Monthly Archives: November 2011

I used to think… and now I think…

Nancy Flanagan is one of the most thoughtful and respected edubloggers out there. Now a consultant, she spent 30 years in the classroom as a middle school music teacher. In an October entry for her blog “Teacher in a Strange Land” in “Education Week-Teacher,” she wrote about Richard Elmore’s new book in which he invited 20 well-respected educators to reflect on the prompt, “I used to think… and now I think…” Nancy’s entry detailed her complex and provocative reflections on the evolution of her own thinking. Nancy is a member of Teacher Leaders Network, and she posted a link to her blog on one of our discussion boards. Another member, Steve Owens (coincidently yet another music teacher!) proposed we all answer the question in that forum or on our blogs. Here then, is my own take on what I used to think and what I now think from my perspective as a long-term girls’ school teacher.

I used to think private education was a different world from public education. Then, I thought they were essentially similar. Now, I think the answer is both a) and b).

Like many people educated in public schools, I had a skewed and inaccurate idea of what private schools were like. When my friend Amy went to Miss Hall’s for her sophomore year and then returned to Amherst High as a junior, many of us thought that she had succeeded in convincing her parents not to force her to spend time in a world of privilege and smug arrogance. She strongly defended her old school, telling us we had no idea what it was like and that it was a really good place. No doubt, that helped open my mind to the possibility of working in a private school. I came here, settled in, and made this place quite literally my home.

During the first part of the 21st century, as I adjusted to and began to love the middle school world, I joined a number of listservs dominated by public educators. At first hesitantly, and then with increasing enthusiasm and confidence, I jumped in to discussions and found exactly what I had expected, that I had a lot to learn from public school teachers and that I could help them as well. My dear friend Bev, a now-retired teacher in Arkansas, used to point out that her kids in an inner-city public school had far more in common with my students in a rural private school than most people would imagine.

But as the 21st century progressed and the noose of NCLB gradually tightened around the necks of public schools, I was depressed to see a gap widening between the lives of many public school teachers and my own. As I worked to continually shape my practice and build the best middle school program possible, most of my friends were finding their creativity and autonomy increasingly undercut and, worse yet, despairing to see their students’ innate sense of wonder and curiosity gradually being snuffed by the focus on “The Test”. Kids are kids, and every single one of them deserves a chance for a great education no matter what school they attend. To so stack the deck against public schools is, in my mind, unconscionable, especially in the name of bettering them.

I used to think teaching girls wasn’t really all that different from teaching boys. Then, I thought it was. Now, I think the answer is both a) and b).

One thing that struck me in my first year here was how quickly I forgot that I was teaching a room full of girls. As a Teaching Assistant at UMass-Amherst and as a Lecteur at the Université de Bordeaux III, I had a decidedly coed classroom, but I didn’t notice a substantially different feel in my classes here. For the record, it’s not infrequent that a given 7th grade class will remark early in the year about how much less they notice the absence of boys compared to what they expected.

As I learned that girls speak In a Different Voice, that Ophelia needed Reviving, that there was a recipe for How Girls Thrive even if the Odd Girl was sometimes left Out, I grew to think that our culture created an atmosphere in which girls were all but inevitably different than boys. By then, I had long known that girls’ brains were wired differently, and it seemed to me educationally indefensible not to acknowledge the biology and sociology of girls as I worked with them.

But then I began to see evidence of what I had long suspected, that while gender helps shape who we are, it not always as binary as we might think it is. Four years ago, the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance did a workshop with the middle schoolers on LGBT people which led me to learn about the lives of transgender people. Additionally, I learned that from 5-20% of girls have “male-wired brains” at birth and the equivalent is true of boys. I learned the effects of sex hormones on the brain. I learned of the brain’s ability to rewire itself in interplay with environment. And I began to realize that when I said I worked to get to know each individual girl and teach the whole child, that meant I had to work to try and free myself utterly and completely from stereotypes and get to know, understand, and care for each of the special people entrusted to my care exactly as they were.

