State College Friends School
I have a collection of notes I’ve received from children over the years. They help me remember school history, they make me laugh, and they do wonders for my self-esteem. There’s the little heart on which a 5-year old wrote, “You are the best prinsubl evr”. (It took me several days to realize that I was his only ‘prinsubl’ ever.) And, there was the note from the sixth grader that said, “No person could be better than you.” That remains a special favorite, even though it was followed immediately by a request to use iPods during class time. (It didn’t work.)
Written communication from children is very different, and often goes much deeper, than verbal communication. The very act of writing requires a different kind of thought and engages young brains in special ways. So, I encourage it. When children have a request, I often ask them to put it in writing, using my fading memory as my excuse. The products are often priceless, precious treasures that go into my collection.
Recently, I was in a meeting in my office. The door was closed, and since most people see that as a sign that I’m occupied, I was surprised to hear a knock…several little knocks, in fact, that sounded as though they came from several little hands. I have trouble ignoring little knocks, so I excused myself, opened the door, and was immediately handed a note:
Dear Teacher Mary,
We would like to borrow $150.
Teacher Dorothy & Teacher Abby’s Class
This was unusual. I have shared money with students on occasion, but it’s normally been limited to a dollar or two if someone was in a pinch on Pizza Friday. Now, Teachers Dorothy and Abby have a kindergarten and first grade class. These were 5- and 6-year olds asking me to loan them a sizeable amount of money. I love them, but did I trust them as partners on my first foray into venture capitalism? I needed more information, so I observed that $150 was a lot of money and I asked why they needed it.
“We want to go bowling.”
At times, I have found children this age so irresistible that I’ve thought they could talk me into anything. That turns out not to be true. I was not particularly moved to grab my wallet when I heard the reason for the request. Not being a bowler myself, I was not convinced of the educational value of the activity, and my immediate reaction was that $150 seemed like an exorbitant amount to pay to do…that. (It turns out that it’s a rather costly proposition because it requires special unattractive shoes. I don’t know why.)
So, I thought that perhaps all was not as it seemed, and asked for time to deliberate. I needed to investigate further with Teacher Dorothy and I tracked her down at the end of the day.
Dorothy told me that it had all started with the expressed desire of one first grader to go on a field trip to a bowling alley with his class. The idea was well-received by his classmates, and quickly became not just a teachable moment for Dorothy, but a series of many teachable days. She was not going to make this easy. She asked the class how they would get there, and how they would pay for it. Their answer…fund raising!
The class decided that they would sell snacks to other students. In order to accomplish that, they would:
So, all they needed to get started was an interested investor, one who was willing to take a risk on the entrepreneurship of 5-year-olds…and they were quite astute in identifying a likely prospect.
From this simple wish came lessons in math, nutrition, environmental issues, public transportation, advertising, sequencing, team-building, and working together as a community to achieve a common goal…all before we even get to the unattractive shoes and the lessons in how one bowls. As I watched how much these young children were learning, all focused around this seemingly simple project, I thought about how glad I am that our incredibly creative teachers aren’t so busy teaching to the next standardized test that they have no time for this. Our students were learning to do so much more than memorize answers ---they were learning how to make connections, how to get from here to there (both literally and figuratively), how to combine their efforts as a group, and a lot of concrete, practical skills, too. They even got to some human vs. nature issues when their bowling trip was postponed due to a snow day just before Spring Break.
So, later this week, we’ll see this class off on their long-awaited adventure, knowing that they will see the event as so much more than just another field trip. Without a doubt, no child will be left behind, and every one of them will depart with an absolutely stellar credit rating.
Beloved assistant head of school and child whisperer, Mary retired in 2015. She is missed every day at Friends School.