Tuesday, February 7, 2012

6 Hours in America

Howdy ho!

Just popping in for my semi-annual blog update. I so regret not having time to write more often. But, I've got zero margin at the moment and am having to make hard choices about budgeting my time.


There are just some days when the words overflow and rather than drive everyone I know crazy, I will write some of this down. My apologies to Katy who saw me just after and got the verbal vomit download. Don't worry. She's used to it.

Let me start with a little back story. I have some friends here in Nashville whom I adore. I'm pretty sure God brought them here just for me. Well, that and the fact that John Mann is quite the talented, brave, amazing songwriter. And his wife, well, we actually met online at a reflux mom's support group. I joke and say she was my first blind date!! Both of us have been through it- in those big time life ways- in the last year or so, and I could not have done it without her. She totally gets me, all the way around. Besides being a musician, her husband is also a part of what is called the "Newcomers Academy" for Metro Nashville Schools. (Side note-LARGE refugee population in Nashville.) When I realized I had to get five practicum hours in an ELL class for my current grad course, I knew he was the Mann to call. (See what I did there? Man? Mann??)

People. He did not let me down. Not only did I get to observe/assist in a classroom that had an ELL student in it, per my requirement, I was able to be a part of a Newcomers class at a school that is 67% English language Learners. By the way, 67% is a lot! One of the first things I noticed as I walked down the hall (beside the little thrill I had-I do love a good elementary school!) was a large map. On the map they had strings to SO MANY countries connected to pictures of the students from those countries. I wish for your sake I could remember them all.

I spent the bulk of my day in a 3rd/4th grade split room. All of the students in the class are "newcomers" which means they are brand new to the States. And, brand new to English. I'm just going to say right up front, this teacher needs a cape and an "S" on her chest. Her students run the gamut-from speaking no English to having learned FROM HER so much they are now almost at grade level. She is a master at classroom management, flowing easily from one group of students to another, all who are working on totally different things at different levels. I know some of you probably don't get excited about stuff like this, but for me, it's like amazing art!! I sat with a few different students throughout the day and I kept being struck by what their reality must be like. I thought about the times I spent mere weeks in a foreign country and how exhausted I was just from trying to navigate. And they do it everyday.

Nearly all of the students in her class are refugees. To be honest, I'm not sure any of us can ever really know all that means to those children. What they've been through. What they've seen. And now, they show up to school everyday doing their best to navigate a completely foreign situation. I bet they are tired. Many of these students have parents who don't speak any English. The teacher remarked to me today, "The hours they are at school are really the only time they are in America." I get what she means. When most of these kids go home, they change cultures and languages. It's mind-boggling really.

In general it takes me about five minutes to fall in love with a whole classroom of kids. In this case it was more like three. And in the case of one of the boys it was like one. This little guy is eight years old. As far as anyone knows he has never been in school before. Seriously. Just stop and think about that for a minute. Guh. I just wanted to be able to say to him how brave and amazing I think he is. Instead we just played number games and color games and he was jazzed to eat some M&Ms.

Look. I know public education is a big hot button item right now. Well, always. And I know there are legitimate issues with the state of said public education. And I get why everyone is mad-teachers, parents, government officials-for all sorts of different reasons. As a parent and an almost teacher, I have the debate swirling around in my own mind. I know there are other options. Some of the best people I know homeschool some of the best kids I know. I know teachers who have a dedicated ministry to children in Christian schools. I like options. Options are a good thing. God bless America and all of its options. But I'm here to say this, [be aware of impending soap box], public school, with all of its issues, is a hell of a lot better than a refugee camp. Thank GOODNESS for public education in our country. Thank goodness for the teachers in the inner-city and the rural, farming community schools, and for the teachers I spent the day with. And yes, let's keep working to make things better, because that's the right thing to do. But I say it's A-OK to take a minute and celebrate all the great things about our public schools.

Until next time, find a public school teacher and hug them. And maybe buy them a drink.

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