I used to think that teaching was about sharing a passion for something you love with kids in order that they might learn as much about it as possible. Now, I still do, but more importantly, I think that teaching is a means toward social justice, helping kids acquire the tools to find and be their authentic selves.

When I came to this school, I loved French and had for years. After a high-school homestay and two years abroad, I had deep roots in the country. So as I worked with students to teach verb conjugations and agreement of adjectives, I also worked to awaken in them a desire to go visit the country I loved so much, and even led several student trips there.

I still think it matters that students see teachers loving what they do. Why teach, say, music if you don’t love it?! I also want my students to see my own love of learning. And of course, I still want my students to learn as much as possible. But in order for my students to learn as much as possible, they have to be themselves as much as possible – which is to say, completely.

This morning, I read my Humanities 7 class this passage from Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons: “When girls can no longer agree upon the answer to the question “Who is a Good Girl?” we will know they are free to be themselves.” (p.12) If I can help create some momentum toward meeting that goal, along with a similar freedom from the effects of stereotypes based on race, ethnicity, sexuality, and more –  one student at a time – then I will know my career has been successful.

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Filed under Admissions, On Education, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized

On and on…

With the 8th grade theater production going up tonight, they needed a solid chunk of two hours this morning to run the play in costume start to finish, debrief with their theater teachers,  and go back over any scenes that needed work. This meant, of course, that we needed something to do with the 7th graders for that same long block. Happily (and to no one’s surprise), Sara (their art teacher) was willing to take them for the whole time. She had moved a large pedal loom into one of the classrooms, and brought up all the hand looms and supplies. The students were excited this morning to have so much time in art, being particularly delighted that they had been allowed to bring in iPods and speakers to play music during class; I shared that with Sara as I thanked her after homeroom.

When I got back from a meeting, I heard a melody coming from the classroom. Softly  but clearly, they were singing along to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz: “I throw my hands up in the air sometimes, singing ay-oh, gotta let go. I wanna celebrate and live my life, singing ay-oh, baby let’s go… I gonna take it all like. I’m gonna be the last one standing. Cause I, I, I believe it. And I, I, I, I just want it all, I just want it all, I’m gonna put my hands in the air…” They sounded so beautiful I had to glance in the classroom. There, I saw one of them seated at the big loom while all the others were sitting around the table, working and singing as Sara looked on and occasionally gave advice. It was an extraordinarily peaceful moment, and somehow symbolized how this class has come together.

Yesterday in Humanities 7, I gave them the task of coming up with a skit showing what would happen if Jessica (the badly burned and disfigured title character of Firegirl) were to join their class.  A number of them expressed concern that their skit would be boring “because we’d all be nice to her.” One group even thought that my topic had been playful in the first place. In the end, one group decided that one of the kids would play a character utterly unlike herself, another group slipped in one of the other characters from the book, and one group simply redid the topic as if they all were characters in the book.

I am so impressed by that level of confidence in how welcoming and accepting they are, and so delighted that they have the courage to say it. At the same time, I can’t help but think that when they saw a Rachel Simmons video on “Curse of the Good Girl,” they asked why we couldn’t read that for our next morning reading book. That is going to start later on today, and as we work through it, part of our discussion will of necessity be how they experience pressure to be nice and when it might actually be to their benefit not to conform to the exacting standards of good girl behavior. Their own words describing good girls in an activity last week show this conflict clearly – “doing what’s expected” – “popular” – “never in trouble” – “never arguing” – “never speaking out” – “depends on perspective” – “honesty” – “who they want to be.” I pointed out that some if not all of them were in a truly impossible situation – feeling pressure to simultaneously “be a good girl” and “be yourself.” Not that they aren’t wonderful girls – I give thanks every day that I get to work with them – but the person who conforms to all the stereotypes of a good girl is most likely non-existent.

