Reality Check

IMG_6731As I have shared before, one of the great perks of being an administrator is the ability to pop in and out of classrooms. Although the intent of such drop-ins is to observe the wonderful learning opportunities afforded to our students, we are also able to see great teaching taking place. Occasionally, such great teaching can even come from our students. Such was the case today as I visited the PreKindergarten and Kindergarten classes.

In PreK, the students are currently studying dinosaurs, and were arranged on the floor learning to sing a song – I distinctly remember the term “Brontosaurus” being bandied about . . . As I listened in the background, I took the time to tour a dinosaur museum that the teachers had put together. Complete with lots of pictures and even a dinosaur bone or two – large cow bones actually, but please don’t tell – the highlight of the museum was the recent hatching of the class’ dinosaur egg.

Actually, a small watermelon painted to look egg-like – again, no telling! – the egg had recently “hatched” and had a small dinosaur (plastic), now struggling to emerge. I was immediately struck by both the creativity of the museum and egg, as well as by the fact that several students actually bought into the egg scenario, with one grabbing my hand and telling me that they hoped I wasn’t scared. As I was about to assure my new friend that I was OK, I felt a tug on my other hand. Leaning down to listen – PreK students are notoriously short in stature – my newest friend told me “Don’t worry, it’s not real. We’re just pretending!” Steadied by this revelation, I felt strong enough to move on to Kindergarten.

As I entered one of the Kindergarten classrooms, and despite my desire not to interrupt, I was immediately greeted and invited to view their new class pets. I particularly enjoyed the hermit crabs, though I evidently violated classroom protocol by picking up a shell to actually see the crab inside. Though not directly reprimanded for my egregious act, the loud gasps told me immediately I had gone one step too far. Noting that the teacher had thankfully not seen my crime, I apologized to the students and assured them I would never do it again. Their smiles told me I was surely forgiven.

Moving on to the fish tank in the same classroom – this time with new escorts – I noticed quite the growing collection of assorted goldfish – the living kind – and perhaps a few others. Proudly displaying their new “school,” the students clearly enjoyed sharing their new treasures with me. However, once again, I slipped and let my obvious ignorance show.

Noticing a sticker from “Finding Nemo” on the front of the tank, I said that Dory was my favorite fish. Just as I turned to leave the classroom, I saw one of my young escorts eye roll the other and then say, “He thinks it’s real!” Laughing too hard to defend myself, I walked away content in having learned my lessons for the day: dinosaur eggs don’t hatch anymore and Dory from “Finding Nemo” is not real. Couple both of these with the obvious rule of not picking up hermit crabs in the classroom, I was already exhausted – and it was only 9:15 in the morning!

While the best thing about being an administrator may be the ability to visit all of the various classrooms, it’s obvious you better be able to learn and you better follow the rules. If not, there are always plenty of “teachers” available to help.

I understand the other Kindergarten class has an animal that looks just like me – something about a bearded dragon . . . I can’t wait!

Be Still and Know . . .

UnknownThroughout the school year, we often share with various parent groups, potential parents, and the parish community a great deal about the academic program of the school. Rarely, however, do we share about our most important purpose as a school – growing and living our Catholic Faith.

There is a moment in our weekly Mass at Holy Spirit School that never fails to move and inspire me. Minutes before the service begins and without any visible prompting or direction, the voices of over five hundred students grow slowly silent and the usual fidgeting seems to still. The brief and unprovoked silence is as if we all know that God is present and deserves our undivided attention. This feeling is then magnified a hundred-fold when the voices of all the students and adults join in the opening song of the liturgy. For one brief moment, all voices and hearts seem united in recognizing the wonders of God among us.

However, just as God is present in the lives of our students during our weekly Mass, so, too, is He present throughout our daily school lives. As a Catholic school, God and growing our faith in Him is at the center of all that we do. From prayer to Bible readings, Church history to service projects, our faith is constantly renewed and refreshed throughout our daily school routines.

First and foremost, prayer is the single most important aspect of living our faith. Each day begins with prayer at our All School Assembly, followed by readings from the Gospel and a pause for reflection on that day’s Scripture. Teachers frequently add classroom prayer to the beginning and endings of their class day or week, and all classes pause for prayer before lunch. As a defining moment for our community, each day at exactly 11:20 am, a campus-wide bell rings to remind all classes to pause for the Peace Bell Prayer. Though brief, it is a moment of welcome centeredness for all of us to channel our thoughts back to God.

