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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Last Day of School

Tomorrow is the last day of school for my sons, Aaron and Isaac. For Aaron, it will be his last day at the Bank Street School for Children as a student: he graduates from the 8th grade and begins attending high school next year. Eons ago I also attended a K-8 school, South Loop in Ysleta. Recently, on a radio show from El Paso, I even sang the South Loop Eagles fight song. I remembered every word.

Why do K-8 schools hold this special place in our hearts? For one thing, you are old enough, when you graduate, to remember many details of your childhood school experience. I remember vaguely what happened in 4th and 5th grades, but I remember almost everything about 7th and 8th grades.

Interestingly enough, I don’t remember a single day of freshman year at Ysleta High. I think I was in shock. I was suddenly surrounded by older, more sophisticated high school kids. The girls were sexy, but I was intimidated. The boys were bigger and tougher than me. I just didn’t want to make a fool of myself. I looked like a Mexican Donny Osmond. Remember, it was 1979.

But at South Loop the previous year, I had been an eighth grader, at the top of the heap. I knew what was what. I also did not face the social pressures I would later face at Ysleta High. I think this is one great advantage of K-8 schools. The kids, especially in the latter grades, are protected for two extra years from pernicious high school influences.

At Bank Street, I believe, Aaron has had that extra time to develop his own sense of self. He will be ready when he is tested in high school, and I don’t just mean by his more difficult academic workload. In high school, if you know who you are, if you have a sense of what you want and what you don’t want, you will be more likely to have and keep the right priorities.

My walk to South Loop was two blocks, over a canal, and briefly into the neighborhood Calavera before entering the school’s gates. Aaron takes the uptown No. 1 subway in front of our building on Broadway, three stops, before he walks into Bank Street. He has faced more immediate dangers than I ever did, from taxis which zip across the intersection heedless of the red light to incoherent, disheveled men screaming at phantoms only they can see.

Aaron is a responsible young man, and he has managed New York City well. His high school is but eight blocks from our house, so his commute will be a breeze next fall. He will encounter a strange new world. But I know we have given him the skills and encouraged him to be independent so that he will be able to solve his own problems. Whatever he cannot figure out, we will solve together as a family.

My younger son Isaac began to come home from Bank Street by himself this year. Minutes after 3:00 p.m. every day, I look at my cell phone and wait for my boys to call me, to tell me they are on their way home. I anxiously await the buzz of our doorbell for their arrival. The sound for me means another safe journey through the streets successfully completed. Perhaps another good practical lesson learned for the future. Another day of skill enhanced by good luck.

Even after their school days are only distant memories, I will never stop worrying about my boys in the world.

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