June 5, 2009
By Janet Scott
Last week we participated in an all school event to benefit the American Cancer Society. Enormous preparation went into ensuring its success. For days leading up to it we read e-mails, sent notes home, prepared students, and ferried bags of money to the office. Classroom banners were designed and constructed. Two days before the big event we practiced for an hour to make sure the logistics were all worked out. Things needed to run smoothly on event day since the entire school, guests, dignitaries and even the media would be there. Teachers, already overwhelmed with end of year pressure, found it difficult not to grumble about the time being hijacked from academics.
Prior to this, our school had made a very conscious effort to reduce assemblies and events that took time away from our main focus at school. AYP and other high-stakes measures made whole group celebrations seem like an ill-afforded luxury. We developed strict criteria for deciding if an assembly was a valuable learning experience. Grade levels whose state standards coincided with an assembly's objectives were permitted to attend. Sometimes information was offered via video to classrooms, eliminating travel time to and from the gym. We believed that we were doing what was best for kids.
However, after last week, I'm not so sure. On event day, we listened as our school nurse shared her personal journey through cancer treatment, watched cancer survivors do a lap around our track, and were inspired by the messages of hope and strength we were witnessing. Coming together for one purpose brought a unity we hadn't realized we'd been missing.
Our individual classrooms are tightly knit communities, but this event, which happened in the middle of the day and lasted for most of the day, created a sense of school community amongst teachers, students, parents, grandparents, community members, our superintendent and even our mayor! We ended overheated, exhausted, empowered, and filled with an enormous sense of joy, pride and belonging.
Mitsugi Saotome said it beautifully, "If you were all alone in the universe with no one to talk to, no one with which to share the beauty of the stars, to laugh with, to touch, what would be your purpose in life? It is other life, it is love, which gives your life meaning. This is harmony. We must discover the joy of each other, the joy of challenge, the joy of growth."
We took time out from academics to discover the joy of each other, the joy of challenge, and the joy of growth. We raised thousands of dollars for the American Cancer Society and realized that life, all life is worth fighting for, and recognized the importance of each individual life in our midst as well. That may not be an academic lesson, but it is a life lesson worth repeating, and I hope we do.