As a team, the faculty and staff also find themselves frequently centered in prayer. Each week, we begin Monday mornings at 7:40 in the Library in prayer for each other and the week ahead. In addition, throughout the week, at staff meetings, parent meetings, school events, and other gatherings we are always brought to order through an opening prayer or blessing.

Throughout the school’s curriculum, Holy Spirit School students have the opportunity to discover more about their faith. From learning the basics in the earliest grades through songs, projects, and lessons, God is made real to our students. Older students begin to dive more deeply into the meanings and implications of their faith in their daily lives – coloring in pictures of Moses and Jesus are replaced with instruction in Church history and involvement in public performances such as the Advent Program. Catechism classes with the Parish are also a key component of learning about our faith. From the concentration in second grade on preparations for First Communion to the two-year program for Confirmation in seventh and eighth grades, sacramental prep is a coordinated effort of both school and parish.

Beyond simply learning or singing about our faith and relationship with God, living out that same faith is one of the most important teachings of the Church – and of Holy Spirit School. In addition to the school’s required community service hours, students are offered service opportunities through the Village House shelter and retreat opportunities through the Church at our missions in Texas and Nicaragua. Several grades and classes organize fundraising opportunities that directly benefit areas and issues of need in the larger San Jose community. Finally, numerous students also contribute individually through being altar servers and youth leaders and volunteers in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School.

Of course, there is much more to the daily instruction and growth of our students’ faith. Unscripted moments of prayer, the celebration of additional Church feasts, and the simple joys of participating in the serving of others and their needs, to name just a few – all add to the most well-rounded of spiritual educations. At Holy Spirit School, students participate in a rich and varied academic life, while at the same time are provided the strongest of underpinnings for their faith and relationship with God.

Whenever I think about the faith and growth of our students, I am reminded of one of my favorite hymns at our weekly Mass: “Taste and See.” While it sounds wonderful sung by any and all ages, nothing can compare to the more than five hundred children’s voices singing, “Taste and see, the goodness of God . . .” At Holy Spirit School, we “taste and see the goodness of God” each and every day. The foundations of our Catholic faith permeate everything we do and are practiced, taught, and lived throughout our school day and beyond.

At Holy Spirit School, education does indeed change lives, but it is our faith that transforms us . . .

 

 

Apples and Onions

1 apple onionSeveral years ago, a popular bumper sticker proclaimed, “If You Can Read This, Thank a Teacher!” While I believe this statement to be true and echo another bumper sticker saying that, “Reading is FUNdemental” – I also believe that there are other key aspects of learning that a teacher can impart to his or her students. High on my list would be developing in children a sense of wonder – encouraging them to ask and to investigate for themselves the how and why of events and occurrences around us, especially in the natural world.

While I have had many strong teachers over the years, my eighth-grade science teacher, Mr. Lerch was a master at sharing with us his own sense of wonder. From the sound of your pulse in your ear when you lay your head down on your pillow at night to how important our sense of smell is to our taste buds – Mr. Lerch never met a sight, sound, feel, taste or smell he could not dissect in an attempt to help himself better understand the how and why of its operation. By sharing his own personal stories with us, and then recreating certain aspects of them for us in class, he made an indelible impression on our young minds that lingers even today.

Among Mr. Lerch’s more unforgettable stories were the already mentioned pounding pulse in his ear. Each of us has, at one time or another, lay our head down on a pillow and heard the rush of our own pulse. In Mr. Lerch’s story and personal investigation at the age of seven, this seemingly mundane occurrence led to everything from an examination of his own mortality – “Does the fact that I can hear my own pulse mean my heart is rapidly expanding and I will die soon?” to the thought that some alien creature or perhaps worse, a blood-sucking ear worm had invaded his brain. We were so wrapped up in the story that time seemed to stand still, and to this day, I clearly remember that when one of our classmates sneezed, we all jumped.

As engaged in his stories as we were, Mr. Lerch’s point was that life – and not just science – is a journey of discovery and experimentation. To live life is not only to enjoy it but to constantly have a sense of wonder about it – all the while questioning and hopefully understanding what it is all about. To this day, I cannot eat an apple without remembering that while blindfolded and with a pinched nose, you cannot tell the difference in taste between an apple and an onion. Try it sometime! Also know that for about three years afterward, we used a subtle – and not so “tasteless” variation of this experiment on our unsuspecting friends and relatives. I believe I still have a cousin whose anger and perhaps tastebuds, simmer to this day . . .

