Our oldest daughter Noelle (remember, I don’t use their real names on my blog) might be the most earnest girl that ever lived. Whatever she does, she does passionately, all in. It’s precious (and sometimes exhausting) to live with this spirited girl. In the midst of this hard season adjusting to having a new little person in our home, Noelle and her school gave us the sweetest day on Saturday.
I’ve written before about my daughter’s school. She got into the dual-language program at a brand new elementary school just weeks before starting kindergarten last year. We had no idea what to expect; no seasoned parents could tell us what it was going to be like. The first few days were chaotic–the school was under construction up till the very last second, teachers had only a few days in their classroom, parents didn’t know the routine. Within about five days, however, we started to see signs of an amazing efficiency emerging as the principal and teachers worked overtime to get themselves together. And it has been that way–seamless, energetic, rigorous–ever since. Some of the classes are designated dual language, some are English and some are bilingual (targeted only to Spanish-speaking kids rather than a mix), but the entire school operates with both languages all the time. Announcements are alwasy translated; kids are told to slow down in both languages. The teachers and students move fluidly between both.
Noelle thinks this is completely normal.
These are teachers that believe firmly in what they’re doing. They’re bringing a top-notch education to a neighborhood that has traditionally been overlooked. Noelle is one of four caucasian kids in her classroom; she’s definitely in the minority in her grade.
I’ll be honest, it’s exactly what we were looking for in a school.
When we first found out Noelle got in the dual-language program, meaning all of her kids would have this chance, we were ecstatic. But as soon as we started to share this information, we had the oddest conversations. They were well-intentioned, I’m sure, but the undercurrent was the same–you have to watch what you’re getting into.
Someone actually said to me at a baby shower days before school started that I’d really have to supplement her education because “you never know with those people.” I pushed back hard–what people? What did she mean? No, I’m sorry, I don’t know? People who speak two languages, like my husband when he was growing up? I’m sorry, can you say that again?
I left the awkwardness there because frankly, I was offended. To have children who understand that people from all walks of life are equal human beings seems like my highest goal as a mother.
Let me tell you the kind of education we (bilingual, multicultural, mixed-economic, collaborative, outside-of-our-tiny-box) people are working on at my daughter’s amazing school.
This Saturday, Noelle and 25 of her classmates in the gifted and talented program participated in Destination Imagination. I’d never heard of it before, but let me tell you, it’s where baby theater and speech and band and choir and AP English nerds are starting off these days. Oh my word, the cuteness of little bespectacled babies with costumes and capes. I could die of my love of the earnest nerdiness.
Right in the middle of the group was Noelle, dressed like a reporter. She was on one of three teams from her school. Each team was mixed age, race and gender, as well as mixed language. Of course. That’s how we roll at Barron.
Noelle was the only girl; there were three “big” boys (3rd and 4th grade) and three first graders, Noelle and her two buddies. They identified a problem at their school and then worked hard to fix it–they decided that their brand new school needed a school newspaper.
So they wrote one. They researched and analyzed and pecked out articles over weeks on their computer. They wrote a jokes section. Noelle wrote about China. They interviewed the tallest coach in school. Some things were in Spanish, some in English, and it was all so earnestly executed.
They presented their newspaper and, after a few mediocre run-throughs, knocked it out of the ball park when it came time for the actual presentation. When they came out, the principal, gifted teacher and team coach were all teary. Even Jonathan was a bit choked up.
Noelle stood up, confident as could be, and said, “I’m a little girl. My name is Noelle Goudeau.” And then read her much-practiced story what was the same and what was different in China, where she got a new little sister.
I die of the cuteness.
If it had ended there, it would have been sweet enough. But in the last round of the day, they had their second event–an impromptu challenge they’ve been sworn to secrecy not to share. The team coach worked to get the instructions read to the mixed-language team in both Spanish and English; the first languages of one of the first graders is Spanish and two of the first graders is English. We were all afraid that if it were in one language or another, that they wouldn’t be able to understand the more academic terms.
But it wasn’t allowed–the rules had been changed last year. Someone felt it gave the bilingual kids an unfair advantage (!!!) to hear the rules twice. Heaven forbid they should have more time.
So instead, the teacher reading the rules said them slowly.
The “big boys” translated.
In their suits and ties, these children of working-class parents demonstrated their poise and compassion as they translated WHILE THE MAN WAS TALKING for their littlest team members.
The coach said by the end, even the judges were beaming–this is what intercultural collaboration looks like, with children who think that translating is normal, that working with other people of different ages is worthwhile, that being stand-up boys at an early age is something to be prized.
We were in tears by the time the coach finished telling the story. And you guys…they nailed it. They aced their impromptu challenge–in two different languages. Because that is how Barron rolls. And Noelle came out bouncing-off-the-walls excited and proud.
Noelle came home last year and told me, dripping with her earnestness, “Mom, my teacher told me we were working hard at making our elementary school the best school in the world. I think we’re almost there. We’re really close.”
We couldn’t agree more. This school, these children and teachers, are a gift. My girls will always know that people who look different or speak differently are still the same inside. Those are lessons that can never be taken away from them.
And, by the way, their little team of overachieving underdogs won third place out of the whole region. Noelle wore this medal all day at school. This crazy toothless grin says it all.