But as I said, I do give thanks every day that I get to work with these students, and that I feel genuinely happy to see each of them every day (even if some days I also worry about them). I know they feel a strong connection to their teachers as well as each other, and that they also feel well supported by upper school students. It’s been a great first trimester, and I am incredibly grateful for all that everybody in our community – faculty, staff, parents, and especially students – have done to help bring about these successes. This groundwork will pay off not just through the year but throughout these girls’ time at Stoneleigh-Burnham, and perhaps, just maybe, throughout their lives.

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Filed under In the Classroom, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Time Passes

It was not easy to tear ourselves away from the games. The varsity soccer team was playing for the league championship in a closely-contested tie game (we would eventually lose in a shootout), and the sun was shining warmly down on the spectators cheering them on. Meanwhile, the varsity volleyball team’s last match of the season was also close (it would end in a 2-3 loss). But once we got to my car, after having been forced to take last week off from service at the animal shelter due to power outages, it felt good to be on the road again.

At the shelter, Lisa smiled at us from behind the front desk and said it was really good that we came today because some of the morning volunteers had not been able to make it. Two adult volunteers had already started in on some of the work, and so it fell to us to clean four cat cages and ready them for their next residents, plus set up two additional cages that had already been scrubbed clean and disinfected. One of the students, in her second year of volunteering, had her cage scrubbed and newspaper already laid on the floor of one of the clean cages before I even had the chance to see how she was doing. The two other students, both first-years, needed little guidance themselves and also worked at a quick pace. As I wandered back and forth to touch base with them all, I was startled to walk in the front room and see one of the girls smiling out at me from within a cage – I imagine in order to gain easier access to the back wall and ceiling.

Cat cages, once scrubbed, need to sit for ten minutes to let the disinfectant do its work, and as the other volunteers had gotten us all caught up on dishes and laundry, this was the perfect chance for kitten snuggling. The girls know by now that they have to leave adult cats in their cages when socializing with them, but that it is okay to take out kittens. Luckily, there were three, each of them in a quiet and snuggly mood, and it was hard to tell who was happier, the kittens or the girls.

Ten minutes later, we got the cages all set and checked to see if Buddy (a one-year-old yellow Lab) needed time in the play space. Two days previously, as I was walking him to the play space, two of the girls had taken off running with excitement, and when he leapt after them I was momentarily worried he was going to pull my arm right off. So when this group asked if they could walk him out, I hesitated for a moment and then, remembering how well-behaved he had been when we were just walking together, I said they could if we all promised to walk the whole way. Once in the play space, with his leash off, he did his best to pursue a wide variety of flying objects that filled the air within moments of our arrival. For a moment, it seemed we would need skilled air traffic controllers, and indeed there was at least one close call. There were also two home runs, both of which were cheerfully pursued by the girl who had thrown them.

We returned Buddy to his cage and resisted giving him treats because we knew his stomach was delicate. I rinsed off some dishes that had been soaking in disinfectant while the girls went to say good-bye to the kittens, we signed out, and then after a pass by the candy bowl at the front desk, we hit the road.

It’s hard to put a finger on what made the day feel so special. On the face of it, it was unremarkable – there wasn’t even all that much work to do. Perhaps it was the sense of confidence the girls showed, their belief that the work was important and they knew how to do it well. Perhaps it was the cheerfulness they brought to every task. Perhaps it was how well they worked together, or how smoothly everything went. And perhaps it was their continual engagement in the moment, just as deep when scrubbing cages as when snuggling kittens.

Earlier today, Ellen, our school counselor, and I were talking about how fast the trimester has flown by. We are well aware that the passage of time feels very different to our students, both because we remember our own childhoods and because the girls remind us regularly. “Is it because a year is a much smaller percentage of our lives than theirs?” we wondered, but that didn’t feel right. “Maybe,” Ellen said as her eyebrows lifted slightly and the corners of her mouth turned up, “it’s because they live so fully in the present.” “Maybe it is!” I responded. “And if so, maybe there’s a lesson for us.”

