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School Me is here!

February 21, 2011

Good Readers,

What do you remember of first grade?

I didn’t know what to do with my brown uniform sweater when I began Visitation Catholic School in Los Angeles.  It was never to be worn inside, and I wasn’t allowed to tie my sweater around my waist. When Sister Anne Christine told me to hang it in the cloakroom, I had no idea what a “cloak” was but its keeping place sounded dark and ponderous.  The principal’s secretary stifled a giggle when I explained why I was handing her my sweater.

The cloakroom – the darkest spot in room 1-A – later became more than a new vocabulary word.  It was here that Sister set up the SRA laboratory. I expected potions and maybe explosions but the reality was much more exciting: a projector calibrated to increase speed as students advanced through color-coded reading levels. Language danced on the wall above the sweater hooks and I loved sitting cross-legged on the cold linoleum, as words zipped faster and faster.

By spring, most students advanced from purple books to red. Anthony and I made it past red, then on to orange, gold, brown, even past tan. We were allowed alone in the cloakroom, as we sped from lime level to green. He was, predictably, my first schoolgirl crush.

I’m certain in first grade I must have learned other things, but it was that dawning awareness of where I fit within a small world – what I knew and didn’t know – that imprinted most deeply.

Our “School Me” contributors strum these themes too.

“I haven’t been in wars / how am I supposed to chat to men?” wonders Tony Colella.

“One must be taught to fear,” Donna Vorreyer muses.

“What do you have to say for yourself?” asks J.J. Steinfeld in a poem by that name.

The essential purpose of the UN Millennium Goals is to eradicate extreme poverty. Quantifiable research proves that education drastically reduces destitution.  The 2010 Millennium Development Goal progress report emphasizes that, “Education… underpins the entire set of MDGs.” But then the progress report becomes one eternal word problem:

The biggest obstacle to receiving education is poverty.
Remaining poor is the most likely outcome to remaining uneducated.

The classless remain classless. To infinity.
We can stop the cycle.

There are myriad obstacles beyond a student having to decide between eating or learning. Teacher shortages and gripping violence disrupt access to equitable education.  Rural poor are significantly less likely to attend school.  Disability heightens barriers to education.

Problems zoom, fast as slideshow text in a cloakroom. But we must remain determined not to let overwhelming odds keep children alone in the dark because so many stories begin, or end, with being able to complete a solid course of education.

If you think one person can’t make a difference, read our first Kitchen Table Conversation.  Alicia Kozameh, who endured incarceration and torture to fight inequity in 1970s Argentina, challenges the innocence of those who don’t work for change.

If you have time, read to a child.

Nurture imagination.

By eighth grade, Anthony and I worked our way through all the Junior Great Books and were invited to skip Language Arts class altogether. We gained access to the sanctity of the teacher’s lounge, to write news articles, type them up, and hand-crank  the mimeograph machine to produce dozens of purple-inked, chemical-smelling copies of the Visitation Voices school paper. It was my first editor gig.

Think of what possibility lies in the dark where children sit, hungry to learn.

Good reading.


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Margie S. permalink
    March 8, 2011 1:41 am

    I enjoyed your piece Catherine! I remember SRA well! It was the first time I wasn’t punished for reading ahead. Reading to children continues to be one of my own personal joys.

  2. March 9, 2011 5:39 am

    Lucky children!


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