Most importantly, Mr. Lerch taught us that wonder extends beyond questioning. He taught us that a true sense of wonder first awes or better yet, inspires us. His prime example of this in nature was the Grand Canyon. Though I have yet to see the canyon myself, I am prepared at a moment’s notice to be awed and even inspired by its sight – thanks to his helping me to fully understand the how and why of its creation. On a far less grand and personal level – and to perhaps illustrate the latent adolescent in me – I also have a sense of wonder each day when I take a hot shower and the steam builds up in the room. When the shower is over, the door opened, and the steam released – it never ceases to amaze me.

Perhaps it is a stretch to say that hot showers remind me of Mr. Lerch, but the sense of wonder he inspired in us, the encouragement to experiment and to question, and the fun that was often involved, are not only lifelong penchants for myself, they are also the goals of all good teachers. For these things and more, I am eternally grateful to my own teachers, like Mr. Lerch, and always hope to inspire my colleagues to be the same. Reading and writing are indeed, fundamental, but so are simply observing, investigating, and being inspired by the life in and around us each day.

Apple anyone?

Grace, Friendship, and the Dignity of Choice

searchAs many of you know, Holy Spirit Church is a leading member of a consortium of local churches and synagogues offering overnight shelter on a rotating monthly basis for homeless women in the Silicon Valley. As a member of our Church’s Men’s Faith Group, I recently had the privilege of helping to serve the Village House – as the program is called – women breakfast. While the three main words in the title above – grace, friendship, and dignity – are not often associated with homelessness, I was able to witness firsthand the profound depth of their power among the women we served.

Most of us have a fairly standard view of the homeless. Shaped by our own experiences in seeing them asking for money at stoplights, pushing their inevitably overflowing grocery carts down the street, or perhaps catching quick glimpses of their tents under freeway overpasses or at the side of the road, it is generally not a positive view. Rarely do we give thought to their plight or the reasons they are living the way they do. If you are like me, I may occasionally give them a dollar or two when asked, but for the most part, I am simply grateful I am not forced to live the same way. Village House changed all of that.

What I witnessed that morning, while still making me grateful for everything I have, also forced me to view the fourteen women who had gathered for breakfast as fellow humans – with all of the strengths, foibles, and likes and dislikes of the rest of us. Without knowing their histories or the reasons for their current condition, the women I shared too brief a time with, were each filled with amazing connections to these three words: grace, friendship, and most important of all, dignity.

With breakfast beginning early at 6:00 am, the women arrived and began gratefully accepting the coffee and eagerly eyeing the casseroles, bacon, and bagels arranged on the table. Despite the hour, I was struck at once by their smiling faces, animated conversations, and genuine ease around us and their fellow sisters in need. Despite their current lot in life, they engaged all in the room without a hint of either their current state or the struggles they may have waiting for them on the horizon. Effusive in their gratitude for what was offered, they seemed genuinely humbled by the offerings in front of them.

Most of all, I was transfixed by their care and concern for each other. I could not help noticing how often they repeated each other’s names during their conversations with each other. Seemingly every sentence or phrase contained their opposite’s name in an obviously endearing way. I had heard before that being homeless frequently meant being nameless as well. After all, when you are on your own on the streets and often devoid of human contact for long periods of time, who says your name? These women recognized both the soothing and deeply humanizing aspects of the simplicity of simply saying each other’s name.

Their concerns for each other also manifested itself in other ways. Aware that one of their group had been hospitalized during the night and had now returned, I watched as several of the women approached their recently stricken friend consoling, patting her arms, and genuinely worried for both her health and where she was going to be during the upcoming day. One woman offered to help her “lay low” today and stay safe. I could only imagine what that might entail as they spent their day back out on the streets.

Their friendship and care for one another even reached out beyond their immediate circle. One of the experienced volunteers at the Church had herself been recently hospitalized. Not wanting to lose the connections she had made with some of the Village House women last year, she called in that morning to chat with “her girls.” As she said hello over the speakerphone, the shared welcomes, best wishes, and laughter as each of them connected or reconnected their friendships was a heartwarming moment to witness.

