Kids are What Schools are About...and Should Be
September. When the leaves begin to turn and the apples ripen and the evening brings an earlier dark and a fresh chill, something in us harkens back to a classroom.
It's a place that occupies a special niche in our memories. It's not just a mental picture. It's a cherished cluster of sounds and smells, feelings and emotions. Fifty years after entering Miss Perigo's first-grade class, I can still smell the musty blend of chalk dust and paste. A fresh box of Crayola crayons still takes me back to 1950 and room No. 1 at the old three-story brick school in my hometown. I can hear the gong of the old bell that hung in the stairwell. I can see the steaming radiators and I can hear them quietly spit and sputter as we followed the adventures of Dick and Jane.
What is a school, anyway?
Well, it's a big building. Or maybe it's small. It's usually made of brick, but sometimes it's not. Sometimes it's tall with lots of big windows. Sometimes it's low and spread out and hardly has any windows at all.
A school can be a noisy place. If you visit during lunch or a passing period, it may seem like bedlam. But a school can be a quiet place, too. If you happen to visit at another time, you'll
think you're walking through a beehive. You'll hear the buzz of voices and music and scratching pencils and chalk.
But what is a school, anyway?
It's buildings and sounds. It's a smell, too. It's the odor of floor wax and gym socks and chalk dust and beef stew simmering in large pots in the cafeteria. It's the scent of pencil lead and wet papier-mâché mixed with unknown odors from well-cured items left in a hundred lockers for a month.
It's the whiff of someone's leaf collection combined with the odor of a guinea pig project and sweet aromas emanating from the home economics department. It's the smoke of the incinerator burning up tons of crumpled notebook paper and office memos. It's Miss Baker's perfumed handkerchief that she holds just so as she reads aloud to her third-graders.
School is bells and buzzers. It's the groan of the eraser-cleaning machine. It's the chatter of movie projectors. It's the squawk of the PA speaker. It's the music of young voices and squeaking reeds in song. It's the far-away whistle of the football coach on a hot September afternoon. It's the welcome rumble of school buses lining up at 2:15.
But what is school, anyway? A school is a building full of sights and sounds and smells. It can be a pretty building. It could be a little ugly, too. Big or small, pretty or ugly, it doesn't matter much what a school looks like from the outside.
What matters is who's inside: teachers who love to teach, counselors who like to counsel, principals who lead the way, janitors who don't mind washing blackboards and scraping spitballs, cooks who like to make things like pork fritters and vegetable medley even they're not much appreciated, coaches who know that winning isn't everything, and school bus drivers who safely go about their business while pandemonium reigns behind them.
But most of all, school is kids. Tall kids, short kids, funny kids, big kids, little kids, loud kids, quiet kids, kids with their hands up, kids with the sniffles, kids with their homework, and kids who forgot their lunch money.
People who like kids and kids who want to learn: that's what school is (or should be.)