Elementary School

Around the World in 30 Desks

If I had to name one classroom activity that used to make my adrenaline levels skyrocket, it would be Around the World.

Here’s how it works. One student begins the game by standing next to the desk of a classmate who will be the first challenger. The two competitors face the teacher, who has a stack of flash cards with simple math equations on them. The teacher quickly pulls out a card and holds it up in front of the competing pair. The student who does the mental math and shouts out the correct answer first moves to the next desk, taking on a new challenger. The objective is to travel “around the world,” beating every classmate with quick-draw math skillz.

I’m not gonna lie — back in my day, I was kind of a big deal at this game, drawing grumbles from the other kids when it was their turn to challenge me. I don’t think I exactly looked forward to competing, since the threat of losing in front of everyone made me anxious. I remember my heart racing with each new round, feeling pressure to perform and relief when the game finally ended.


Fourth Graders: Pre-Preteens

I first worked with fourth graders through the I Have a Dream after-school program in East Palo Alto. I taught Creative Writing/California History to a small group of low-income African American kids, and they were quite a handful. Later that year, I substituted in a fourth grade class of wealthy white kids at a private school in Menlo Park. I found that the kids were just as off the wall as they were in East Palo Alto, and in the same ways. It seems that across socioeconomic lines, fourth graders are a unique breed. They’re right on the border of puberty, no longer children but not yet preteens. As those infamous hormones are beginning to circulate, “tweens” enjoy testing their limits.

This is what I’ve noticed about my fourth grade classmates so far:

1. They stink.

After recess, there’s a slight, foul odor that hovers around the room, drawn from a collection of sweaty feet and armpits. I was in fourth grade myself when my mom gently suggested that I start wearing deodorant. At the time, I felt offended and probably left the room in a huff. In retrospect, however, I’m glad that I got the news from my mom at home than from a classmate in front of my peers. I found one of my first Teen Spirit sticks (pictured above) buried in one of the bathroom cabinets. It’s a weird artifact, but it makes me nostalgic all the same.


Movin’ On Up to Fourth Grade

Just a quick update, with more to come later tonight….

After a week’s hiatus, I started back at elementary school yesterday. It was strange coming back into a child’s world after spending last week completely among grown-ups. It was even stranger to think that many adults live a completely child-free life, rarely having occasion to interact with kids unless they have little ones at home. I find that the kids keep me on my toes, since I’m never sure what they’ll say next, and that I have to raise my energy level to meet theirs. The third graders welcomed me with hugs, personal updates, and — of course — requests for more scary stories. I told them that I was fresh out of stories, and I was glad to find that they still wanted to hang out with me when I wasn’t performing for them.


Billy Madison vs. Melia Dicker

As I like to say, Reschool Yourself is “like Billy Madison, but for reals.” In returning to elementary school, Billy and I share some experiences. Here’s how they stack up.


Round 1: Lunch in the Cafeteria

Sloppy Joes + no Snack Pack vs. Chicken Hot Dog + Chocolate Milk

In the cafeteria, Billy ate sloppy joes that the lunch lady made “extra sloppy,” without a Snack Pack (His housekeeper, Juanita, packed him a banana instead, and his classmate wouldn’t trade.) I enjoyed a pretty decent chicken hot dog and a carton of smooth chocolate milk.

Memorable Quotes:

Billy: You know I like Snack Pack – why can’t you just give me a Snack Pack?

Juanita: I thought I was your Snack Pack.

Billy: What?

Juanita: Nothin’.

SCORE: Billy-0, Melia-1


Playing Catch-Up

This week I’m staying home from school to play catch-up. It’s times like these that make me appreciate my grown-up privileges to do independent study when I feel like it (I prefer the term “independent study” to “ditching class”). I’ll finish my last week of elementary school next week, spending a couple of days each in 4th and 5th grades.

My three and a half weeks in elementary classes have generated pages upon pages of notes on school memories and observations, and I’ve been frustrated that there aren’t enough hours in the day to turn them into blog posts. I dream of an invention that downloads ideas directly from my brain and turns them into polished pieces of writing. I figured that if ordinary monkeys can control a mechanical arm with their thoughts, surely I can get my laptop to do my bidding.

Until I become as smart as Bubbles, I’ll just have to keep typing out the entries myself. I have many, many experiences and epiphanies to share with you from the last few weeks, including:

  • My high school reunion, and why some of the highest achievers are having a hard time leading efficient, happy lives
  • Why I’m reschooling myself: a direct answer
  • My personal school history, grades K-3
  • Why education won’t change if adults don’t reschool themselves
  • My reschooling curriculum
  • A variety of reschooling tools to develop your intuition, happiness, and knowledge

Get ready. The contents of my brain are about to spill onto the page.

Flickr Creative Commons image courtesy of benny yap.

Melia passed the third grade!

I’m officially done with third grade — high five!

