Blog Archive

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It always makes me smile...

to think back to my first experience in a public school as an adult rather than a student.  There are several stories from that era of my career that I consider good things, but today, I want to share one brief amusing moment.

First, a little background:

As a Senior in college, I had planned to spend a semester studying abroad in Bogota, Columbia.  Unfortunately, a number of Americans had been kidnapped and killed that spring, so my program was canceled.  I didn't need additional credits and I wasn't interested in graduating early.

So, I did what any self-respecting, self-absorbed, college student done.  I improvised.  I decided to move in with my boyfriend in Chicago and create an internship for myself.

After consulting with a professor, I wrote a proposal and began hunting for a high school where I could spend time in both classrooms and administrative offices.

I literally opened the phone book (we still had those back then) and started calling schools looking for someone who could talk any kind of sense.  I introduced myself and gave a brief spiel about my proposal. A couple of secretaries hung up on me.  A few sputtered some nonsensical excuses and tried to foist me off on another office.  One told me I was crazy.  Most simply seemed confused and had no idea how to respond.

Finally, I got a rational response: "You'll need to speak to Mr. Quinn.  I'll put you through to his voice mail."  Mr. Quin called me back and asked me to fax him (we still had those back then too) a copy of my proposal.  I signed the paperwork and I was off on an adventure.

I had a lot of crazy experiences that semester.  The school I wound up at was in the shadow of Robert Taylor homes and served a poor urban population with significant documented gang activity.  But I survived.

Near the end of my internship, I organized a weekend trip for about 30 sophomore students to Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana.

It was epic.

Yet despite all the really profound, meaningful experiences that were had that weekend, the moment that always makes me smile was pretty silly.

We (myself and the teacher chaperons) took the group to tour and use the sports center on campus.  The kids played basketball and lifted weights, and refused to go swimming.  Our tour ended at the 30 foot climbing wall.

Students were invited to try rock climbing.  Most scoffed...until one of the teachers bet a particularly popular student 20$ that he couldn't reach the top of the wall.  Then the dam broke and students began searching for climbing shoes and stepping into harnesses.  That student lost the bet in rather spectacular fashion.  The majority struggled to climb the wall.

But one or two were different.  Those one or two glanced up the wall, nodded to themselves and scaled it effortlessly.  They floated up the wall with astounding grace, like spiders on a web.  At the top, they sat back in the harness and descended like they were relaxing in a rocking chair.

The teacher chaperon who had made the initial bet and I looked at each other.  He shrugged, and said casually "Fence hoppers."

I don't why that moment always makes me smile.  Maybe because I knew what he meant (which for privileged little ole me, was a pretty big deal).  Maybe because it was a genuinely amusing sight, those kids mastering a skill the college students supervising the activity had spent untold hours honing.

Maybe it makes me smile because I saw students who had never been on a college campus, whose aspirations primarily centered on survival, who were essentially tourists in a foreign land, transfer a completely unrelated skill without hesitation, self-consciousness, or difficulty.

When I think about the implications of that, it just always makes me smile.

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