A Kookie Old Bat

by Jourdan Abel | 10/20/00 5:00am

I walk into a partially constructed pumpkin patch of green tissue paper and pipe cleaners. The pumpkins have yet to be made. The door reads "Mrs. M's Patch of Fourth Grade Pumpkins!" Mrs. M wears a red linen jumper over a black t-shirt, tights and comfortable shoes. She smiles at me and continues talking: "I've been practicing. You should hear me wail!" She tells me that she takes music lessons with the class.

She introduces me as a student at Dartmouth College and small cheers erupt from various points in the room. Mrs. M then tells them that I will be here every week to help with their writing. The class is creating Halloween Limericks and illustrating them with Leo Lionni style collages -- no scissors allowed to cut the paper.

This is my first day at a local elementary school as part of the America Reads Program through the Tucker Foundation. I have overcome nervousness, a harrowing ordeal finding the Tucker Car I was supposed to drive, and a bad sense of direction regarding I-89 to get here. But I found my classroom.

A blonde girl comes up to me and says, "You go to Dartmouth?"

I say, "yes."

"Oh, do you know _____?"

"What year is she?"

"She cleans rooms?"

"Oh Do you know which buildings?"

"No."

A round boy with close-cut brown hair and awkwardly placed teeth bounds over in a new black t-shirt. Dave seems like the sort to be in an English comedy --I can picture him in "The Full Monty" in a few years. He asks if I know ____, his father: "yeah, you better say hi to him if you see him, okay?"

There is a child by the window. Her too-big wire-rimmed glasses frame pale blue-grey eyes and are strapped around her head with a blue band. She peers out at the barren flagpole and gray sky. She says, in a pebbly Alfalfa/Lauren Bacall hybrid voice, "Mr. J did a good job of that--not putting the flag up when it's raining." Every time she opens her mouth to speak, she nods her chin emphatically and her glasses slide down her nose.

Mrs. M. tells the class about a story they will read -- "Anita's Ants." Dave says, "Adidas Ants? Like sneakers? Woah. Did you see the movie Ants? They swear in that."

Sara reminds me of a girl I babysit at home-- brown hair, eyes the color of the sea. She reads me her limerick:

"There once was a kookie old bat

He wore a very funny hat

He ate a grape

And fell out of shape

And now his tummy is fat."

We immediately connect because I recognize her pencil drawing of a stick figure with a circle in the middle as the bat with a stomach-full of grape. She tells me it's, "just like in that story about the prince and the little planet. The one by that Exuperant guy? You know, the snake who swallows the elephant?"

"Oh 'The Little Prince'? He gets stranded in the desert?"

"Yeah, that one!"

After class, Sara comes back to the room and says "Do you want me to walk you down to the gym? It's where we go to wait for the buses when it's raining outside." We sit in her bus line and she confidently leans over to me and points out those in the crowd whom she finds noteworthy; she's the reigning monarch of this wood-and-basketball-netted court.

She introduces me to her first-grade sister, a winsome first grader with fly-away brown ringlets and green-grey blue eyes, her two top front teeth missing. She is zipped into her light blue puffy jacket with darker blue-and-white snowflake flannel lining.

I walk them to their bus and find my Tucker car--a black Toyota Corolla--and drive back to Dartmouth. Lake Mascoma is covered in mist and bits of oranges and reds and yellows peep through. The past three hours have been the best three hours of my term. For the first time, my Dartmouth courses, in this case my education courses, have directly influenced how I interact with others in a non-social environment. I have connected academic theories and readings to my life. And that's what it's all about.

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