What a great bunch of kids. The school itself has changed a lot since Ashacat and I were there as middleschoolers in the early '80s. The lack of acres of tile in the hallways (carpet now), new lighting fixtures, other improvements, and the nearly complete absence of bells, make the place so much more humane and so much less institutional. Rob, the teacher we worked with, was a fellow Gen-Xer with this classroom deadpan that caused me to almost fall out of my chair a couple of times.
This was typical. A student, holding a cutting of "goldfish plant" (it must have orange fish-shaped blooms) asks "did they plant goldfish last year?" Rob: "no, we planted Triscuits." Wah!!
...I suppose that if you're out of reach of the Pepperage Farm baked-goods behemoth, this will have no humor for you at all.
But, about those kids. The school has 600 (!! there were 425 in my class) sixth-graders organized into "Cores" of 100 kids. Each core has its own English, Math, Science, Geography, and language teachers. This effectively creates six 100 student schools within the school. And, even though I didn't appreciate it when I was a sixth-grader, it means that the kids get a lot more personal attention from the teaching staff. Third period is when Core 5 goes out for specials (PE, art, music) so it was a break for us. Rob brought in bagels, and the Core 5 teachers' usual daily team meeting time became an opportunity for us to meet and talk with the other teachers in the core. Everyone seemed to think that these kids were a really good lot. I am inclined to think that this team-teaching approach has a hand in helping these kids become effective, well-behaved students.
The contrast between the ~100 Glastonbury sixth-graders I worked with today and the sixth-graders I see in Hartford could not be more stark if Frank Miller did the illustrations. And it's not the race thing, though the Glastonbury kids were a much white as the Hartford kids are non-white. It's the poor kid with nothing going for him vs. the middle class kid with lots of advantages thing. Yet, one of the other things that I see so frequently in the offspring of my fellow townsfolk spoiled rotten, self-entitled, solipsism simply wasn't showing. They were attentive, eager to participate, and at the very least did a bang-up job of looking interested. Of course, how often do a bunch of adults come into your class and tell you (encourage you) to play in the dirt? (Whoops, that's soil. You wash dirt out of your clothes. You plant seeds, cuttings, and tubers in soil.)
My role was assistant, so I had plenty of opportunities to watch my fellow volunteers in action. Seeing former high school science teacher Ashacat back in the saddle was neat she's a real pro. Bonnie, the eldest volunteer in our crew, taught propagating from cuttings. Not a teacher by trade or training, she was a natural, and she had a really compelling hook for the kids. Bonnie was introduced to gardening as a first-grader in Cleveland in her elementary school. The school had burned some time before she started; 175 faculty and students had perished. The students of the rebuilt school tended the memorial garden as part of their coursework. From there, gardening became a life-long avocation.
By the time we wrapped up the fifth class all of us were pretty well wiped, but also thoroughly pleased with how the day had gone. Who knows, we may even have made some converts to this gardening thing. Either way, it was a lot of fun and an excellent way to spend a vacation day!