Flamingos in the bathroom, love in the classroom.
One fine spring day, I follow a lively, chattery group of children into Colonial Hills School in Worthington, Ohio, for another episode of my Artists-in-the-Schools residency. Today is "kindergarten assessment day," so my usual hangout, the gym, is off limits. I am handed a schedule of rooms and classes.
First stop, the rest room. You know this school is "different" when you visit its rest rooms. Flamingos everywhere! Flamingo welcome mat, door posters, mobiles, sculptures, paintings, greeting cards, buttons, and balloons. Even a flamingo plunger!
Louise Smith, the school secretary, plays docent and explains, "Last year one of our teachers passed a trash can and saw a tossed-away pink plastic flamingo. She salvaged it, cleaned it, and made it the centerpiece of the teachers' rest room. The rest is history!"
After reluctantly leaving the "Flamingo Room," I hit the halls and began to follow my itinerary. You can tell a lot about a school from its halls. These halls are never empty, and students don't march silently through them -- they bounce. Teachers and children greet one another with the warmth of family reunions. Passing corridor walls papered with pictures, murals, collages, portraits, and poems, I mingle with the busy traffic of active, mobile, lively individuals and groups. Children with physical disabilities wheel their chairs or clunk their crutches in and out of classrooms and corridors, greeting their fellows as they move along.
The bright rooms are abuzz with the sounds and sights of active learning. The variety of activities and lessons is wide, including private conversations, small groups at work, whole-class discussions, and individual children deep in thought, their heads bent over projects.
It is clear that books are loved here. They're pushed around on carts, propped and plopped on every surface, held tightly in the hands of children, cradled in laps. Books are turned into talks, reports, pictures, maps, puppets, and songs.
But where is the principal? It's never easy simply to find her. Principals like Carol Price don't just sit in their neat offices behind closed doors, keeping their appointment calendars in order.
Follow Carol around for a while. Here, she welcomes a visiting group of shy potential kindergartners as they enter the cavernous school gym for the first time, stepping gingerly into their new lives. There, she's brainstorming with a group of teachers. See her proudly showing visitors the incredible junk sculptures created by the students from the "found" objects they gathered as they cleaned up the environment.
Look for her listening to the poems just written by a group of fourth-graders. She applauds their works, has a cheery conversation with their teacher, and moves on.
Carol Price reminds me of the story about the principal who spent most of her time "with" the children and teachers. One day, she found a few minutes during recess to play Candyland with a group of kindergartners. A little girl approached the game and asked to join in.
"Dear, we already have four playing, so why not wait until one of us leaves, and then you can have a place."
The little girl waited patiently as the principal and the three children continued the game. Finally, the child tugged on the principal's sleeve and asked, "Shouldn't you be working?"
"Where is Ms. Price now?" I ask a veteran fifth-grader, who steers me toward her office.
I knock at her closed door. It opens to invite me in. There, sitting around the large round table that takes up half the room, a group of parent volunteers are working on a project.
Here are just a few of the objects I noticed in Carol's office. On walls and shelves: baskets, dolls, bears, quilts, plants, puppets, crafts, books, magazines, doughnuts, and coffee. On her filing cabinets: chocolate kisses and Mickey Mouse. Sitting in her chair: two large animal puppets, Humphrey Bear Gart and Lauren Bear Call.
Catch Carol for a few minutes of conversation, and she will excitedly share the news about the wonderful grant just received from the arts council that will help bring the Mad River Theater Company to the school for a week's residency, living in the community and working with fourth-graders on an original play based on the oral histories of local families.
All of Carol's words are words of affirmation. "Our school is a family," she begins. "All our children learn together, live together. Our children with orthopedic and developmental disabilities are completely integrated into the life of the school. We constantly build awareness and respect for differences. Everybody has strengths. We all learn better together. We talk about our academic goals, about our personal goals, and about goals for helping others."
For many years, Carol was a classroom teacher, and leaving the classroom was painful for her. But then she realized, "Now I have 350 students instead of 25! It's just a bigger classroom."
No more time for visiting. The last group of children is waiting for kindergarten assessment to begin. I follow Carol to the gym.
I take my place in back of two children and their parents who are waiting quietly for their turn. Are they ready for kindergarten? One of the volunteers hands me a form to fill out. She doesn't notice that I am not accompanied by a child. Dutifully, I fill out the form.
Child's Name: Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld.
Child's Date of Birth: 30 March 1935.
My pencil stops at the bottom of the page.
What Else Would You Like to Tell Us About the Child?
In my best handwriting, I print: "She would rather stand than sit, walk than stand, dance than walk. Even though she is a little immature, she would love to go to kindergarten in a school with flamingos in the bathroom and love in the classroom."
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|Title Annotation:||Colonial Hills School, Worthington, Ohio|
|Author:||Chenfeld, Mimi Brodsky|
|Publication:||Phi Delta Kappan|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1993|
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