Maybe.

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Filed under Athletics, On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

What are we waiting for?!

I hate stereotypes. I know I’m not alone by any stretch of the imagination, but I do. I really hate them. The ideas, not the people who hold them. So when I was a teenager reading Pat Conroy’s The Great Santini and loving it more and more as I turned the pages, I wanted to scream when I got to the locker room scenes involving the boys basketball team. It seemed like every stereotype of boys’ attitudes toward girls was there. “Come on,” I thought. “I don’t know any boys at all who are like that, and even if I did, I’ve never heard talk remotely like that in the locker room. No wonder so many people hold these stereotypes. Why do authors do this?!” In the back of my mind, I was aware that the locker room in Amherst High got relatively little use in gym class so it wasn’t really a fair test, and I was also aware that I was no varsity athlete and never would be. Still, it all seemed terribly unfair to me.

Fast forward to when my son was 9 and playing town baseball. His team had a party to celebrate the end of the season, and while the kids ran around and played, we parents sat around drinking Diet Cokes and talking about our kids and how they were growing up, their schools and teachers, and so on. Only after a while, I realized it wasn’t “we parents.” All the fathers except me were hanging out by the pick-up truck which held the beer coolers, talking at that point in time about rebuilding tractor engines. I was in fact talking with all the mothers. I shook my head to myself, briefly contemplated getting up and joining them as I could anticipate some joking, some of it friendly, about my hanging out with “the girls,” and then decided “Whatever.” and stayed in the conversation which I was enjoying. Kids were my world. Tractor engines weren’t.

I would never have thought to connect these two moments if the Penn State scandal hadn’t happened. But in point of fact, they very much are connected. There can be, though of course there isn’t always, an undercurrent of misogyny in boys’ and mens’ athletic teams. I’ve learned by now that the locker room talk in The Great Santini was based on Pat Conroy’s experience as a high school and college athlete, and actually does reflect countless locker rooms around the country. And the gender divide at my son’s baseball team party extended to practice and games. Only fathers coached, no matter how talented an athlete a mother may have been. Though wives occasionally kept score during games, they often found that men scorekeepers assumed they knew little if anything about the sport and often came across as blustery and dismissive even when they were, in fact, in the wrong.

So what does all this have to do with Penn State? The allegations involve the rape of boys by men. How does that relate to misogyny?!

Go back in time, not very far, to the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl in Texas. The New York Times article reporting the allegations stated that among the town’s concerns were, “If the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act? (…) ‘It’s just destroyed our community… These boys have to live with this for the rest of their lives.’ (…) Residents in the neighborhood…  said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s.” In other words, one might conclude, the little tease brought it on herself and in the process ruined the lives of 18 boys and men. An 11-year-old girl. Gang raped.

Meanwhile, the young boys allegedly abused by Jerry Sandusky have been given the kind of sympathy and support you would hope and expect rape victims would have. Only – wait, they were boys raped by men. Think back two springs ago when a woman teacher was accused of statutory rape of one of her male students. Out came the jokes about women desperate for sex, cougars, boys living out their teenage fantasies. Sympathy for the victim? Not one whit. So is there a deeper issue here? Is homophobia rooted in misogyny driving many of our reactions to the Penn State case?

Beyond that, one also has to wonder why no one at Penn State spoke up, why nothing was done once they realized what was going on. I’ve heard the question raised, what if there had been a woman on the coaching staff and she had found out – would she have reported it on the spot? I come at the gender divide from somewhere in the middle, hyper aware that both men and women exhibit a wide range of attitudes, behaviors, and cultures when given the freedom to do so (driven by brains that are more alike than different, not to mention the fact that “female-wired brains” can exist in men and “male-wired brains” in women), and I think the question has to go deeper than that. Woman or not, was there no one on the coaching staff who lived by the ethic of care and in the kind of relational world where they would feel some level of compulsion to stop Sandusky?

