Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Starfish Stories!

Starfish stories are examples of the big impact we see on a small scale. It comes from the story of a little girl who arrives at a sandy shore full of beached starfish, soon to be dead starfish. She starts throwing them back into the ocean, one-by-one, despite the daunting and seemingly impossible task of saving all of them. To those few she throws back, she is saving lives. And sure enough, when others see what she’s doing, they help out, saving starfish all together. So a Starfish story is an example of a student we’ve “saved,” despite the overwhelming odds built against us to reform the entire education system. We’ll do the best we can with the lives we touch, and hopefully, when others join in, we can really see a difference.

Working full time in an elementary school, there are Starfish stories all around us, revealed to us every day. Starfish stories are both data-driven and personal. Here are a few of mine:

A boy in my class raised his hand to say that one the world’s peacemakers is City Year.

A third grader improved his district-wide test scores from below the kindergarten level to above the third grade. On the alphabet scale that the district uses, he improved from a C to a Q.

A student of mine pulled me aside at lunch to share the tragic, personal story of the death of her 19-year-old cousin. Just two nights earlier, my student was there to witness her cousin get run over by a car in gruesome and shocking incident. Unlike my other Starfish stories, this is not one of improvement or achievement. This is a story of trust. This girl confided in me and looked to me for advice, though she would never tell her teacher or anyone other than her closest friend. I was glad I could be there for her when she needed me most.
In fifth grade, hormones start to show themselves. Fifth grade is a time for growth spurts, rambling emotions and, of course, romantic interests. I don’t know what led my students to believe I’m good for any advice, but I often feel like I should be writing a “Dear Daniel” column. Once I overheard my boys leave a huddle, calling out, “C’mon y’all. Let’s ask Mr. Daniel. He’ll know what to do.” They needed to know how to ask a girl to dance salsa with them.

One morning walking to school, a young boy buried in his winter jacked stammered, “Hey, Mr. Daniel!” as he walked by in the other direction. Who is that? I wondered, and Why is he walking away from school? It turned out to be the older brother of one of my students, on his way to middle school. “How did you know my name?” I asked. “My brother talks about you,” he said. “All the time. I know everything about you, Mr. Daniel.” Wow. It’s a pleasure to meet you too.

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