In June 2008, I graduated from what I thought was the smallest and most drama-filled, yet BEST school, Lyme Central School. When I tell people that I graduated with a class of 40, one of the largest in Lyme history, and attended a school that is Pre-K - 12 with less than 500 students total, their jaws fall to the floor. It's not often that students know most everyone in their school, including at least 50% of the elementary - because they are either relatives, relatives of relatives, or your best friend's younger sibling. It's even more rare for faculty and staff to greet each student by name in the halls, whether they've had you in class or not. Even though I sometimes wished that I went to a bigger school with more opportunities to foster my passion for theatre and music, I look back at my years at LCS and could not ask for a better educational AND social experience.
Now, I lay here on my couch, blogging about the two days earlier this week spent with Pre-K - 5, 6 - 8, and a small group of seniors at Lyme. So much has changed at the school and navigating the small school, now undergoing construction, with classroom swaps was very surreal. I suppose you could say it was a bit nostalgic to be back in the halls of my alma mater, especially the elementary wing, and almost strange to see how much is different. Nonetheless, I am elated for the current students, especially the young ones who have many years to come at Lyme, who, as a result of the physical changes, will benefit greatly educationally.
When I was asked to visit Lyme as Miss Thousand Islands, I was so flattered and excited. I always enjoy going back to Lyme for visits with many of my influential teachers, some who I can now call friends. It means a lot to me to know that I am seen as someone who is both credible and inspiring, and so much so that I would be asked to speak to students.
Starting with an 8th grade English class Monday morning, I kicked off my visit to Lyme by talking to middle schoolers about bullying. Although this is not my platform, the school asked me to address this topic due to the recent tragedies caused by bullying. Thanks to Claire Buffie (Miss NY '10) for giving me some ideas for these presentations! We talked about bullying and the different types, and realized that at one point in time we had all been bullied or been the bully. So many insightful and thoughtful comments were made by the students and even I learned a great deal about what bullying means to the students, especially in middle school. Fortunately, because Lyme is so small and so is its hometown, Chaumont, the students said they hadn't experienced any serious acts of bullying. It was interesting however, that during an activity that required the students to split into groups, the teacher and I witness something that could probably be called quiet bullying. As their teacher split the 8th graders into cooperative learning groups, we noticed that certain students would complain that they did not want to work with a certain other student. Because many of the students were saying things under their breath about having to work with someone who they do not like, it was not immediately evident to me that anything was wrong. However, the teacher and I discussed this with the class and I think even they were stunned that this is a kind of bullying. Luckily, the activity was flexible, and I was able to alter the way that it would work, ceasing to split the remaining classes into groups, and rather working as a united group to brainstorm and complete the activity. Overall, I think that my presentation was very effective with most of the students, and I hope that discussing this topic openly will have a positive impact on their interactions between one another and on the school as a whole.
After lunch on Monday, I was scheduled to speak to a very small group of seniors - 8 to be exact, only 5 showed up. Having been warned that the group would probably be smaller than normal, and also because I am familiar with many of the seniors, I decided to make my talk with them very informal, focused on what is important to them, while sticking to the topic that the school had requested - civic responsibilities ( as Miss Thousand Islands). I was hoping to get some of the girls pumped up about getting involved with pageantry, but their turned out to be only one female student, and the boys certainly weren't interested in hearing about pageantry. Regardless of the size of the class and the lack of interest in the topic, I think it was nice to just have a conversation with them, and I think that even though most of the students seemed to lack enthusiasm, they really enjoyed telling me what was important to them and their ideas to implement their interests and passions into their community.
Tuesday was my day to visit all of the elementary classrooms. I knew that the younger students would be more responsive, with more questions or stories to share with me. I have to admit, I was a little nervous but also excited to meet the kids! Anyway, with my mom's help (she is a teacher), we prepared two character education 'lessons', one for the younger grades, and another for the older. I had a crazy schedule - visiting an entire grade each period, with the exception of two. I started out in kindergarten where I read "Rainbow Fish", answered many questions, and mostly listened to what the young students had to say. Things like, "my cousin is in college", when the teacher told the students that I am in college, or "I have a dinosaur toy." At the end of the visit, I put on my crown and took a picture with the whole kindergarten and left autographs for each class, something I did for every grade. I visited 5th grade next, and as we ended a little early, the entire class wanted to try on the crown. The rest of the day was very fun, with unique students, questions, and happenings in each grade. In the 2nd grade, I joined the class in song while they practiced their holiday concert songs, "Let there be Peace on Earth" and "All I Want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth." I remember singing the latter when I was in elementary school, but I was a little rusty on the words. They sounded great though! My second to last stop for the day was Pre-K, who was in the middle of nap time when I arrived. As they all circled up on The Rug, I was astonished at their tiny size. So cute! Some of them must have only been 3 - still just babies! Nonetheless, when I asked them what they learned in school, without prompt they sang the Alphabet Song in unison - wish I had that on tape!
All in all, it was a really fun two days during which I actually learned a lot. As some of you may know, I am currently a 3rd year senior at Ithaca College, majoring in communications. I decided recently to pursue a Masters degree in Childhood Education, beginning the program next fall. Although I am already a substitute teacher and swim instructor, I realized some of the challenges AND rewards that come from not just teaching, but spending time with students. A big thanks to Lyme Central and all of their students and teachers for inviting me to come!