By far, the most significant moment of the morning for me was perhaps its most seemingly mundane. At the end of each day’s breakfast, the women are allowed to pick up a premade lunch bag for the day. Each lunch includes a sandwich, some type of fruit or vegetable, as well as a drink and chips. As I watched the women pick up their lunches, I saw several of them swap out different items and offer to trade types of chips and fruits with each other. In a few cases, they stated their dislike for the type of sandwich offered and asked for ones without cheese or a different type of meat.

My first thought at hearing these requests for something different was to wonder how people who seemingly had nothing, would not simply accept without question what was being given to them. However, I quickly moved beyond my obviously condescending thought when it began to dawn on me that these women had very few choices in how they were currently living their lives. Without employment, its resultant income, and certainly housing, very few of the real choices each of us have on a daily basis as outcomes of these three things, were available to them. Having the ability and opportunity to get something you really liked as simple as a slice of cheese, was an important and in some small, yet significant way, empowering to them. If you cannot choose much in your life’s current reduced state, why not hang on to some small sliver of humanity and assert your right to choose when it does present itself?

As the final dishes were cleared and the dishwasher loaded, the tables quickly emptied and the women were shuttled on their way to their day – some to a local warming center, some to the train station, and some even went off to jobs. I realized when it was over that while an hour or so with homeless people had hardly made me an expert on the subject or condition, the time I had spent with them was one of the most profound learning experience I had had in years.

For in helping to serve a simple breakfast to homeless women, I learned that to be homeless did not mean you were heartless; that though you were officially classified as being without a home, wherever you are you create your own home and even your own family; and that what mattered most of all was a refusal to be anything less than one of God’s children – full of grace, full of friendship, and full of dignity. For one brief moment at the Village House, fourteen women let us into that family – showing each of us what it truly means to be human – a lesson that I know I will not soon forget.

‘Tis The Season . . .

The Big IdeaThey say that as one ages, memories from long ago are easier to remember than more recent experiences. In my own life, I have found this to be true. I can oftentimes remember the most arcane and trivial things from my past, yet I struggle to remember where I may have set my glasses down five minutes ago.

As luck would have it, long-term memory is an incredibly helpful tool for many reasons. We would all like to believe we learn from our previous experiences, and each of us hopes in some small way that these experiences help to form the basis for any wisdom and understanding we may have acquired over the years. In the season and spirit of thankfulness we are now in, I am especially grateful for my memories and ability to recall the many lessons I learned from some of my own teachers – oh, so many years ago.

From my first grade teacher, Mrs. Migdahl, at William F. Prisk Elementary School, I learned the joy of reading through her encouragement in allowing me anything I wanted to read. I learned my love of history from Miss Chase in the third grade, who had us tune into a radio broadcast on famous Americans each week in class – and we listened! I especially remember Mrs. Theresi in the sixth grade, who right away recognized and appreciated my sense of humor, but who also taught me that with great humor, comes great responsibility.

Mixed among the many positive lessons, of course, are the occasional individuals that allowed me to learn some powerful lessons from them by exhibiting behaviors and practices that even then I understood to be “just not right.” Among these was my seventh-grade English teacher at Leland Stanford Junior High School, Mr. Ackerman. In Mr. Ackerman’s class, your seating each week depended upon your success or lack thereof on each Friday’s spelling test. The whole world knew how well you could spell . . . In the eighth grade, Mr. Cannon believed in giving long reading assignments in class, apparently so that he could read the daily paper at his desk in peace and quiet . . .

Though few and far between, these examples of negative role modeling also served to help me learn more about myself and eventually my career in education. By teaching me how I did not want to treat my future students, I believe teachers like Mr. Ackerman and Mr. Cannon made me a better teacher – albeit probably not purposefully.

So here’s to the Mrs. Migdahls and Miss Chases of the world. Here too, I reluctantly salute Mr. Ackerman and Mr. Cannon. Even more important, here’s to my many colleagues in teaching over the years, and especially those at Holy Spirit School today. Keep up the great work and realize that someday, the students whose lives you have touched will remember your words, actions, and examples. We have each been shaped by our experiences with our own teachers, even as we help shape our students today for their own challenges tomorrow.

As parents, please join with me in this season of gratitude – or during any season for that matter – and take a few minutes to thank your child’s teacher for their work with your children. If possible, take a few extra minutes and track down that former teacher or teacher who helped make you what you are today, and thank them. A sincere note of thanks, in either case, will make their day for the next ten years . . .

