listen :: design :: gather :: flourish

children & community

There is a school tucked away up a hill on the edge of the city. The neighborhood's heartbeat directs the school's vision, to provide quality Christ centered education in an urban context.  The school family is rich with economic and cultural diversity.  There is growing partnership in the classroom between the parent's , staff and community. On a Thursday afternoon I was excited to join the second and third grade classrooms to talk about the students' gifts and talents and the gifts in our neighborhood.  The lesson connected with the classes' social studies unit on community.

The students would be going on a neighborhood walk the next day to visit homes, neighborhood organizations and businesses.  The Roosevelt Park Neighborhood has a history of being an immigrant neighborhood. In the early 1900's it was Catholic and Dutch immigrants.  The city continues to grow and change and today the neighborhood's population is mostly Latino immigrants. Some people simply look at the statistics of the area, which indicate about half the population is economically vulnerable and see blight and poverty.  Many other community members including The Potter's House School recognize the immense strength and giftedness that resides in the neighborhood.  In the locally owned bakeries, the mercado, amazing restaurants, and caring neighbors.

I was grateful for an opportunity to dialogue with the students about how their own gifts were building a community in their classroom.  We also discussed how they, as young leaders, could recognize the great strengths in the school's neighborhood. They could be a part of the community's growth and health.  We read together a beautiful story, Chik Chak Shabbat, by Mara Rockcliff. In the story an apartment building's diverse residents gather weekly for Goldie's Shabbat dinner.  Around a table a weekly meal is shared and a rich community connection is formed in the building.  One week no one smells Goldie's wonderful stew cooking, so one of the children knocks on Goldie's door. The neighbors discover she is sick. No one wants to miss their community meal. So they each bring some culinary creation from their own home and culture to share with one another and celebrate Shabbat. Each neighbor has a gift to give and contribute toward their celebration. An amazing illustration of how a problem is solved by a young child's attentiveness and the offering of each resident's dish is the solution for the Shabbat meal.

The book set the context for our time together; completing an exercise that identified gifts of the head, hands and heart.  Gifts of our head: things we know like math, checkers or where the best hiding spots are in our park.  Gifts of our hands: baking a pie, changing the flat bike tire, or sewing on a button. Gifts of our heart: being a patient person, someone who gives encouragement, or a prayful person.  The child in the book, Lali, the young neighbor girl, is the one who discovers Goldie is sick and organizes the neighbors to respond. She had skills and shared them to help others. The students made the connection and quickly scribbled their thoughts on their papers. Each table partner wrote a gift they recognized in their friend seated next to them.  Then we organized a list of classroom gifts on the whiteboard.  It was full of amazing talents, strengths and abilities.  The kids quickly grasped how their own classroom was a community filled with potential. And how this was a picture mirroring the neighborhood outside the walls of their classroom.  The neighborhood waited to introduce them  to talent during their community walk. It was not the graffiti scrawled across their playground that identified the neighborhood.  Instead the amazing restaurant next to school or the inviting home they would walk to the next day. These were pieces of the neighborhood that held its identity.

And if that was the end of the story I would have been excited. Thrilled that my son's classmates would have a paradigm that let their eyes see hope and light along the sidewalks and in the people they met in the community.  But then their teacher did something I hadn't planned. She asked the students to raise their hands and share with me what gifts they had seen me share with them during the 60 minutes we were together. And one by one their hands shot up and they said out loud the gifts they had experienced from me. Tears filled my eyes.  Then the tears spilled over as two kids rose from their seats and prayed over me.  Their words tumbling out of their mouths, blessing, like a breath of wind filling my heart and the classroom with hope and promise.  It was a holy moment.  Our learning together was unleashed in a powerful way. We were all changed. And our community became more beautiful that afternoon. Because the students used their abilities, their skills to lead and speak truth. Our community, the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood is strong and our school and neighborhood hold leaders eager to offer their gifts and bless others.