Friday, June 5, 2009

The Little School with the Big Heart

Twelve years ago we made one of the first really big decision about how we would raise our kids. We decided to place Kate in public school.

One year later we made the second really big decision that would affect all of our girls. We moved. Just a few blocks over, but it was within the school boundaries of a different elementary school. We didn't know what we'd be getting into come first grade, but we did know that we wanted our girls to go to a neighborhood school, and since this new school was just two blocks from our new house, a change was in order.

So Kate switched to Hawthorne School for first grade, and every day I am so thankful that we stumbled upon this house, this neighborhood, and that little school.

I mentioned last week that Hawthorne's motto is "The Little School with the Big Heart." Every single day, that place lives up to its reputation. Every single day the children who walk through the doors are accepted, loved, nurtured. They are challenged to be children of character. They are blessed to sit side by side with other kids who live differently, believe differently, and sometimes behave differently, but they know they are always accepted there.

Today is my last day as a "Hawthorne Mom." Tomorrow I'll have a middle schooler, but for today, I'm going to relish all that this little school has meant to me and to my family.

Acceptance. I have definitely appreciated that my kids have attended a racially diverse school; in fact, many of the children who come to Hawthorne are refugees who have come to the United States through World Relief. My children have sat next to students of every color, religious background, and nationality.

I will never forget the girl who came from Bosnia when Kate was in second grade. The sweet girl arrived in the United States on a Friday and on Monday morning was sitting in a classroom where nobody spoke her language. It was November, I remember, and I happened to be working in the classroom on her first day at Hawthorne. Her teacher quickly assigned another girl in the class to be her "buddy" and off she went--learning English on her very first day.

I can't imagine how she must have felt, this beautiful Bosnian girl, but if I had been her I would have been scared out of my wits! Unbelievably, by the end of the year, she was speaking English very well, was reading close to grade level, and was doing an amazing job at math.

Two years ago Maggie's class welcomed a boy from Burma who also spoke not a word of English when he arrived. I don't even want to know what kind of atrocities he might have seen or experienced there, but I do know that today he has friends, he plays sports, and he dances like a star! And he has a smile a mile wide.

Stories like this are common at Hawthorne.

Is life easy for these refugee kids? No. But Hawthorne has a way of making their transition just a little easier than it might have been. I'm so glad I could be a small part of that.

Community. Because most of the kids live in a small neighborhood, the Hawthorne community is strong. I have met some of my best friends through that school, and I will be forever grateful for that.

As my kids ride their bikes down the streets, I know that they are being watched over, cared for, noticed by people who know them from Hawthorne School. In this day and age, it's nice to be a part of a small, tightknit community that really does watch out for its kids.

Teachers. I don't even know where to begin to describe the teachers my children have had. I guess all I can do is thank them.

I thank these teachers for finding the good in my girls, even when that was hard to find. I thank them for understanding when character issues have needed to be addressed. I thank them for seeking out my children when they have been sad or lonely or frustrated and for always making them feel special.

Hawthorne teachers are really good at making kids feel special.

Last year was a rough year for me as I spent twelve long days in the hospital. Maggie's teacher, a dear woman whom each of my girls had the privilege of having for fourth grade, took her aside each day to check in to see how she was doing. Maggie was having a tough time with my being sick and away from home for so long, but this dear teacher took the time to nurture Maggie through my illness, even writing notes to her (and to me) and stopping by the house once I got home to bring a gorgeous fruit basket.

It makes me cry to think of what that precious woman did for each one of my girls.

And she's not an exception--every Hawthorne teacher goes the extra mile to meet the needs of each student in the school, whatever that need may be. How many times have I seen teachers give a pat on the back or take their lunch hour to help someone who might need a little extra time or just take a moment in the hallway to talk to a student. It happens every time I walk in the building.

Prayer. Strangely, our little public school taught me how to pray. Well, O.K., not the school specifically, but because of the school I learned how to pray. I led a Mom's In Touch group for several years, and the discipline of praying for our children and for their teachers each week taught me so much. It taught me a pattern of prayer that I still use today. It taught me that praying for an hour seems like praying for a minute. It taught me that praying for my children is the most important thing I could do for them. It taught me that prayer really does make a difference.

So today I leave this "Little School with a Big Heart" and I find that I am a much better person because of the people I've encountered there. I am a much better mom because of what my kids have experienced there.

My heart is full today. Full of memories. Full of love. Full of thanks.

We will never forget you, Hawthorne School.


  1. just another reason why we have to stay in this can you move away from a school with that beautiful description? thanks for sharing, shelly.

  2. I hope you will print this and give this to the principal. This is beautifully written and would be like pay day times 3 for those who read it.