‘Tis the season . . .

 

 

Thank You For Your Service . . .

shutterstock_94846813It’s not often these days that we stop to think about the origin and meaning of a particular national holiday. Too often, we view the holiday as another day off work, time away from other responsibilities, and perhaps even a brief vacation. While each of the holidays has names of honor: President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Veteran’s Day, to name just a few – we live in busy and overscheduled times. Seemingly without time for true reflection, we instead spend the holidays driving from one place to another, fighting the usual holiday crowds, and then returning to work on Monday perhaps more tired and spent than on a normal weekend.

At Holy Spirit School, recognizing that appreciation for others and lifelong learning is a critical element of life for all of us – young or old – we made a concerted effort this year to pause for a moment and truly celebrate the holiday that is Veteran’s Day. Our goal was to help our students, faculty, and parents fully understand and acknowledge the what and why of celebrating the day. To that end, we transformed our normal daily assembly into a morning of recognition of Veteran’s Day and all that it means to us as American citizens.

The first hint that this day holds a special meaning for all of us was the Presentation of the Colors by our entire school Scouting contingent. From Daisies to Brownies, Cubs to Boy and Girl Scouts, they proceeded in quiet marching order to divide the assembled grades in two and form a pathway through the middle for the colors to follow. In solemn and respectful silence, broken only by the commands being given to the Guard, the Scouts saluted and the entire school watched as the colors marched up to the stage.

Following the crowd’s recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, our guest speaker, Commander Kevin Lavery, stepped up to the microphone. A Coast Guard veteran and current Holy Spirit School parent, he patiently took the time to explain the meaning of the word “veteran”, and that the history of today’s holiday originally meant to honor the sacrifices of the men who fought in World War I – the “war to end all wars.” For many of our students – especially those in the younger grades – this was perhaps the first time either perspective had been shared with them.

Commander Lavery went on to explain that one of our most important responsibilities as citizens and one of our kindest acts is to recognize the men and women who have served our country – not just through national holidays such as today’s, but also personally whenever the opportunity presents itself. To walk up to a veteran, to shake their hand, and most importantly, to simply say, “Thank you for your service,” are each meaningful beyond words to our living veterans. Whether they are proud of their time in the service of our country or still dealing with the wartime aspects of such service, all veterans appreciate the thanks of us as grateful individuals and a grateful nation. To accentuate his point, he asked the veterans in the audience to raise their hands and be recognized – a gesture that was met with extended and enthusiastic applause by all those present.

All of us at the assembly could not help but walk away from today’s ceremony with both a greater knowledge of the meaning of Veteran’s Day and a deeper appreciation of what it means to serve and to sacrifice for our country. As I lingered after the assembly, I could tell this by the dozens of students – and parents – in line around me waiting to greet the veterans who attended, shake their hands and honor them for their service.

Finally, the day was summed up best for me at the sight of a little third-grade girl finally at the front of the line reaching out and shaking the hand of an elderly veteran. As his large and frail hand encircled hers, she looked up and smiled, speaking barely above a whisper, and simply said, “Thank you for your service.” I’ll forever swear that through my own tears at the scene before me, that the grateful veteran was crying as well . . .

The (Traffic) Circle of Life

imagesThere are a lot of different ways you can discover the true heart of a school – what makes it tick, what its students are like, how well the learning process is played out, etc. Most would argue that the classroom itself is the best way to judge a school – how the teacher delivers the day’s lesson, the attentiveness and engagement of the students, the positive atmosphere in the room – and none of these would be wrong. For others, it may be in the hallways or on the playing fields, where the tone, school spirit, and lessons of sportsmanship and teamwork are played out every day.

While it would be hard to argue with any of these perspectives, I’ve always felt there was another place and time in the school that reveals the true nature of the school’s mission, the personalities of its students and parents, and where a school’s ability to cope with both the planned and unplanned all come together. For now, forget the classrooms, the assemblies, and the playing fields. Instead, concentrate on the one place where the day both begins and ends – drop-off and pick-up time in the school’s parking lots . . .

Where else but at morning drop-off can you see students and parents in their purest forms? As you open the car doors and greet each student, you open the door to unseen worlds and vistas for the average faculty member and administrator. For it is here – if only for a few seconds – that you see the moods, the interactions, and the behaviors between parent and child that so often set the tone for their day, and may have a huge influence on the course of that particular child’s learning.

