they start but I know that in California, they start this week.  In some places they already started last week. Whenever they start, it always seems bittersweet to me.  It’s the end of free time, learning from doing time, fun time, for them. It’s the end of playing in the street until long after the sun has set.  As such, it’s a melancholy time.  Yet, it’s the beginning of new learning.  It’s the beginning of new friends and a new teacher or two.  For many, it’s the beginning of a new school experience.  It’s the beginning of change.  It’s the beginning of widening horizons.  That’s a promising thing.  I remember loving it.  I was always happier during the school year.  It gave me a sense of purpose and a sense of accomplishment and of promise.

I guess that’s what’s on my mind today.  And I have a little five year old telling me that he wants to go get his hair cut because it’s in his eyes again.  So I guess that’s the next thing for today!

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I sat in the waiting room and looked at the clock on the wall.  I had now been there for over two hours and I was the only person in the room.  There had been no one ahead of me and no one behind me in line.  Me.  Just me.  And this quick walk-in task had turned into a two plus hour task.  Had I known that, I would have stopped for a bite to eat.  It was now after 2 PM and I had nothing in my stomach.  No food.  No coffee.  No juice.  No nothing.  How much longer would this be?  By the time I finished, it would be time to go get my grandson from pre-school and I would have no time to get anything to eat and I was already feeling shaking from not eating.  How much longer.

Or maybe a better question would be: Why?  Yup.  That’s the better one.  Why?  That was a tough one to answer, yet very easy at the same time.  I have been doing this for as long as I can remember.  I have missed it in the past six or so years but now I wanted it again.  Volunteering.  It is a way of life for me.  I remember going for a walk when I was first married.  I had decided to get out of the apartment and go for a walk on a sunny October afternoon and I had ended up walking by an elementary school during recess.  I had watched the kids playing on the playground and for the rest of my walk, I had thought about calling the school district to see if they needed volunteers.  I could watch the kids on the playground during recess.  I could watch them cross the street after school.  I could do a lot of things to help those kids.  So I had called the school district and instead of ending up volunteering, I had ended up with a paying job as a classroom assistant, after a long two month screening and testing period.  But I had loved working with the kids.  I only did it for about seven months then the end of the school year came along and over the summer we moved way far away, on the other end of the county so that job was gone and I missed working with the kids.  Then my own kids came along and I was bitten by the volunteer bug.  PTA.  Girls Scouts.  Cub Scouts.  School Foundation.  You name it, I did it.  I was the Room Mother.  I was the Den Leader.  I was the Troop Leader.  When we couldn’t find a Scout Master for our Cub Scout Troop, guess who did it?  Yup.  Moi.  When we lost our dad that played Santa Claus for our elementary kids each year, guess who dressed as Santa?  Yup.  You guess it.  Me.  When they needed a PTA president and no one would do it and I was a single mom with no help with my three kids in two different schools, I did it.  When they needed a president for the fund raising foundation at the elementary school, I did it.  When they needed one of the parents of a child in the Gifted program to represent parents at the School District Meetings, I did it.  I could go on forever.  I did it all.

In fact, at one point, I was listed on the program for a theater production at my kids’ elementary school under the heading of They Can’t Say No.

And here I was again.  Waiting to get my TB test for clearance to work in my grandson’s pre-school classroom.  And waiting.  And hungry.  And thirsty.  And 58 years old.  And wondering why I was even doing it.  Then I remembered.  For Anderson.  For my grandson.  I would sit here and wait as long as needed so I could help his pre-school class or help in the office if that is where they need me.  Yup.  It’s for him.  It’s for me.  It’s so that I can see his smiling face and his proud face when he saw me helping.  I remember that face and that smile from my own kids.  I was always the mom that could be counted on and, even when they did not say it out right, they liked it.  To this day, my kids talk about how I was the mom that went on every single field trip during elementary, middle, and even high school.  When I was needed, there I was and they felt some comfort knowing that.  They liked it.  They liked seeing me in the middle of the day helping out at school, wherever I was needed.