My best guess is, probably not. My admittedly brief experience as a father in youth sports taught me that all too often (and I feel extremely fortunate that most of my son’s head coaches have not been in this group), women and girls were seen as inferior, and men and boys who exhibited so-called “feminine” traits suspect.

And so children get raped and nobody does anything about it.

At times like this, I don’t really care that feminism is a dirty word to many people. We need people of all genders out there, speaking up, acting out, working with every ounce of energy every moment of the day to ensure that all genders are respected and treated with dignity.

Now.

– Bill Ivey, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School Dean

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A Tale in Tweets, Posts and Photos.

September 28, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Good luck to #volleyball as they take on Cheshire Academy & good luck to #soccer as they take on Miss Halls School! Bring back a win girls!

We lost to Miss Halls and our record was 0-2-0. Luckily, it was early in the season so we had plenty of time to improve.

October 5, 2011:

sbschoolorg

#Games today against @WatkinsonSchool, @aactweet and Eagle Hill School. Good luck girls! #highschoolathletics

October 6, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Congratulations to V. Soccer in their 8-0 win against Eagle Hill and to J.V. Soccer in their 1-0 win against @aactweet! pic.twitter.com/hVF6J6oS

We went on to win our game against Eagle Hill and our record became 1-2-0. After taking on Four Rivers Charter School and Forman School we were at 3-2-0. We took on Watkinson School a few days later and tied and our record became 3-2-1.

October 12, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Good luck to JV Soccer against @BementSchool, Varsity Soccer as they take on @DarrowSchool and Varsity Volleyball against @thewinchschool!

October 13, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Congrats to V. Soccer in their win against @DarrowSchool yesterday! Great job girls, keep it up!


Congratulations to the varsity soccer team on their win against Darrow School yesterday. Keep it up girls!

Our record continued to improve with a win over Darrow School and we took the lead in the league. With only a few more weeks of games, our record stood at 4-2-1.

 October 19, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Good luck to JV Soccer vs. @NMHSchool and to V. Soccer vs. @aactweet today! Bring home a win girls! #athletics

 Our winning streak continued and we beat the Academy at Charlemont 5-2 and Buxton School 6-1. The girls were fired up and their announcements became more enthusiastic with each win. The varsity soccer team held a record of 6-2-1 with only a few games left.

October 26, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Games today vs. @lawrenceacademy, @Dublin_Wildcats and @aactweet. Good luck, girls!

 October 27, 2011:

Congratulations to our Varsity Soccer team in their 5-0 win against Dublin School yesterday. They play Putney at home at 2 p.m. on Saturday for the league championship. Come cheer them on!

 Our win against Dublin gave us a record of 7-2-1 and the girls were ready to take on Putney for the league championship. They had high hopes of winning the game and (hopefully) the subsequent tournament and ending the season as league champions and tournament champions.

November 3, 2011:

Congratulations to the Varsity Soccer team for winning their last game against Putney School (5-2) in the snow and becoming the RVAL regular season champs! Check out the video!

 The win against Putney in the freak October Nor’Easter gave SBS the title of league champions. The girls were ready for the tournament and couldn’t wait to play.

November 4, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Congrats to V. Soccer team who will advance to RVAL semi-finals after 6-0 win against @buxtonschool today. Keep it up, girls! #athletics

Congratulations to our Varsity Soccer team on their 6-0 win against Buxton today. They advance to the RVAL semi-finals which will be played Monday at 3 p.m. Come cheer them on!

 November 8, 2011:

Varsity Soccer has done it again! Congratulations to the team on their 3-1 win vs. Charlemont in the RVAL semi-finals yesterday. They play for the RVAL championship vs. Putney School on Wednesday at 2 p.m. Go OWLS!

Going into the final tournament game of the 2011 season, varsity soccer boasted a record of 10-2-1. Spirits were high and the girls were ready for a fight.

