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Spanning the Spectrum

September 21, 2018
By Billy Handmaker

There’s something wonderful about being in a PK-12 school, and a couple of days last week strongly reaffirmed this.  Over the course of a day, a week, a month, and a year, we have the opportunity to see children in every step of their pre-collegiate educational journey. No matter the division, the children and young adults come to Keystone with purpose and passion, and although this manifests itself differently depending on the age, their devotion to doing their best work and being their best selves is ever present.  It’s also a delight to see how Keystone’s commitment to academic excellence, ethical growth, community involvement, and responsible leadership are borne out in developmentally appropriate ways for children from three years old to young adulthood.

Last Tuesday morning, as I made my way through the Little School, I observed youngsters fully engaged in a variety of learning activities. Some were creating a story with felt characters, others were learning how the number five can show itself in a variety of ways, some children were creating structures with blocks, and a few were constructing American flags in recognition of September 11th.  Whatever the task in front of them, they were absorbed in joyful learning guided by caring and compassionate teachers.

Later in the week, I had the good fortune to discuss a book with a particular 7th grader whose love for the novel was quickly apparent.  After I finished the young adult book The Hate You Give (THUG), by Angie Thomas, I returned it to English teacher Ms. Tyroff, who had so kindly lent it to me.  I had seen the previews for the movie version of the book about an African-American teenage girl who lives in an urban area, attends a private suburban school, and loses her friend to a police shooting. Our family’s connections to the St. Louis and Ferguson, Missouri and the impact of the events there made me want to read this popular YA novel before the movie came out.  As Ms. Tyroff and I discussed the characters and the plot, a 7th grader enthusiastically asked me, “Oh, did you read that! I loved that book!” The three of us discussed THUG for a bit, and she then headed to her next class. Witnessing her joy for reading in general, and that book in particular, reminded me of the thrill of discovering a book that speaks to one’s adolescent self.  

After school that day as I made my through the children in aftercare in the cafeteria, a kindergartner ran up to me and yelled, “Mr. Handmaker, look what I made!” He proceeded to show me the finer points of his Lego mobile missile launcher and explained each part. Now, truth be told, I love Legos, and I have spent many an hour on the floor building structures or vehicles with our sons and their friends.  (I don’t love them quite so much when I step barefoot on a brick in the middle of the night.) We engaged in an animated conversation on his contraption, and eventually, the student, his friends, and I sat on the floor and dug through the tub of Legos to find the pieces that would make his missile launcher “even cooler!” Perhaps even more impressive than his new and improved military vehicle was the children’s joy, curiosity, and creativity.

At the other end of the spectrum that comprises the Keystone student body are the seniors who registered to vote last Friday.  There are few, if any, signs that give one more hope in these fractious times than watching young women and men sign up to vote for the first time. They are eager to play a role in the political process, and they are prepared to assume the responsibility of citizenship.  As they waited their turn, some of the students and I debated whether the U.S. should have a parliamentary system of voting rather than the one-party-take-all process we have now. It was a pleasure to hear their arguments, and the knowledge with which they supported their points.  At a time when cynicism runs rampant, their optimism both heartened and inspired me.

So, beyond the joy of spending time with children ranging in age from three years old to those who are less than a year away from graduating, why am I mentioning this?  Because part of Keystone’s magic is the way that our teachers and staff members meet children where they are and take them to the next step. They challenge and support them; consequently, youngsters grow up into admirable young women and men who are ready to take on whatever comes their way.

In addition, in a PK-12 school, younger students have the opportunity to learn from older students who can be their role models.  Children can see high school students excel in Science Fair, perform on stage, compete in athletics, and demonstrate good sportsmanship and citizenship.  As a result, they understand that ethical behaviour is not just something that adults say you need to do; rather it is a trait that they will work on and hone as they go through lower, middle and high school.  For the older students, the younger children provide a sense of perspective and remind them of where they were at one point in their lives. In some ways, having younger children around keeps everyone spry and energized.  

However, there are also personal reasons I wanted to share these experiences with you. It was not that long ago that my wife and I were dropping our children off at preschool, that our sons discovered the joy of reading and being read to in bed, and it seems like only yesterday that we spent hours on the floor building Lego towers.  Registering to vote and applying to colleges came faster than we ever imagined, and lo and behold, they’re gone and it’s just us at home now.

I will leave it to the physicists to explain how the passage of time shortens as our children, and we, get older, and what seemed at one point like something far off in the future is suddenly here.  As a brand new empty-nester, I urge you to soak up as much of this time with your children as you can, for like other pleasures in life, the time before they leave us is fleeting and short. As Harry Chapin sang,

Well, he came from college just the other day
So much like a man I just had to say
Son, I'm proud of you, can you sit for a while?
He shook his head, and he said with a smile
What I'd really like, dad, is to borrow the car keys
See you later, can I have them please?