Yup.  I would sit and wait.  And be patient.  And I would know that it would all be worth it.

So I did just that.

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When I was in elementary school, I had two male teachers; one in fifth grade and one in sixth grade.  I’ve never written about Mr. Watts, my fifth grade teacher and I suppose I will one day.  He was actually the first teacher I had that attempted to teach the writing process to us and that was the year that I fell in love with the writing process.

But today I want to write about my sixth grade teacher.  His name was Rick Cassinelli.  We all liked him.  He was different from Mr. Watts and Mr. Harvey(who was the other sixth grade teacher).  Mr. Cassinelli was friendly with all of us, and fair.  While most of the girls had had a crush on Mr. Watts, I don’t think many of us had one on Mr. Cassinelli.   He was kind, funny, fairly good looking, and although he was older, in all fairness, he wasn’t old.  I think, looking back on that time, he was probably in his early to mid thirties.  I think he was just an ordinary person who didn’t shine as the very young and handsome male fifth grade teacher did.  He wasn’t tall and thin.  He wasn’t short and fat.  He was just normal height and normal weight.  I guess, as  is true of so many plain, ordinary people, he didn’t stand out; he didn’t shine.

Except to me.  I didn’t have a crush on him but I really liked him.  I liked that while he expected some of us to do a lot better than the others, he didn’t talk down or teach down to the kids that didn’t keep up.  He didn’t pick on any of the kids and that says a lot because most teachers that I’ve had tend to find one or two students each year that they sort of pick on.  Mr. Cassinelli didn’t do that.  He commanded respect by respecting us.  He wasn’t a strict disciplinarian but we didn’t have a lot of behavior problems in our class.  That’s probably because of the way he treated us, causing us to rise to his expectations.  And he was a great spelling teacher!  That year in his class, most of us became top spellers and it was not unusual to have ten to fifteen perfect spelling scores each week.  That was the year I won the class spelling bee and then the sixth grade spelling bee.

We didn’t know a lot about Mr. Cassinelli.  He didn’t live in the area or someone would have seen him shopping locally.  We didn’t even know if he was married until almost the end of the school year when I overheard him mentioning his wife when he was talking to Mr. Watts after school one day.  That was the mid 1960’s.  No internet.  It was a lot more difficult to research people then.  One day I took the great big, fat phone book and looked him up.  I couldn’t find a Rick Cassinelli at all but then I found an Enrico Cassinelli.  I noted the address.  I knew where it was because, although it was way on the other side of town, way far from our little school, my parents used to have their tax returns prepared on the same street as the phone directory said Enrico lived on.  In fact, it was on the same block as my parents’ tax guy.  I quietly wrote down his name, address, and phone number in my little pocket sized address book.

One day, I was helping him in the classroom after school and I asked him if his “real name” was Rick.  He said it wasn’t.  It was Enrico.  I smiled and nodded and told him I had known that.  Then, very boldly, I recited his address and phone number.  He laughed.  A great big, deep laugh.  He didn’t get mad.  He didn’t scold me.  He asked how I had found that out and I told him I had looked it up in the phone book.  He nodded and smiled and said he should have known someone like me would be smart enough to do that.  He didn’t sit down and give me a long lecture on how I should not know that information or spread it around.  He did not say I had invaded his privacy.   He just said something like, “I know you’re not the kind of person that would use that information to call my house in the middle of the night or send rude mail.  I know you wouldn’t give that information to anyone who would misuse it.”  I nodded.  I understood.  He understood.  He trusted me.  And it made me want to be trustworthy.

I don’t know whatever happened to Mr. Cassinelli.  That was many, many years ago.  I do think of him from time to time.  I think about him when I think about spelling.  I think about him when I think about trusting students and treating students fairly.

And today, I think of him because his birthday was January 16th.  So Enrico Cassinelli who used to live on Meridian Road in San Jose and taught at Fred Martin Elementary, happy birthday.  May it be a gift to know that you made a lasting impression on a little sixth grade girl way back in 1966.

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