Mrs. Hensley walked through my second-grade classroom door every morning at, what seemed to me to be, the same time every day. “John and Sally*, you can go with Mrs. Hensley, now,” my teacher, Mrs. Dooley, would say to the two students if they were unaware of Mrs. Hensley’s presence.
I wondered where they went for an hour or two every day while I and the rest of my classmates sat at our desks that were lined in straight rows facing the front of the classroom. I always longed to go on whatever adventure they experienced once they walked through the doors into the hallway.
I loved school because I had many friends and Jefferson County North Elementary School in Winchester, Kansas was this seven/eight-year-old’s big social outlet. But the real purpose of attending school was not fun for me and I longed to escape the struggle. I wrestled with learning simple concepts and was mortified when my academic abilities, or the lack thereof, were exposed.
My wish to flee the difficult moments finally happened one day when Mrs. Hensley walked through the door and Mrs. Dooley said to me, “Lorraine, you get to go with Mrs. Hensley today.” I was ecstatic.
I discovered that John and Sally went outside to one of the mobile units that sat directly beside the red-brick school. I knew one side was for the Kindergarteners but didn’t know the designation for the other side of that mobile classroom. It was a mystery to me and my innate quest for adventure was satisfied at the chance to explore the unknown.
My seven-year-old self realized that it was a place that you got to learn in a fun and special way. Although hands-on and experiential education is mainstream in today’s curriculum, in 1973’s midwestern small town, USA, it was an innovative concept and the words “hands-on/experiential” were not uttered at that time among teachers and administration. I unknowingly got to participate in something that would become mainstream in future education.
Math and spelling were the subjects during my time spent in that mysterious side of the mobile unit. (Or was it one, three or more hours? Time escapes you as a child.) We went outside and gathered up snow. We measured it along with other ingredients and made snow ice cream. From there, we worked with worksheets. I just remember the numbers and spelling of words as it related to our experience making snow ice cream.
I excelled and felt smart. In fact, as the other two struggled – my heart went out to them – so I would help them. Or, I tried. Mrs. Hensley always interrupted me and focused my attention on something else. I didn’t understand why she kept interfering with my collaboration with them as they worked on their own, unsuccessfully. I was convinced they needed my assistance.
For the first time in my life (because, you have lived a very long life by the age of seven and eight), I loved learning. The subject matters that I struggled with didn’t intimidate me in those few hours. I was so excited about the experience that when Mrs. Hensley returned us to Mrs. Dooley’s classroom to be with the rest of our classmates, I burst in with excitement. “Hey, you guys – that was fun! We even made snow ice cream!” To which Mrs. Dooley sternly chastised me. “Lorraine. Sit down!”
I was disappointed the next day when Mrs. Hensley made her daily appearance to pick up John and Sally. I was told that I wouldn’t need to go with them anymore.
As an adult, I realize that I was a potential for Special Education since I didn’t quite fit into the mainstream – but since I excelled in Special Ed, I didn’t fit in there, either. I was most likely one of those students who would be classified as “falling through the cracks.”
Do I blame my teachers for not knowing what to do with me – the anomaly? Absolutely not. Was my educational experience perfect? No. However, I never once felt shamed by my teachers and I always felt supported. The educational staff may not have been perfect, but they were perfect at providing the best education they could with what they had. In fact, if it was not for the support my teachers gave to me, I wouldn’t be here today as a managing editor and writer of a local newspaper whose mission is positive and solution-based news, typing this Insight to introduce this publication’s education section.(be sure to check out page 7 and beyond in our online and print section, "Eagle Youth News").
Supporting our local school system and education is the reason we have decided to add this section in this week’s Windham Eagle newspaper. This is our first attempt and we plan to do more. We hope you check it out – but more importantly – we hope the students, teachers and administration feel the support we deeply wish to give. Afterall, education that happens today is what our future becomes.
From my perspective, after having interviewed students in the Windham and Raymond communities who I had the opportunity to meet, we have a great future ahead of us and we have nothing to fear. Everything is going to turn out just fine.
*To honor their own journey in education, their names have been changed.