I believe in the power and goodness of schooldays.
I believe in the power of teachers in the lives of sad and lost children. Teachers represent to me hands that pulled me forward out of pain and loss towards hope and discovery. In my life I believe my teachers at P.S.16 on Staten Island never really knew their power in my life. My spirit was preserved as they gave me things to learn, things to do, and interesting things to think about. They did it calmly day after day.
When your family screams, curses and hits one another and you are a child you do your best to manage. As a child I took cover under my pillow, I twirled and twisted my hair, I hummed LOUD and squeezed my eyes shut so tightly my forehead cramped up. By wiggling my foot rapidly and shaking my head HARD back and forth I tamed my fears enough to manage the horrific realization that my life was a day to day nightmare. I tried not to notice the ‘bad’ people who came and went in my life. I just hummed louder. When Mom was focused on her drink and the door knob turned, I neatly left my body and my self disappeared.
Always though, there was a small light that led me back to myself when the pain and ugliness ended. What is this light? It is, I believe, what I have always believed in. It is that hope conquers despair, courage overshadows fear and knowledge restores confidence. I believe these strengths exist, especially in children. I believe this with my whole heart. My teachers taught me this. School was sanctuary.
Time after each time my Mom attempted suicide I regained my footing. I just did. I don’t know how. Mom’s attempts always happened while I was outside playing…being a kid. The scenes of her botched attempts seared into my young brain parallel to scenes of carefree moments when I played in the rain, or twirled around in a little girl frenzy with my neighborhood friends. Outside was fun. Inside was not. Alternating layers of joy and terror built up side by side in my head. But schooldays restored order and served to mute the colors blood, bruising and violence that existed at home.
Good ole P.S.16. I remember it like yesterday.
Following a rather sordid weekend a Monday morning arrived but this Monday I did NOT want to go to school. I had no bake sale donation or no change to buy something with. I was in the third grade. So….I played hooky all day. I left for school and sat in a wooded area near the school all day long. The next day I promptly ‘confessed’ to my teacher. But she already knew (the crossing guard had seen me and reported me). Immediately after my ‘confession’ my teacher, Ms. Moran, took a cupcake out of her desk and gave it to me. She told me the cupcakes were selling out fast and she thought I’d miss out because it seemed like I was going to be late for school. A quick hug followed and I felt on fire with the goodness of that teacher.
Those years at P.S.16 I learned how to sew, cook, dance, recite, read and study subjects that extended my world from day to day fear to wide-eyed discovery. I was a kid in an ordinary school having extraordinary experiences. School was refuge several hours a day. I learned the world had a safe place. My heart learned this at P.S.16. My school was good…full of kind adults who acted responsibly towards me. I needed the holding power of my school. My parents could not do it for me. For kids like I was I hope schools today still feel the same way. It doesn’t take tons of resources to keep a child sturdy enough to survive. It takes grown-ups who aren’t afraid to reach out kindly.
My Columbine was home and my haven was PS 16.
I believe in resiliency and hope. I believe in the triumph of truth and love. Thank you to all those grown-ups at PS 16. I am here because of you. I learned how to instill hope and love in my own children because of your caring and sensitivity. Schoolteachers parented me day after weary day. My heart soaked up the goodness and kept a spark for growth. The spark they nurtured never went out. The spark never does goeout in a child when there is more sunshine than darkness.
I believe in that sunshine. This I believe.
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