It’s Saturday morning and I don’t know how, or why, it’s been two weeks since my last post, but it has. It’s that time of the year when time flies in the blink of an eye and my ‘cup’ is full, way to fill, a cup brimming over. Perhaps it’s been baseball, or school, or life in general.
The first quarter at school ended Friday and my Houston Astros are battling the Dodgers in the World Series. It’s a long season and there are a few games left before the season’s finished. I’ve been watching the games and rooting for the Astros; staying up late to watch the last innings of each game. Wednesday’s game ended late after going 11 innings and last night’s game ended close to 11 o’clock. Tonight’s game starts at 7, or just after, and I’ll be watching. The Astros need two more wins. I am hopeful.
Last Sunday was my week to drive the bus. The church bus, that is. I drive the bus in my classroom, but that’s rather a figure of speech. I think my students drive the ‘classroom bus’ from time to time when they take control of their learning. But most of the time I have the wheel.
Last year I was asked if I was interested in driving the church bus. I decided that it was a way I could give of my time to the church community, to give back. We’ve been attending the church faithfully since the summer of ’99. It’s the church which sponsors the Boy Scout troop my son belonged to when he was a scout. I’ve take advantage of the Men’s Bible study, though I miss here and there, and I’ve enjoyed the fellowship of the monthly men’s group where I am often the youngest in attendance. There’s a lot I can learn from the experiences of the group and it’s been fulfilling to learn from the men of the church community. But like most things in life, when you give, you often get more in return.
I drive the bus about once a month. I am a substitute drive and drive when the regular drivers can’t drive – there’s a driver for each Sunday in the month. The first Sunday of the month opened last spring and I almost took the ‘job’ but I decided I couldn’t commit with summer approaching and I drove the first Sundays in April, May, and June.
When I drive the bus, I pick up the folks who attend the church, but can’t drive, or they don’t drive any longer. Someday, that’ll be me, for now it’s not.
Most Sunday’s the average age of the bus riders is the mid to upper 80’s, I’d guess. Old enough to be my parents. They all have kids and grandkids and a few have great-grand kids. They’ve lived full lives and since I’ve been driving them I’ve gotten to ‘know’ them, or know some of their stories. They are funny and thoughtful and give me a boost when I drive them to church and back. I’ve written a couple them thank you notes for making my day.
- I drive one couple – they’ve been married 72 years and next week, he’ll walk his grand-daughter down the aisle. He was a mechanic in the 8th Air Force when he met his wife in England. They settled in the Baltimore area after the war and moved to Illinois to be closer to their daughter a few years ago.
- Another rider has been attending the church for over sixty years. She raised her family in the church and attends faithfully – she’s full of energy and the light of the bus when she gets on at the second stop.
- Another rider, was a cook in the Seabees during the war and remembers the occupation of Okinawa and aftermath of WWII. He had a career with Sears and retired, but still works several days of the week for Home Depot. He’s got a great sense of humor and is full of life.
- Another rider is the mother of one of son’s former teachers in elementary school.
In all there are at least fourteen riders, though the most I’ve ever had on the bus was twelve. Last Sunday I had nine. I don’t know when I’ll drive next, but I look forward to it.
I always say hello when I see them at church and they always have a smile for me, too.
At the beginning of last summer, I had the idea to ask the riders if I could record their answers to some questions. It was an idea, and at present it’s still an idea. But, someday, I hope to sit down with several of the riders and ask them some questions and record their stories, but that requires time and some skills that I don’t have, yet.
Which leads me to something which has been keeping me busy.
I stay busy learning. Asking questions, being curious, and practicing what I preach with my students. When I joined the 8th grade, I had to learn an entirely new curriculum and culture. The 8th grade has several field trips that tie into the content that grade level covers. One the field trips is to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Illinois. It’s an amazing field trip and the most of the students walk away with more questions, than answers. And that is always good.
A summer ago, not last summer, but the summer before last, the summer of ’16, I had the opportunity to take a professional development class at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. It was a three-day class about teaching the Holocaust. I walked away with far more resources than I could ever use. I walked away with a yearning to learn more and like the students, I had more questions, than answers.
I’ve been back to the museum for several more professional development classes, including one on the Armenian genocide last spring. It landed me on the museum’s mailing list and I get invites to new classes and programs all the time.
At the beginning of the school year, I got an e-mail inviting me to attend a special program and I spoke with my school administration about it and they agreed it was an amazing opportunity. The museum was looking for small groups of students to attend and test a new exhibit and provide feedback to the museum. The exhibit included new technology where Holocaust survivors could tell their stories through technology. Like my bus riders, the average age of a Holocaust survivor is the mid to upper 80s and many are in their 90s. There was also a component of the exbibit where students (and visitors) could learn about community activism through the stories of UPStanders – people who stand up for what is right.
How to talk to Holocaust survivors in the future? In Take a Stand’s holograms, an answer https://t.co/EhdkWsVn1A
— Clay Watkins (@makingdayscount) October 28, 2017
Our school has over 350 8th graders and we could ONLY take 50. We also knew that the field trip would be an experience that the students could pay forward. So, we created an application and a process to select students. It was selective and 96 of our students applied. It was difficult choosing only 48. But, we did.
We went Wednesday, October 18. It was a beautiful sunny fall day.
It was an amazing experience and we were fortunate to meet Aaron Elster, a Holocaust survivor. The new exhibit features holographic Holocaust survivors which can answer questions and tell their stories. When Aaron’s holograph appeared on the stage before us, it was as if he was there. He was in fact there – but our students did not know until the holograph ‘froze.’ My students were able to ask questions of both the holograph and the real Aaron. It was an experience none of us who were present will ever forget.
At the end of the field trip, my students were answering questions about the experience and I realized something I already knew.
We learn from other people’s stories.
My students (and my own children) ask questions all the time, but they lose patience with my answers. Because, often my answers aren’t an answer, but an explanation of the how and why and the what, when, where, and who along with the answer. I noticed that when I was watching Aaron’s holograph and watching Aaron answer my student’s questions – that’s exactly what he did. He gave a lot more information than my students asked and that is a very good thing.
My students asked questions such as:
- What was life like before the Nazis invaded Poland?
- What do you remember from the time?
- What was it like hiding in the attic for two years?
- Were you ever afraid?
- What was life like after you were freed?
- Have you forgiven the Germans (Nazis) for what they did to you and the Jewish people?
- Are you hopeful for a better world?
And so many more…..
Our time in the room passed quickly, much more quickly than I or my students could ever imagine. But each Aaron’s answers was a story, an explanation, and after listening to my students discuss what we can do with our experience last week, I know they learned. It stuck, it resonated. We will be paying it forward somehow, someway. I am excited, and honored, to be part of the process.
But the experience, confirmed what I already knew. We learn through stories, other people’s stories, and when we pay close attention, perhaps we’ll avoid some of the pain they experienced. I know I tell my stories and I hope my kids, my own kids and my students, can learn from my stories.
“the past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future.”
Abraham Lincoln said or wrote that. He believed it, and I do, too. If we can’t learn from the past, we’ll never learn to make our world a better place. I, like Aaron, am hopeful that we can make the world a better place. Together, listening to other’s stories, and telling our own stories when it’s time.
It begins with Making each Day Count. One day at a time, one story, one lesson at time. But we have to listen.
What’s your story?