"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mondays in the Morning with Sixth Graders

  by Susan Ohanian
Our local elementary school regards community service as a high priority, and every Monday at my town Senior Center, which is a social gathering place for activities and information,  four sixth graders give up their lunch & recess to volunteer as helpers for the popular lunch we provide once a week. A volunteer parent ferries the children between the school and the Center.

Each group of kids does an eight-week stint, and then a new group moves in. Ostensibly, I’m in charge of the kids. Each group is different, and I supervise this pretty much the way I operated for years in classrooms: I watch carefully, and occasionally I nudge. This particular group of  kids invented the "Host" role, wherein one student stands in the reception area and greets people as they walk in the door. They all found this difficult, but persevered. Even most gregarious adults would find such a role a bit intimidating, and since this past Monday was the last day of this group’s operation, I decided to let "host" slide. But “Jim” asked me, "Should I host?" and he performed superbly, going up to Oldsters, asking, "Would you like me to hang up your coat?" Such an invitation rather astounds people--and they always respond with great delight to the courtesy.

All morning, Jim  kept asking me, "Do you think I'll be able to do this again?" I heard him telling a cook, "I will try to do this next year."

Each Monday, in the last 15 minutes of their time with us, I ask students to take a dessert and go to tables to “engage” with people eating lunch. The rule is that every child must go to a different table. When the school gave them a prep, the kids were told to “collect stories” from Oldsters.

By now, the kids know which Oldsters are most talkative, tell funny stories. They know that some of the volunteer dishwashers are real cards. In short, they know where conversation will be easiest and most easy and enjoyable. I confess to astonishment when I saw the shyest child  go to a table where one very old woman sat all alone. Their conversation soon became very animated and continued  until I had to break it up when it was time for them to return to school.

Since this was their last time with us at the Senior Center, I gave each child a thank-you note written on Senior Center stationery. One girl seemed astounded--and she kept thanking me for writing her a real note. She kept saying it: a real note.

It bears shouting: We teach who we are. Every day and in every way, that's what we do.

There’s a coda to this story. I’ve noticed that someone paying for lunch at our Monday gatherings uses money bearing the message "Stamp Money Out of Politics." Jim noticed some of these bills in the basket & asked about them. As it happens, I stamp my money similarly so I opened my wallet and explained the whole deal (It is led by Ben of Ben & Jerry's). Jim was very very disappointed that I don't carry my stamper with me. He really wanted to see it.

Again, we teach who we are, and I just find myself in a good place supervising children at the Senior Center every Monday.

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful article!
    Thank you for your continued care and education of today's children. In a society lacking in courtesy and communication skills, These are valuable skills that you are teaching these children.
    I applaud you!