Thank you for “Back to School” back pack drives like this one sponsored by our fabulous Bridge Project for our students who might otherwise show up to school with nothing but a smile, and, sadly, not even that. The intention is for all students to be granted a new school bag with some essential items to use in school– but also to build excitement for a new school year. There is a statewide “Pack a Pack” initiative also happening this week sponsored by a good many businesses whose goal is 3500 stuffed sacks for underprivileged children here in NH. But even for kids considered to be “privileged,” there is more to add to their packs to stock the stoke for school.
While back packs and crayons and pencil cases and Walmart gift cards are awesome to provide our community’s children with– wherever they grow up and in whatever kind of demographic they have been born into, there are a few essential items we ought to add to every child’s pack for school. There is room; there will always be room for more, and we must make room for these other “supplies” or all the #2 pencils in the world will never be able to write a word.
Last year, we received an email at school of a local girl in need of cleats for soccer season. Six pairs in her size showed up when the need was communicated. But not every need can be met in the form of cleats, magic erasers, (although those would be amazing straight through adulthood to delete mistakes from our past), or glue sticks or pocket folders. Where are the lists for self confidence? Independence? And when we don’t have it, where do find someone to help us to build it? How do we resupply the spiral notebook of life with phrases like, “I said no, I don’t like that–or– That is not kind or nice –or a friend does not do or say things like that.”
Instead of reaching for the water bottle in the side pocket or the highlighter in the special inside, hidden zippie compartment, kids could reach for the power they need to be an up-stander instead of a bystander when their friend is being pushed around or sworn at by an older kid on the bus. “Yes, I’m talking to you, and you are hurting my friend.” The bus grows quiet, and suddenly other kids are looking in their side pockets of their back packs. Do I have those words too in here somewhere?
The snacks in their lunchbox would be enough to fuel more than just the brain power to get through the school day; it would also be enough to remember to open their assignment notebook at home or maybe want to open a book to read in a quiet space. Maybe there is no one to help them check their assignment notebook or review work when assigned or brainstorm a problem when stuck? Maybe there is no quiet space to read or draw or call their own at home. Can we fit that into their back pack too? Can we squeeze some added courage and resiliency because there never seems to be enough of that to go around? While we are at it, there should be a first aid kid in every kid’s pack to be the first line of defense in overcoming challenges. Is this a booboo that just needs a band aid– or does the wound run deeper? Can the student solve the problem alone with the help of those words in the pencil case– or are other resources needed?
Is there space leftover for extra patience? Perhaps some compassion and understanding for others? I write this for myself, as an educator with 21 new school years in my back pack, as much as others as a reminder for soft eyes. We never know what has brought someone else to this place of anger or apathy or judgement or short sightedness or violence. There must be enough space left for a sense of humor because childhood and adolescence (and adulthood for what it’s worth) is really more “survive-able” with copious amounts of laughter and humor and friendship. And when kids don’t feel they have any of that, it’s up to us– the adults in the community- to help them to find it and grow it from within. So, let’s kick up the stoke for August 27, just a few short weeks away. If you can help with school supplies, awesome. If you can contribute to filling our children’s packs with any of those other resources, equally awesome! If you have a problem with your child’s teacher, the school, another child, please model for your child how we problem solve. Speak with your child’s teacher first. Use your words– generally it’s more effective to use them in person versus a social media blast. One last thing, if you find yourself saying to your young son or daughter or niece or nephew, “Don’t worry, you will be out of school soon enough; I hated it too when I was your age,” I challenge you to consider whether that “stocks the stoke” for the school year. And if doesn’t, figure out a way that does.
Side note: I’m always excited about the start of a new school year. This year, I’m extra enthusiastic about some new staff who will be joining us on the front lines of social and emotional and behavioral health for our students and their families. Lin-Wood is extremely fortunate to welcome Erin Bell in the role of school social worker along with Chad Steen as our new Student Assistance Person.