Friday, April 25, 2014

"Students are Dismissed to the Gym for the Assembly"

My assignment for today was to write a blog about the uncertainties of HB 2506. I was in the middle of doing so when I had to leave my work and go to a school assembly. Readers should understand that I have been to a lot of school assemblies in my five decades plus on the planet. As a student thinking about trying to be cool, as a teacher thinking about not leaving any of my students out, as building administrator thinking about what problems were going to be caused by some kid trying to be cool or getting left out, and as a superintendent thinking about not leaving any of my board members out. I also had many opportunities to go and take pride in my own kids. I tried to come up with an estimate of how may assemblies-countless.

Today I went to the assembly just to watch. Sure, my stepdaughters were prominent players in the proceedings, but I just watched. No worries, just enjoying the moment. I drove home as quickly as I could and still have goosebumps from what I witnessed when I just took the time to watch. Let me set the stage for you:
  1. Assemblies like this happen all over Kansas in schools large and small. When I talk about this one, I hope that it encourages you to go see one in your community. 
  2. This assembly was in a gym filled with 2,000 high school students. Many of you have had small groups of kids at your house. You know how ten can seem like 100. Imagine 2,000. 
  3. The students were in charge of this assembly. Students planned it, organized it, and led it. The principal never spoke, and teachers spoke only when called upon by the students. 
  4. In the interest of full disclosure, my stepdaughters are on the committee that planned the assembly. This gives me insights into the work and drama that went into the assembly, and the commensurate learning. 
  5. The assembly started at 9:30 and lasted until 11:00. 
So what happens when you take 2,000 teenagers, pack them into a gym, and put a handful of other teenagers in charge of them for an hour and a half? That is the part that gave me goosebumps (and embarrassingly brought a tear to my eye). This is also the part where I wish I were a better writer, so I could better describe what I saw, and more so what I felt.

The first activity featured the robotics team. Students described and demonstrated the robot they built. Naturally, it didn't work at first, but after a quick repair it raced around the gym chasing a giant beach ball, to the delight of the student body. The bot picked up the ball and launched it, just as it was designed to do, and the crowd roared. This wasn't a football championship, it was a robotics team.

But there were moments for athletes. Teams were introduced, by their captains, not their coaches, with one exception. A four-time state contender and 2014 state wrestling champ was introduced and cheered. He was so embarrassed I thought he would take down his coach with a fireman’s carry to get off the floor more quickly. A more humble young man I have not seen, with the exception maybe of my own boys.

The other exception to the no adults rule was when the special education jobs skills team was introduced. The team members, some assisted by their paras, were recognized by their teacher for winning numerous medals and ribbons at a job skills competition at the local college. The student body recognized their achievements with the first standing ovation of the day. The Kleenex came out of my wife’s purse at that moment.

The choirs sang, the classes did skits; more teams were introduced, just like in every other assembly that takes place in Kansas. The students were simply incredible. If there was a lull between events, they immediately went into their class chants. They were having fun, and so was I.

I will need your agreement not to mention the next activity to Gary Musselman or KSHSAA, because an unsanctioned sporting event took place. The rock-paper-scissors champion of the school was decided in a hard-fought quadrangular tournament. It culminated in the champion, a six-foot, hundred-nothing pound kid with a Swiss-ball-sized natural, being carried off the court by his friends in triumph. (I think when he did the splits in his warm-up the other players may have been intimidated.)

I cannot capture everything I saw or felt, but two things will stay with me. The assembly had the requisite pie the teacher event. The first victim was introduced-she was celebrating her retirement with a pie in the face. Upon hearing her name, 2,000 students jumped spontaneously to their feet and tried to blow the roof off the place. This, fellow educators, is what it is all about. Peyton may throw more touchdown passes, LeBron may score more points, and some ‘roid infused baseball player may hit more homers, they will all make millions more, but none of them will ever have an experience like she did. It was just plain cool to watch.

The second was when a group of students presented a new specially designed bicycle to another student in the district. They had raised the money to purchase the bike, and the glow on the girl’s face as she rode it out the gym out-shined the sparkle of all the prom queens' gowns. Again, a spontaneous roar from the students followed.

They finished up with a poetry slam. After sitting in an assembly for over an hour, the kids listened attentively to two lengthy poems written by their classmates. Not “Roses are red” or “There once was a fellow from Spain,” but long, intricate, and thoughtful words about school and life. The works moved the crowd to another ovation. Imagine the courage needed to walk onto a basketball court surrounded by 2,000 teenage peers with nothing but a microphone and some rhymes, being able to command the crowd, and then walking off to a standing ovation. Goosebumps.

I am leaving a lot out, and we can all worry about HB 2506 later. I am not going to take the time to brag about Isabelle and Olivia, who were masterful (whoops). I am just going to say that as long as our future is in the hands of public school students like the ones I saw today, I will rest easy.

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