 November 9, 2011:

@sbschoolorg

Final tournament game for v. soccer today at 2:30 p.m. and v. volleyball hosts @MacDuffieSchool at 3 p.m. Come cheer us on! #goodluckgirls

@sbschoolorg

RVAL championship is starting NOW!!

@sbschoolorg

Stoneleigh is first on the board! 1-0! yfrog.com/nywg8wrj

@sbschoolorg

And just like that, it’s tied.

@sbschoolorg

Still tied with @PutneySchool in the RVAL Championship soccer game. 1-1

@sbschoolorg

Half-time!

@sbschoolorg

Still tied!!

@sbschoolorg

We’re going into overtime with @PutneySchool varsity soccer in the RVAL Championship game!

@sbschoolorg

Into the second 5 minute overtime! Still 1-1!

@sbschoolorg

End of 2nd 5-minute overtime! Still 1-1!

@sbschoolorg

Wow…we’re heading into a shootout!

@sbschoolorg

Congrats to @PutneySchool who are RVAL champs after the overtime shootout.

In the end, it was a tough loss for the Owls against Putney School. In spite of it, they had a winning season and finished as league champions. Perhaps the most heartening moment of the season came after the game had ended. As the students and guests from Putney School celebrated their win, our own fans, proud of their team and their school, ran across the field to support and encourage their peers. In spite of the loss, our fans were there to celebrate everything the team accomplished this season. Regardless of the final outcome of the game, they were proud of their friends and classmates. This is what Stoneleigh-Burnham is all about.


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Filed under Admissions, On Athletics, School Happenings, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Getting It Right

Stoneleigh-Burnham has a long tradition of periodic “formal dinners,” which were inexplicably called “sit-down dinners” when I first started at the school in 1985 (to my memory, anyway, we did not eat all other meals standing up). Many different methods of arranging seating have been tried, with varying success. One of the more recent and welcome ideas was for Big Sisters to be seated with their Little Sisters during the banquet we hold on the evening of the first big All-School Meeting, and ever since the middle school Little Sisters have been periodically asking me when they can sit with their Big Sister group again. Advisory dinners also work well, most likely because here, too, the people at the table know each other and feel connections. However, with any other grouping, many members of our community, faculty and students alike, approach the dinner with some trepidation, wondering whether their table will be talkative or whether theirs will be a conversation filled with awkward silences. In my experience, it works out more often than not, but nonetheless I always experience faint butterflies as I check the seating chart that afternoon.

So you can imagine my surprise when, during the day of our second formal dinner of the year, a student who saw me yelled, “Hey, I’m at your table. I can’t wait!”  Although she is a former advisee, it is still something I have never, ever heard before. Moreover, that evening, as I found my seat, I was greeted with warm smiles from all the students present, especially from Kikko, one of the Seniors. This year, Sara Gibbons, the Senior Class Dean, worked with the students to implement a plan whereby each Senior would list faculty members with whom they would like to co-host a table for the remainder of the year and permanent pairings would be created. I have known Kikko for four years, though I have never taught her nor indeed worked directly with her in any capacity. She is, however, one of those students who always returns a smile and a greeting when passing in the corridor and who is happy to engage you in conversation if you would like; I found I genuinely liked her simply through these brief interactions.

As it turned out, the Trustee who was also assigned to our table was somewhat hard of hearing, and after I had to repeat a number of things the students said to him during introductions, it became clear (if unspoken) that I would probably have the principal responsibility to host him and engage him in conversation. I have known him for many years, and did enjoy the chance to talk with him at greater length. Fortunately, I was also able to periodically break the flow of our conversation and join in with the lively conversation the students were having among themselves, and indeed it was one of the most enjoyable non-advisory formal dinners I have had in several years.

Many faculty members, including Sara, had similar experiences, and reported that the students also enjoyed this system more than others in the past. And interestingly, I find that Kikko and I have added extra warmth and depth to our greetings, smiles, and short conversations in the dining hall. When she graduates, I will feel her absence all the more acutely.

