Sometimes it is just a quick thing, suddenly there it is, an epiphany. I had that on this day and I want to share with you.
I wanted to share this inspirational experience I had one day meeting up with some of my grandchildren. On this particular day, I had the pleasure of accompanying my daughter, Julie, as she came to pick her three children up after school.. You can probably remember the crazy energy and enthusiasm of all the children finally freed after seven hours in the classroom. It was contagious! I could not help but smile as the children of all ages raced past us, some playfully pushing at one another glad to be free.
After meeting two of my grandchildren and their classmates and teachers, my oldest grandson, Jake, still had not come out of his 6th grade classroom, so we set out to find him. As a 40 year veteran of the public school classroom I felt comfortable on the elementary school campus and as a grandmother I was enjoying being able to share in my grandkids’ world if only for a short while.
Upon opening Jake’s classroom door an electric wave of excitement spilled over the threshold. I was stunned to find that the room was still full of sixth graders happily working at their desks! By now about 15 to 20 minutes had elapsed since the dismissal bell and yet the students were not leaving or apparently even thinking about leaving. The culture of the classroom engulfed me in its warm embrace. It felt magical.
I mentioned to Jake how late it was and yet the children were not leaving. He said, “Oh Mimi, we never do. We like it here. We always stay after.” Before I knew it, I was meeting a key element of the class: Tank. I was introduced to a big yellow service dog that the students support and clearly love. Why would the children want to leave?
Tank is their philanthropic project. They support him and one other service dog, Foster, through their non-profit business. They make and sell dog biscuits as well as build and sell dog houses. All of this to help support the service dogs who assist in their reading-buddy project with the younger children of the school. They also donate money to the local animal shelter. I thought to myself, we have come a long way in education.
Clearly the opportunity to know Tank and Foster, to support them, to have a business and a business plan had brought out the imagination and enthusiasm of the children while teaching them life skills to say nothing of fostering an interest in their own teaching and concern of younger children. Jake showed me the cubby area where the service dogs, the 1st and 2nd graders and the 6th grader work on the younger child’s reading skills. The young children get to read to the dog under the supervision of the older student. Jake explained to me that research evidence reveals a gain in confidence on the part of the young reader when the child reads to the dog. Clearly there is confidence to be gained by the 6th grader as well. I also know that in addition there is solid science behind the positive effects pets have on human beings. Talk about a win win situation!
These days there is concern about inadequacies in our educational system, about the detrimental role of electronics and television on our youth, worry that children are not spending enough time reading and more. As a community college professor I frequently encounter students who are not wholly prepared for their academics. It seems to me that if more teachers like Jake’s “Mrs. B” could understand as she does how to truly rivet the students and to turn learning into magic, more students would be better prepared in the future. I applaud this school, Olivenhein Pioneer Elementary school in San Diego County, CA for its imagination and success and particularly Mrs. Benowitz of the 6th grade. She truly is making a difference.