A few years ago I met a man named Ahmed. He and his family had just come to the United States on refugee status from Iraq. He was enrolling his daughter at my school. She was a beautiful little first grader who spoke absolutely no English. This scenario was nothing new for us as we had over 100 ELL students in our school and many non-speakers. However, there was something about Ahmed that was different he had a drive and determination about him that was difficult to ignore. I had this feeling that he was about to do amazing things.
Then, a month ago, he approached me with an idea. He sat in my office to talk to me about a grant he had applied for in the hopes of running an after school program for ELL students. We were talking and he was speaking in terms of the “what ifs” and the “maybes”. I stopped him and pointed to the wall above the windows in my office. There, spelled out in big, black letters was the word DREAM and I said, “Ahmed, we’re dreaming this year! So let’s stop with the 'maybes' and let’s start dreaming! What’s your dream?”
He went on to tell me that he wanted to help his community by giving children a place to come to have help with homework, to learn English and to begin to understand the culture of the United States. He also wanted a place for them to learn about the culture of the countries they left behind so their heritage wouldn’t be forgotten. His dream was to help people have a better life here in America.
Fast forward to Monday, September 29th. Ahmed’s after school program began at my school. We met about a week ago to finalize the details, when he stood up to leave at the end of the meeting, he paused, looked up at the big, black letters above the window that spelled DREAM and he said,
“The dream has become reality!”
(Image from bigappledreaming.com)
On August 15 at 9:15am I challenged my staff to change the world.
I told them that I’d be their safety net.
Then I watched and waited.
Here’s what’s happened so far-
1. A list of 14 students who need positive interactions with adults has appeared in everyone’s mailbox. The list includes pictures of the 14 children, their names and instructions asking us to make positive connections with the children each time we see them around the school for the next 3 weeks. After 3 weeks we will get a report about changes in their behavior and/or academics. Then we will add some new children to the list and start again.
2. The ELL staff has called a meeting with experts on diversity. The expressed their frustration about feeling like they just could not communicate effectively with our ELL families. They shared some ideas they had for ways to connect with the families and decided that making home visits was their best way to make an impact. So, on Friday, they began the home visits. The ELL staff, along with an Arabic interpreter visited two families and will do so every Friday until they have reached each and every family. At the end of their 2nd visit, magic happened when the family asked to have their picture taken with them!
3. Our school guidance counselor has begun a year long project with grades 3-5 in which she will help them create their own service learning projects.
4. A teacher decided to add a 4th statement to our guiding principles. For the past three years we’ve said, “Take care of each other. Take care of yourself. Take care of this place.” She asked if we could add, “Take care of this moment”. Who could say no to that? So, we have begun talking to kids about what it means to take care of THIS moment.
5. Then, these really fun notepads arrived from the print shop the other day. Printed on them are the words:
-Take care of each other
-Take care of yourself
-Take care of this place
-TAKE CARE OF THIS MOMENT
Teachers will carry them around and give them to children who they notice doing one or all of the things listed.
6. The 3rd grade students participated in DOT DAY and decided that they wanted to make their mark on the world by spreading kindness. They are in the process of creating videos in which they are giving other students ideas about how to be kind.
It’s only September and my staff and students have proven to me that we can change the world.
What magic will happen tomorrow? Who knows?
But, I can’t wait to get to school to find out.
I hope my blog posts inspire risk taking and new ways of thinking. I hope to connect with other educators on our journey to always do what's best for children.