Putting aside the always welcome and appreciated bright, chipper and ready to go child and family – there are a few, but their numbers seem to diminish a bit more each year – there are plenty of examples of families barely able to pull it together for one reason or another. These are the families whose children are still eating breakfast as they exit the car – tossing back inside half-full drink cups and barely eaten bagels as they unbuckle their seat belts and bound out. At times, I have wished I were a trained anthropologist, able to study the food debris left behind in some cars for seemingly weeks at a time – thank goodness I rarely opened doors during summer sessions . . . For others, there were daily competitions between parents and children as to who could finish dressing/make-up application first – even as the car pulled up to the curb. Often is the time the child emerged from the seemingly darkened nether regions of the back seat with only one arm in a jacket or one or fewer shoes tied . . .

Moods as well can often be picked up in an instant after the door is opened. Of course, it helps to be alerted ahead of time when you can hear raised voices from several cars away – despite the closed windows – as they line up to disgorge their riders. I will never forget the argument between child and parent that had obviously begun at home over breakfast and was still raging in the car as I opened the door. Clearly, it made no difference that I was now privy to the entire row going on. Instead, guided instinctively and robotically to the carpool line and drop-off point, neither party seemed willing to end their side of the story. As curious as I was to listen, and despite the pleading look in the eyes of the parent – a look I took to mean “please help straighten out my unruly child” – I opted for the more forlorn look of the five year old and rapidly plucked her from the jaws of an almost certain rhetorical defeat.

Of course, where else but in a carpool line can you see the slightly aberrant behavior of the child played out for all to see by the parent? As educators, we sometimes wonder why a child habitually fails to follow directions or allows their concentration to wander. No need to debate nature or nurture here. Time after time, the parent whose child frequently “goes their own way” is the same one dangerously passing others in the carpool lane or jumping out and opening the doors on the wrong side of the car – despite repeated instructions, pleadings, and sometimes confrontations to the contrary. One of my personal favorites is always the parent on the phone as they pull up, too busy to say goodbye to the child or even notice their departure. I frequently resisted the urge to replace the child in the car with myself and see how many miles it would take for the parent to notice – perhaps enjoying the remains of a half-eaten bagel while I waited . . .

Multi-student carpools also provide a microcosm of school life for all to observe. In most instances, everyone in the car was friends and got along well. Once in awhile, however, it was obvious that the carpooling arrangements were made between parents, and without the child’s input. The best way to test this theory was usually by the speed with which the “clown car” emptied. Fast and easy exits upon arrival meant everyone working together in a friendly fashion to get out and get on with the day. Slow and laborious leavings, occasionally punctuated by tussles over backpacks or lost lunches, frequently signaled forced “friendships” and temporary automobile incarcerations.

Safety is just as important in the operation of a good carpool line as efficiency. With the huge amount of traffic flowing through the school at compressed times, moving students quickly and safely from their cars to their classrooms is paramount. At a time when everyone has to pay attention to each car and student, the rogue driver failing to follow directions or errant student running back to the car after forgetting something can create real and potentially dangerous problems. Over the years we have all plucked dozens of students from potentially bad situations. Once, after grabbing a particularly active four-year-old only inches away from a moving bumper, I lifted him high in the air to signify to all who witnessed the incident that all was well. The child, happily oblivious to his near-death experience and obviously inspired by Disney’s “Lion King,” turned to me after I put him down and said “Thanks, Rafiki”. From that day forward, as part of our own inside joke, I called him Simba, and he called me Mr. Rafiki. Even he knew it was a jungle out there . . .

Morning or afternoon, rain or shine – though rain can speed up the car exiting/entering process a great deal – the events each day at drop-off and pick-up help us see students and parents in a different light, understand some of the stresses and tensions each may feel, and help lead to new and stronger levels of communication. Though sometimes tedious, “carpool duty” is a valuable part of the school experience for everyone – especially those whose classroom exposure to students is limited. For me, it has proven to be invaluable as an observational and participatory view of the school. Helping with the daily traffic, with all of its drama, moodiness, and safety issues – and most importantly, greeting the overwhelming numbers of smiling faces that cannot wait to start a new day – has definitely helped me see the school’s entire “circle of life.”