Years ago, I taught a creative writing class to juniors and seniors. One girl, Katie, loved to punctuate her stories with style– primarily with exclamation points. Her stories were filled with them, so many on one page. This wasn’t typical for a high school junior, so I finally asked her, “Why so many exclamation points for a five page story?” Her answer, “I’m really excited!” This reflected her bubbly personality but punctuation needs some balance too. I laughed and told her that sometimes exclamation points are like yelling on paper. I try not to overuse them myself, but this week, I too am guilty of punctuation overuse, not because I’m excited, but perhaps more “excitable” based on small events that added up.
At the beginning of the week, I returned from a family funeral with the news that we would be staying at OSH for the rest of the semester. We were no longer in limbo for the rest of the school year and wouldn’t have to move again. My staff had worked so hard to create a “school” and now we could breathe a sigh of relief and get to the business of school. Right? No!
Monday: Transfers. When I was out on Friday, some of our teachers were informed that they may be transferred to another school. After six weeks of building a schedule, creating “classrooms” out of aisles, and holding each other up, our delicate Jenga tower of strength could fall apart. We’d already lost six teachers to resignations and reassignments, we didn’t want to lose any more. Every grade level, every class schedule could be affected. Emotions were running high. After dealing with trauma, our staff have been told to take care of ourselves and each other, and now we may be pulled apart by circumstances.
Tuesday: Lockdown. Twenty minutes of hiding behind shelving, tables, on aisles, and some in small offices. The students were amazing, and it was completely quiet for twenty minutes. That’s pretty exceptional in a hardware store. . . with middle school students! District administration and police were called and it turned out to be a social media hoax. Lockdowns are precautionary, but in our OSH building and after everything we’ve gone through these past months, it was different and set many on the edge for the rest of the day.
Wednesday: “Soft” lockdown. Police checking in and administration at the locked doors. More social media threats- again tracked down as a hoax. Rain outside, with the threat of flooding in some locations where students and their families were staying in fifth wheel trailers, and a snow day in Magalia so some kids were not at school. Another bombshell- we may not be returning to our school in Paradise next fall. I may need to pack up my classroom, the one that survived the fire, so younger grades can move in. I understand it, but it still makes me sad. Just a grey day.
Thursday: Valentine’s Day. A day of love, friendship and. . . sugar! But also add in hotspots that would not load in my sixth grade computer class (AKA “Meditation” ) and a few students in English class who were upset with just about everything and wanted to express it– loudly! In between bites of candy (that I reminded them needed to be put away), they shared their dissatisfaction. I wasn’t sure if it was our situation, or just typical adolescent hormones (it is middle school!) Had I actually tried to teach a lesson on plot? What was I thinking? I remembered that I usually show a Twilight Zone episode on Valentine’s Day since we read a play around this time of year. Then it was pointed out to me that I didn’t have a TV or a way to project anything anyway. Sigh. . . . no wonder why I ate a lot of those mini-cupcakes that day!
So it was a week of exclamation points, and the realization that change is not something we can control. It was a dreary week in February when the weather was gray and so was my mood. It was a week when “trauma” seemed more than just a word, but an emotion. So this week, writing is therapy. And next week, we’ll start anew, hoping our colleagues can stay with us and keep our Jenga tower standing just a little bit longer. Sweet treats and sugar will be needed too! For now, I’m going back to reading Harry Potter and escaping from reality for a while! I know, I know. . . way too many exclamation points!!!
PBS News Hour video clip: Paradise Intermediate @ OSH highlighted (first 2 min) filmed Feb 2019