The sun just peeks over the White Tank Mountains and onto the field as the boy’s and girl’s soccer teams and coaches begin warm-ups and the cool air fills with music and shouts.
Over 1,200 preschool through eighth-grade students start arriving well before my 8:00am bell rings. Because we are right in the heart of a neighborhood, most of my kids walk or ride their bikes to me each day. Our kids are diverse, and I hear a few different languages as they begin to pour in and fill the halls. Some of them carry their musical instruments and sports gear as they head into the cafeteria for breakfast before the bell rings.
More than 3 out of 10 students receive free or reduced-price meals in my cafeteria. Around 32% of my students live below the poverty line. Of course, that is too many, but not quite enough to allow us more money from the state or federal governments.
The morning announcements come on, and my walls practically vibrate as my students recite our mission and values and recite the Pledge of Allegiance altogether.
Our teachers and staff have been here prepping their classrooms for a big day of learning ahead. 7th graders are using virtual reality goggles to take a tour of the solar system while my 5th graders prepare for their annual overnight field trip by researching desert outdoor skills. Kindergarteners work on decoding a big book with their teacher, while fourth graders make topographical maps of Arizona out of clay. Students are everywhere, checking out books from the school library, playing recorders in the music room, learning with their teachers and peers. Even though the job can be tough, teachers walk the halls with smiles on their faces as they greet my students by name.
Each one of us puts our students first. Today we are holding a Hat Day fundraiser for hurricane relief. Our wonderful health assistant, Nurse Kimberly, who can make any bad day better, noticed one student who was sad that he forgot his hat and was having a very hard time. She sent out an email to see if anyone had a spare hat for a tearful student. Of course, a suitable hat was quickly found and the child went about his business happily. This is why we like to come to school every day – we all work together to make sure each of our 1,200 students has a good day. Our staff has the attitude that we are all in this together. We know our job as educators is hard and it seems to get harder every day. But we believe everything is better when you treat each other with kindness.
Our teachers, students, and staff call themselves a family a lot. It really is true – most of my teachers who have kids of their own send them to us for their education. We treat each person like a member of our family.
Learning continues, but now there is the added excitement of lunch and recess. A heated game of wall ball competes with a group of kids chanting the game “Ride That Pony!” Teachers gather for the latest delicious potluck lunch, encouraging each other to eat more because “calories don’t count on Pot Luck Day!”
The afternoon announcements come on, and a hush falls over the halls as today we all listen excitedly for one announcement in particular – Bear Drive totals! Each year our school gives back to the community by hosting a bear drive collecting new teddy bears for hospitalized children. Last year we gathered over 3,000 stuffed animals for the Emery Miller Bear Drive for children in hospitals all over the U.S. The hallways erupt with cheers as running totals and winning classrooms are announced.
Believe it or not, things really get into full swing here after school! The Friends of Rachel Club bustles around hanging positive messages in my hallways, while the Art Club plans ways to decorate my cafeteria for upcoming events. Beautiful harmonies from our Chorus compete with “Oompa Loompa” from Willy Wonka musical rehearsals and mingle with shouts of school spirit from our cheerleaders. The National Junior Honor Society babysits children while parents and teachers gather for a PTO meeting.
Speaking of our PTO, these wonderful volunteers provide at least one free fun family event each month. They celebrate all of our Students of the Month. They also help our staff plan fun events for our students and raise money for really important things like playground equipment, field trips, and technology.
My teachers and staff were really sad one day recently when they heard we were given a C grade. Maybe the people who gave us that grade don’t see that we had almost 60% staff turnover last year and we are still enculturating our newest team members. Maybe they don’t see how hard our students and staff work each day. When the last teacher packs up her car in the dark parking lot, and the cleaners turn out my hallway lights, and for a moment, things are quiet, and there is time to reflect. I reassure myself that one test on one day isn’t truly the measure of what we’re made of. I wish I could reassure my school family of this. But I think they know. Because they’ll come back again early tomorrow morning for another wonderful day.
We have always been taught that a C is average. We may be an average school in Arizona. What makes us special are the 1,300 people that learn here every day who are so much more than average.