September 23, 2014
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Another perspective on our schools
This Side Up

Remember the first snow of the season?

It seemed unlikely as the temperatures hovered in the low 40s, yet the forecast was for snow showers. If it snowed, it surely wouldn’t last. It was going to be a non-event, if it happened at all.

But that snow flurry, which lasted only 20 minutes, offered a rewarding glimpse into our schools that was repeated on two other occasions since then.

First the snow story, before getting to the Cardi’s crew and Super Cooper.

The morning of the flurry, I visited the third grade class of Tammy Ferguson at Robertson School. The mayor was there, as were Superintendent Richard D’Agostino and director of elementary education Robert Bushell. Robert DeGregorio, president of the Warwick Rotary Club, who was carrying a cardboard box filled with dictionaries, joined them.

As the service club has done for the past 11 years, dictionaries were given to all of the city’s third graders. The kids were excited to get the books, inscribe their names on the first page and then look up words suggested by the adults.

It looked gray and raw outside and a few flakes flew. The forecast was correct after all.

The dictionaries held the attention of the third graders and there was no mention of the season’s first flurry. On the way out, I encountered a class coming in from the playground. Their faces were red and their jackets damp. They were excited.

Teacher John Paolino explained that he saw the snow and spontaneously suggested the class go outside to experience the moment. It wasn’t a tough sell. The kids were out of their seats in no time.

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“We caught snow flakes,” said one boy. “And we ate them,” added another student.

“Do you think they can eat a few more flakes?” I asked Paolino.

“Can we?” came the chorus.

“Let’s go,” said Paolino, to their delight. The kids raced out, running and jumping in the swirling snow. In five minutes, they were back in class and on task and not gazing out the window.

I met the Cardi’s crew a week ago Sunday. It was bitter cold and, although the furniture store had advertised people could drop off donations for the victims of typhoon Haiyan starting at 8 that morning, I doubted there would be much activity until 10 or later. That wasn’t the case. The place was humming as volunteers emptied arriving cars of bottled water, canned food, diapers and energy bars. Crews rotated between the work outside and taking a warm break inside where there was coffee, donuts and other snacks.

I headed inside to find Toll Gate teacher Jim Kennedy, assistant principal David Tober, a couple of other teachers and about 20 students.

No particular class was responsible for the effort. Kennedy and Tober explained that the kids wanted to help and came up with the plan. There was no reward, such as community service time earned. They just wanted to help and they arrived at Cardi’s ready to volunteer by 7:30.

Can you imagine teenagers getting up at 7:30 on a Sunday to stand out in the cold and help unload cars? Kennedy found that remarkable.

As for Super Cooper, I met him last Wednesday at Wickes School. Like many schools, Wickes held a food drive, collecting goods as part of their Feinstein good deeds. Unlike some other drives, this one took on a life of its own. Teacher Kate Harrigan, who coordinated the drive, added an element of competition by awarding a feather for each 10 cans collected by a class. The feathers were glued to paper turkeys that were taped to the school’s entry so classes had a good idea where they stood.

The kids kept count and, apparently, so did some parents.

I learned that one mother called Principal Roy Costa with an offer to exceed whatever the leading class had collected so that her child’s class would win the coveted pizza lunch. Wisely, Costa refused the offer.

Gloria Walker, who is a member of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program and a foster grandparent at the school, notified me of the hugely successful drive and I decided to check it out.

When I arrived, most of the school was in the auditorium watching a movie. Costa interrupted the show and, with dramatic flourish, gave a countdown, starting with the third ranked class and ending with Ann Bonetti’s class. There were a few cheers as Costa announced the third grade class collected a record 342 cans.

He then asked the class to gather in the all-purpose room for a photograph. Bonetti went off to make sure all the students were in attendance [one student couldn’t make it]. I was left with the students.

“So, how are we going to take this picture?” I asked.

“Some of us can stand and the others sit,” came one suggestion.

“That is going to look like every other picture,” I protested.

“We could do this,” volunteered one girl, who did a split. “I take dance lessons.” This provoked splits and even some flips from other students. It’s amazing what kids can dream of if you let them.

But I ruled out all of that and got them to lie in a circle. Bonetti was surprised but went along with the setup. I snapped a few shots and then asked what member of the class brought in the most cans.

They all knew. It was Cooper Payne.

“That’s Super Cooper,” one of Cooper’s classmates announced.

“Don’t you think he should be in the middle of the circle?” I asked.

Cooper wasn’t anxious to be in the spotlight, but his peers insisted.

I left thinking how the kids wanted to celebrate in Cooper’s success – what a positive message. The same can be said for Toll Gate’s performance.

What I especially enjoyed seeing was how Paolino seized the moment and the snow.

He turned his class loose. Surely they burned off energy enabling them to better concentrate in class. But more than anything, they got to catch snowflakes. What better way to inspire kids and get them to dream of greater challenges – like that of helping others.


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