And I’m not just talking about Tom Cruise moving to Crazytown, USA.
In returning to my elementary school, I never expected to “step into the same river twice.” I knew that the school had changed quite a bit since I attended it from 1985-1991. Over the years, I’d taken occasional walks around the campus and seen new jungle gyms (or “big-toys” as we used to call them) installed and the paint accents go from red to green. I’d seen the library and office move locations, and new portables installed.
So far, I’ve observed these other major changes:
- Demographic shift. My 1985-1986 kindergarten class of 29 kids was composed of 27 white kids, one Latino kid, and me (I alone composed a good chunk the school’s Asian population — and I’m only half). Barbara’s 2008-2009 kindergarten class of 20 kids has 5 white kids and 15 Latino kids. This reflects the overall demographic shift in Sonoma County. Between 2000 and 2007, the county’s Latino population grew 30 percent, and the white population declined by 7.2 percent. The trend continues, making it challenging for the school to raise its test scores when many of the kids are English Language Learners.
- Uniforms. The majority of kids in the kindergarten class wear tiny khaki or blue bottoms and solid colored shirts. Apparently, a few years ago the school adopted a policy where students would wear uniforms by default, but parents can sign a waiver opting out. That way kids can still choose their clothing if they wish, but the standard of uniforms evens the playing field for low-income kids. That way, there’s no pressure to wear the latest Hannah Montana watch or Gap Kids hoodie, and gang-related clothing is a non-issue.
- Extended kindergarten day. Kindergarten used to be divided into morning and afternoon sessions. Now, with the exception of early release days, it keeps the same hours as the older grades, from 8:30 to 2:30. I’ve heard that the kindergarteners, even at age 5, now follow a curriculum based on state standards.
- Lunchroom practices. Hot lunch used to be served on washable trays, but today it’s unfortunately packaged in disposable styrofoam containers. I’m curious about the reasons for this, and the difference in cost. On the upside, chocolate milk used to be available only on Wednesdays, but now it’s a delicious permanent fixture.
As different as my elementary school has become, I’ve noticed a handful of things that haven’t changed at all:
- School staff. Barbara (not the kindergarten teacher) in the office and Chris in the cafeteria have worked there from the time I was young. Jan, Paula, and Dave all taught at the school during my elementary years, and they’re as dedicated to kids as they ever were. Crazily enough, they remember me. It’s a little strange talking to them as an equal and learning the details of their lives. I’ll be volunteering in their classes during the next few weeks.
- Classic kids’ books. Green Eggs and Ham and The Pokey Little Puppy are just a couple of my favorites that I’ve noticed the kids paging through, even when they can’t read yet.
- Mr. Sketch Scented Markers. Inhaling the red cherry-scented marker still makes me swoon, making me question the intentions of the character with those crazy eyes. Sketchy indeed.