Thursday, September 22, 2022

The Great Wide Open

 Boy, is it ever hard for me to keep my mouth shut about my religion in my classroom! After all, we at "The Gods Are Bored" have dedicated ourselves to promoting and respecting deities who have been deprived -- by time or tide, or both -- of their praise and worship teams. So when a student comes in and proudly shows off his brand new, store-bought book from home called Celtic Mythology, ahem.

You know how "religion" turns into "mythology?" Some other religion steals its holidays and relegates its deities to "myth" status. The winning religion gets to keep the title of "religion," and the losing one gets flung in the dustbin of "myth." I tell you what. I'm not going to be the one who tells The Morrigan that She's a damn myth.

Well! That's actually an aside! Today's sermon is about something else.

For reference, here's a photo of the front of my school where I work:


Isn't that a gorgeous building? It was designed by the same architect who designed the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Yes, those are pillars! And above the pillars is a motto: "He Who Hath a Trade Hath an Estate."

What I want you to dwell upon, though, is that nice grassy lawn, and the lovely mature trees. The school was built in 1926. They just don't do it like this anymore. I would say there's about three acres of lawn in front. We also have a standard-sized football field and a baseball diamond out back.

Yesterday morning I was sitting at my teacher desk, conversing with a student who is sitting right up front in what I jokingly call the "teacher's pet seat." This student is a very quiet young lady.

The school will be having a pep rally next week, and the student asked me where pep rallies are held. (I teach freshmen.) I told her we all go out to the back fields and sit on the bleachers.

She said, "That's so much space out there. And there's so much out front. I've never seen so much open space before."

Reader, look at the photo and let that sink in.

My heart just broke.

Kids have said heartbreaking things to me before, but this one I guess just mangled my aorta because of my own lived experience. My school was bordered by a county park and was three miles from the vast swath of Antietam Battlefield. When I was that girl's age I could ride my bike to the Potomac River and sit all day by myself on the bank.

What kind of childhood has this poor girl had?

I do know that many of my students have to stay inside all the time because of crime, or repressive parents, or babysitting, or all of the above. Still it boggles my mind that someone has attained the age of 14 without ever having at least made one excursion to the beach just 50 miles away.

My students keep writer's notebooks, and sometimes I read about grandparents in the Dominican Republic, about riding horses and milking cows, and gathering eggs, and swimming in those gorgeous tropical playas. But I also read other notebooks in which the writer goes to school, goes home, locks the door, and stays inside. I remember one girl wrote, "I can't even sit on the stoop."

Tomorrow I will take all of my students outdoors onto that front lawn. I will literally point out the Quarters to them, and the motto on the building, and the soft grassy lawn, and the old trees. We will be present in gratitude to the open space that was a gift from the taxpayers of New Jersey to kids who want to fix cars.

If it's the most open space some of them have, then we'll honor it as such.


Debra She Who Seeks said...

That's a great idea, Anne!

I just started watching Season 2 of a sitcom called "Abbott Elementary" about underpaid, overworked public school teachers in Philadelphia. I'm sure you probably watch it too? It's great, both very funny and touching too. Their special guest star in episode 1 was Gritty!

Pitch313 said...

I have no idea what my world of schooling would have been like without acres and vistas of open spaces...

yellowdoggranny said...

you know how much I love you? to the moon and back.

Anonymous said...

Heartbreaking. I'm glad they have you.