Sonja Peterson: Fill those Fridays with wonderAt first, walking through my elementary school just made me feel old. And a bit claustrophobic.
By: Sonja Peterson, Lake County News Chronicle
At first, walking through my elementary school just made me feel old. And a bit claustrophobic. Back in sixth grade, when we considered ourselves quite grown up and lorded over the “little kids”, it had still felt like an expansive dominion. But now, six years later, everything seemed to have shrunk in the wash. The lockers seemed doll-sized, and I couldn’t understand how we’d all fit in the cafeteria. But when I got out to the nature trail, I was relieved to find that is hasn’t changed much at all.
Here was the log where we sat, still as stones, trying to get chickadees to eat birdseed out of our hands or from little piles on top of our hooded heads. The first few times I managed to lure one in, I scared it off in seconds with my excitement. Nearby was the place where we’d built a bonfire for our Christmas party in sixth grade. The trail sloped down to Schmidt Creek and I thought of how every time we did “stream study” at the creek at least one person would manage to fall in, and nearly all of us came out of it with with wet shoes, muddy jeans, and complete happiness.
Every step triggered more memories. I remember the excitement during that first recess every year when it got warm enough that we didn’t have to wear snowpants. I remember almost beating the boys team in soccer (they always cheated anyway). I remember sitting on the library carpet, enthralled by stories of Amelia Bedelia and Hank the Cowdog.
Not all my memories are blissful. I remember the stench of burnt grilled cheese or of highly suspicious hamburger gravy wafting out of the cafeteria all morning. I remember fighting with friends, and being frustrated with clueless grown-ups. But for the most part, I know I had a good childhood and many of my best childhood memories took place at my elementary school. It took a walk on the nature trail to remind me how lucky I was to go to a good school and how important those early school years were to me.
Now that people are done quibbling about minutes of instruction and public meetings, we know that kids in our district are only going to be going to school four days a week this year. It shouldn’t be too bad for older kids, but it’s going to be important to give the youngest students something to do on their extra weekend day besides playing video games. People have been talking about activities for kids on their day off, but I’m worried that talk may never translate into reality, especially with the last-minute waffling and late notice.
That day off could give young kids unique opportunities – or it could be wasted time. We need people with good ideas for programs for kids, and volunteers to help make those ideas happen.
My dream would be a program that gets kids outside to explore the beautiful hiking trails and historical sites on the North Shore. Outdoor learning can teach all kinds of lessons, from science to history, it can keep kids fit, and it can give them a deeper connection with this area that might prevent them from moving away permanently when they grow up.
North Shore Community School, my elementary alma mater, has always had great success with its “environmentally integrated curriculum.” The four-day week could be a chance to bring more of that approach to students in Lake County.
Maybe my idea isn’t feasible at all, but I’m sure there are other ideas for fifth-day activities that are. They just need some energetic, generous people to make them happen.
Don’t let our younger students spend their Fridays on the couch watching TV. Help give them good memories, a good education and a reason to come back and support this area.