Teaching children to be caring and compassionate toward others pays dividends.
Maybe the reason Julius was transferred to Sarni’s kindergarten class was because she was a competent, very experienced teacher who had been in the classroom for more than 20 years, mostly with fourth-graders in North Carolina, Indiana and Taiwan. Maybe the real reason, though, was that she was a strong and fast runner in her first year teaching kindergarten in Dayton Public Schools.
Julius, a new student who came from an African refugee camp, spoke no English, and when classroom activities didn’t interest him, he ran. He ran out of his classroom, into the halls and often out of the school. His teacher couldn’t keep up with him and could not control his outbursts or disruptions. He didn’t know his English name, nor any English words.
Because she was such a fast runner, Sarni became his second kindergarten teacher. In all of her years of teaching, Sarni’s underlying goal and hope was to create with her students a friendly, caring community of learning. When Julius arrived in his new class, the children were eager to help him, to welcome him. They taught him his name, new words, new ways. When he ran, Sarni ran after him, caught him, held him. His classmates understood his challenges.
“The kids were amazing in their caring and helping. Wherever the class went, Julius had both hands held by his classmates. Later, when he was in other classes, like music or phys ed, he would still run away but he ran back to our class. I guess we were his source, his refuge.”
When I asked Sarni how this loving community happened, she simply told me, “It’s our tradition. We all take care of each other.”
Because Julius’ parents had no experience with American schools, or any schools really, Sarni visited the family every day for over a month, trying to explain Julius’ classroom situation, needs and improvement. Sarni describes how she communicated with the family, given the language barrier: “I guess you’d say, charades!” But, there was communication and a growing understanding and appreciation.
By the end of the school year, Julius was not a runaway child. He became a helper and a leader. Sarni kept him for half of the next year, but he went to first grade for reading. He became an excellent reader, starting second grade at grade level. He visited Sarni almost every day. When he reached third grade, his family moved away. Wherever he is now, his teachers probably do not know the beautiful story of how he got there.
As we get ready to start a new season, remember how many difficult situations can be helped with, solved with, love.
“Mamaloshen” is the Yiddish term for “the mother tongue” and we have adapted it here to represent the wisdom of Columbus arts educator, author and all-around inspiration Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, who is on a mission to help parents raise happy, healthy, creative children.