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If you work in the education field, you’ll probably resonate with our feelings about yesterday. It was our first day back after a 3 week break. We were all a bit nervous about waking up and making it through the day without needing a coffee break every 30 minutes. And we had some trepidation about journeying through the day with a room full of scholars who spent the past 3 weeks with a different schedule, different behavioral expectations, and different priorities. That’s not to say we weren’t eager to see the faces we’ve been missin’ but my expectations for the day were pretty low.

The morning bus route is a pretty telling indicator of what the tone of the day will be. You can often tell from the posture of their walk or the looks on their faces what kind of day they’ll have. I was anticipating one of two things:

1) Sleepy kids who are way off schedule who have no desire to be up and in the cold before the sun has even risen.

2) Eager story tellers ready to pull out all the stops to communicate that their Christmas was better than everyone else's.

Once again, I had pretty low expectations for the bus ride. But I was wrong. The bus route was a ton of fun, in large part because kids were asking each other questions. If you’ve spent much time with 5-7 year olds you’ll understand the miracle of that last statement. Typically, the best question the buddies can come up with is “guess what I did/have/think/want/saw….”. But these questions they were asking on the bus were questions about each other. They were curious if Markiel’s little brother could walk yet or if Miley got any toys and if Brendan watched the Chiefs game. Questions that not only sought answers but communicated that these kids really know each other.

At recess we came prepared with extra whistles to vigilantly enforce the rules we were so confident they had all forgotten over break. But again, I was proved wrong. It was a recess full of lots of joy. Key’Van was talking to me about how his fingers were a little chilly and with out skipping a beat Mar’Shai ran over, pulled her gloves off her own hands and started helping Key’Van put them on. He wore them for a while until his hands felt warm and with a thankful heart returned them. The warmth from my overflowing heart can probably take at least some of the credit for taming the chilly air. At one point there was a collision, a few kids who were running in different directions all came to a crossroads and no one could quite stop fast enough. Three kids were down. I hurried over as they were picking themselves up from the ground ready to put out the fire of emotions I anticipated would be in full blaze. But they were already solving the problem, apologizing to each other and asking how they could help clean each other off. Michael even offered to take Armya’s shoes inside to clean off the dirt.

As the day came to an end and it had gone so smoothly, I was sure the other shoe was going to fall and the bus ride home was going to be chaos. Markiel and Markel sat behind me and honestly I wish their conversation was recorded. Here’s a peek into one of my favorite parts: (Some background info: a kind friend hand-knit hats and scarves for all the scholars and they received her kind gift yesterday.)

Markel: When I grow up I’m going to be a guy who sews.

Markiel: What does sew mean?

Markel: You know when you can make your own clothes and stuff so you don’t have to waste your money at the store.

Markiel: Oh yeah, I’m gonna do that too when I grow up.

Markel: Yeah, I’m gonna do it so I can make clothes for my son and then we can have more money.

Markiel: I’m gonna make my kids clothes too and then I’m also going to make clothes to give to other people who need some.

Makel: That’s a good idea! We can make hats and sweaters and coats for some people.

Markiel: Okay we can be sewing pals!

All this kindness on a day I expected bad attitudes. All this service on a day I expected selfishness. All this joy on a day I expected soul crushing chaos.

So often we talk about how so many people have low expectations of our kids because of their skin color or income level or zip code. I act as if I’m above all that. But I’m not. I sold them short yesterday. I set the bar too low. These scholars are capable of achieving great things.

And that’s exactly why we’ve set some long term goals with really high bars. High bars like all scholars performing above grade level. Like all scholars faithfully demonstrating the ability to have grit and show compassion and gratitude and collaboration. It’s why we take 5 year olds on college visits and why we teach them to shake hands and look people in the eye when they speak. It’s why we have an immediate consequence for every rule that’s broken no matter how insignificant the infraction may seem.

We believe that the scholars at UCA are not the problem in our community, they are the solution. Being part of a solution is a high calling. We believe these 32 scholars are already rising to the challenge.

So thanks pals for proving me wrong. Thanks for being an inspiration despite your age. We’re rooting for you. Keeping chasing big dreams.

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