Changes Over Time

Every year I get older. Fifth graders stay the same. That seems unfair.

IMG_0534 copy.jpgI went to Prospect, CT this evening for their annual DARE graduation. I can’t tell you how long I’ve been doing this, but I seriously expected a parent of one of these kids to tell me I was at his/her graduation too! Some things have changed. Some have remained the same.

Bob Chatfield is still the mayor. He was there when I first came. He’s the longest serving elected official in Connecticut.

The ceremony still takes place at Community School. Parts of it were built in the mid 30s. Not much change there.

D.A.R.E. 2010 008.JPGI don’t know why but the girls seldom look me in the eye as I hand them their awards. They stare at the floor. Some of the boys look up–not all.

I used to shake hands with all the grads. Tonight it was fist bumps. I’m not sure if that’s flu related, but I’ll just choose to blame Howie Mandel.

When I began the school was all white. It is now a mini United Nations. Yes, the majority are still white, but there are now lots of other shades. Families moving up have moved in to Prospect.

D.A.R.E. 2010 009.JPGOriginally parents came with their video recorders. A few years ago the video was gone and there were lots of digital cameras. Now it’s digicams and cellphones.

The slide projector has been replaced with a PowerPoint slideshow.

As an ‘honored guest’ I’m asked to say a few words. Tonight I asked how many of the kids wished they were adults, able to control their own lives. Lots of hands.

I then asked the parents if they wanted to be kids? More hands.

Somewhere between childhood and adulthood there’s a disconnect! The parents understand too well.

Every year I get older. Fifth graders stay the same. That seems unfair.

Observations From Prospect

I was in Prospect, CT last night at their annual D.A.R.E. graduation. I’ve been to 13 now. It’s my tradition as well as theirs.

I enjoy going because I like Prospect. It really does have a neat, small town feel. Going to Community School has got to be a different experience than going to P.S. 163&#185 in Flushing, Queens.

Some small things have changed. All the kids’ speeches are written and printed on computer. When I first came, they were hand written. The slide show at the end is now a PowerPoint presentation.

I made a point last night to observe the kids closely. It’s been a while since Steffie was 11, so there are things I’ve forgotten. Even then I couldn’t really be a dispassionate observer.

Being 11 is definitely being in transition. You are obviously still a kid in every way, but you’re getting set to begin fending for yourself and actually making some decisions on your own.

It is a physically awkward time. When the kids came up on stage to receive their certificates shake some hands, many didn’t know which hand to use. The vast majority, though not all, avoided eye contact – not just to me, but to all the adults on the stage.

I found that odd.

I have a terrible habit when I look at someone younger than me. I tend to mentally age them. So, now I know what all these kids will look like in their fifties and sixties. Some will be pleased. Many will not.

I know – it’s weird. I do it to nearly everyone young, wherever I am.

Some of the kids won an essay contest and read theirs aloud. How tough is that when you’re 11? I was a few feet behind them and could see nearly every one quivering. Though a few inches from the microphone, most were still too quiet to be heard.

I would guess the anticipation of this public performance must be nerve wracking when you’re 11. I’m sure I couldn’t have done it.

In a few years their writing will mature. Right now, most of it is reading back what others have said. I don’t know when individual creativity kicks in, but by-and-large it’s not in 5th grade.

I believe I was a real piece of work in the 5th grade, back in Mrs. McEnroe’s class at P.S. 163. I too would have squirmed while in the presence of non-family adults.

Our school never did anything to bring the parents and kids together at school, as this night in Prospect did. Looking back, that’s my loss.

&#185 – I was surprised to find this page, which rates my old elementary school, and rates it highly. Is there anything still the same since I left in the early 60s?

If I read correctly, it’s now 66% Asian. When I went, the school was totally white, except for two black brothers, Hubert and Herbert. There were no Hispanic or Asian students.

It was a school with a library the size of a Manhattan kitchen and a multipurpose ‘gym’ which never saw a sport or game played.

DARE Graduation

This was my 11th trip to Community School in Prospect to participate in their DARE graduation. DARE is Drug Abuse Resistance Education and it’s a program Prospect runs in the 5th grade.

It’s a program that’s not without controversy. There have been charges over the years that it has encouraged children to turn in their parents, or that it does nothing at all but cost towns money.

I really don’t know.

So, why do I go? And, why do I feel it is so rewarding to me?

First, I think the critics overstate their case. But, even without that, this ceremony has always felt like a family affair. The kids like that their parents are there for their accomplishment. I always talk about this program really means their parents know they’re starting to make independent decisions – and they hope they make the right ones.

After the awards I usually take photos with people and sign autographs. And, I always get a kick out of meeting the kids. It’s good to be in the fifth grade.

While on the stage, I asked everyone with a digital camera to take my picture and send it to me. So far, I’ve gotten… none.