Our school is all about connections, voice, and finding our own best selves. The right structures can help support that mission. Sometimes, everything works properly straight away, and sometimes you just have to keep tweaking things until you get it right. But when you do get it right, you find it’s well worth all the trouble. The longer it takes, the better you feel.  And right now, I feel very good.

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Filed under On Education, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, The Faculty Perspective, Uncategorized, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School

Storm Family

When I was teaching English at the Université de Bordeaux, my parents sent me a collection of cassettes from the radio program “A Prairie Home Companion” for my birthday. It was a touch of home I very much appreciated, and I even turned one monologue about Thanksgiving into a reading and culture lesson for one of my classes. One of the “Winter” pieces was entitled “Storm Home,” and detailed how when Garrison Keillor was growing up in Minnesota, the kids who didn’t live in town were assigned a Storm Home where they would stay if the weather came up while they were in school and it was unsafe to go back to their own homes. Mr.Keillor built up a beautiful, somewhat wistful image in his mind of what his storm family might be like, how they would treat him (“Why, it’s our storm child!”), and why they would be happy to take in a child they had never met.

Sunday morning, I acquired my own storm home. While shoveling out my driveway, I saw my neighbor across the street approaching, as she often does if we are both out at the same time. She asked if I had power (No.) and heat (Also no.) and then told me she had fired up her wood stove and closed off her living room and I was welcome any time (and throughout the winter as well). I thanked her and warned her that I am often home pretty late from school (which she probably already knew, come to think of it) and asked how late at night I could safely knock. “Oh, even two in the morning is fine.” she said. “Just try calling first in case I don’t hear the knocking.”

Saturday, my son’s cross-country team had a meet against Deerfield Academy, and since the goal was to make the races happen while still getting the DA kids back safely, I figured it was safe to drive out as planned. The meet came off well, though it was getting steadily colder and rainier as I ran to my car. Word from friends of mine who have kids on the DA team was that snow was already accumulating in Deerfield. Conditions steadily deteriorated throughout the drive, and became positively nightmarish in Greenfield as I kept my distance behind a fishtailing Mustang. Partway up the Mohawk Trail, I came upon a stopped line of traffic and settled in behind a Honda minivan, texting back and forth with my wife. I was more than a little on edge, wondering how long this would take, whether my car would still be able to manage the slick roads when we finally started moving again, asking myself why I hadn’t filled the tank in Orange and whether I should just give up, pull a u-turn and hope I didn’t encounter a police car coming the other way.

About an hour after I stopped, I noticed three bundled-up people walking past car after car and hoped for their sakes they would learn something useful up the way. A moment later, I heard several cheery voices yelling “Hi, Bill! Hi, Advisor!” It was two 8th graders and a mom, and after a brief chat they continued on up the line. As they came back, nearly every driver seemed to be calling them over to ask what they had learned, as the kids approached one car while the mom was still talking to another, I couldn’t help but think about how they were taking their place in the world, with adults calling on them to help out and trusting them to share what they knew without a care as to their age. And I found it was as if the line of cars had become a community, with the kids and the mom the connecting link.

At times, it’s easy to forget that despite all our differences, when there is genuine need, people generally come together and give unconditional aid. People who pull other people out of burning cars, or stop to help change a tire, or bring a neighbor food if a loved one has died, don’t usually apply a litmus test before reaching out. My students might be entering a world of increasing inequality and an ever-increasing din of heated and often-unsubstantiated rhetoric, but they are also entering a world where, when the chips are down, we come together. Indeed, they are already part of that world, and helping it stay that way.

I suddenly found I had relaxed, so I reached out to some friends on Facebook to see what they might know of my predicament and continued to pass the time until, over an hour later, we finally started moving, my storm family and me.

A photo of Stoneleigh-Burnham School taken by Hank Mixsell after the freak October Nor'Easter.

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Filed under On Parenting, School Happenings, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Uniquely Stoneleigh-Burnham School