It’s a good thing, because I’m out of scary stories. I had to mine the Internet for stories like “The Hairy Toe” and “The Hook.” After three days of constantly performing, I felt like the kids’ little trained monkey, dancing on command. Turns out, that kind of popularity is exhausting. I hid out in the teachers’ lounge at lunch and enjoyed some grown-up conversation that didn’t conclude with the words “And she was never heard from again.”

I’m still not sleeping much, 5-6 hours per night. I’ve been going nonstop since school started and tend to write until the wee hours of the dawn. I may be the most workaholic elementary school student that ever lived. Tomorrow I’m stopping in at school to check out Picture Day, and then I’m taking the rest of the day off to do errands and pick up my boyfriend Darren, who’s visiting from Mississippi.

Here are a few highlights of this week, which I’ll try to expand upon in later posts:

  • The most caring reaction I’d ever seen to a boy crying in class, and the cultural shift that I think may be responsible for it.
  • A mini “School of Rock” in one third grade class that teaches kids a large part of the curriculum through music.
  • The first school award I’ve gotten in many moons, and how I felt about it.
  • Illustrating a story about a dragon and not wanting to stop when the teacher said so.

Next week, I’ll move on to being a big 4th grader, then a top dog 5th grader. It’ll be my last week of elementary school, and then it’s on to become an angsty, pimple-faced middle schooler. I see much eye-rolling and crying in the bathroom in my future.

Classroom Crime & Punishment

Yesterday I remembered what it feels like to get in trouble at school.

I arrived during morning recess, and immediately a group of my 3rd grade classmates accosted me, pestering me to tell them more scary stories. I hesitated, asking them whether they’d had any nightmares.

“I couldn’t go to sleep at first,” one girl said, “but I remembered that you said the stories were make-believe, and then I fell asleep.”

The end-of-recess whistles blew, and the kids and I filed into class. Ms. Alessio, a teacher who was at the school back when I was a student, asked us to take our seats because she had an important announcement.

“I got a call from a parent last night,” she began.

My stomach sank. I’d suspected that indulging the kids’ demands for scary stories had been a bad idea, and that parents might complain. An anxious feeling began growing in my chest.


Not So Little Miss Popular

I never thought I’d get the chance to say it, but it’s true. I’m the most popular girl in my class. This is the first time I’ve ever had that experience, and you better believe that I’m loving it.

I wish that I could have known 20 years ago, when I was in 3rd grade, that one day I’d get a chance to be the girl that everyone paid attention to. At age 8, I was more teacher’s pet than social butterfly.  I was exceptionally tall for my age and had straight brown hair down to my waist. I wore headbands with little teeth that dug into my scalp, and I had to put on thick pink-framed glasses during class so I could see the blackboard. (We had actual blackboards, not white boards like the classrooms do now.) In one class photo — the kind with the futuristic “lasers” in the background — the huge puffed sleeves of my dress are uneven in height. (FYI, those are tack-marks on the photo, not pockmarks on my face.) In another photo, my bangs are slicked into what appears to be a cowlick combined with a comb-over, which is just about as attractive as it sounds.


Reschool Yourself in the News

There’s an article about Reschool Yourself in the Sonoma Index-Tribune today. Thanks to reporter Emily Charrier and photographer Robbi Pengelly for capturing the spirit of the project so beautifully.

For those of you who are new to Reschool Yourself, welcome! Here’s how to get to know the site:

1. Get oriented.

  • Use the menu across the top of the site to browse pages. The content of these pages is updated occasionally.
  • The left-hand column contains blog posts about my reschooling experiences in and out of the classroom. The most recent posts are at the top of the page, and the blog is usually updated daily. Make sure you click on the red link to read the rest of a given entry.
  • The middle column contains a project summary, a link to my fundraising page, a list of recent comments and posts, and a link to my online photo album.
  • The right-hand column contains tools for finding older blog posts by topic. Categories organize posts by general subject. Tags organize posts by specific topics. Clicking on an item, such as “Reschooling Tools” or “busyness,” will bring up a list of posts on that topic.


Hot lunch!

For the first few days at school, I got to know the teachers at my elementary school by eating lunch with them in the teacher’s lounge. They’re a fun bunch of people who exchange stories about their students and their lives, and they welcomed me right away. As I’ve mentioned, a handful of them were teaching at the school when I was a student, but none actually taught me. (My teachers still live locally, however, so I’m in the process of getting in touch.)

When I moved on from kindergarten to first grade, I missed the kindergarteners and thought it would be fun to start eating lunch with them in the cafeteria. I also thought it would be only fitting for me to buy “hot lunch.” When I was a student, the only day I’d buy hot lunch every week was Friday: Pizza Day. It just so happens that Friday is still Pizza Day, so I paid my $3.50 for an adult lunch and stepped up to the lunch line.

The crates of milk were just inside the door as they always have been, but as I mentioned, chocolate milk is now available every day instead of just on Wednesdays. As you can see in the photo, the chocolate:regular milk ratio is 2:1, and I’m  surprised that any kid would choose regular. I certainly went for the chocolate myself, though an ill-advised sneak at the label revealed that it contained corn syrup. Dedicated to “method lunching,” I decided to drink it anyway.