Captured here is a series of reflections on my career as I approach the world of retirement. I hold up stopping points and reflect on how they played in my life as an educator.
Floating in a zero-g environment is a phenomenal experience. How often does one get to do that? My work at Crossroads Elementary School provided me with that remarkable opportunity. In many ways, this experience provides a fitting metaphor for that portion of my career spent at Crossroads.
I was focused on landing a job in higher ed when I saw a posting for a Science Curriculum Coordinator at a new school on Front Avenue in Saint Paul. I got the job! I have often stated that at the point I reach my retirement I would look back to my first six years at Crossroads as the pinnacle of my career. And now here I am. Those years remain front and center as I consider my career in education.
I vividly recall an early faculty meeting as we debated moving forward on a grant initiative when Celeste Carty made the bold statement, “I hired each of you because I saw you as risk-takers. It is far better to try and fail than never try at all.” At that moment, I knew I found the place I belonged. I had the profound experience of working alongside a phenomenal leadership team, including Celeste Carty, principal, Carolyn Hodges, Montessori Coordinator, and myself as Science Coordinator. We operated in a synergistic rhythm that made it a pleasure to come to work. I knew whatever I did, I had Celeste’s support – and if I was traveling down an unproductive path knew she would tell me. We got to know each other’s thoughts. We acted as one.
We had the unique opportunity to interview and select the teachers that would make up our school community. In so doing, we began a school with the very best of teachers. Through those first six years, we had virtually no turnover. We came to be like family all committed to the well-being of our collective students. It was a pleasure to work alongside my brothers and sisters.
Opening a school alongside colleagues motivated by altruistic purposes of doing good for the kids we serve created unparalleled energy. Doing it as a year-round, science magnet program opened doors to phenomenal opportunities. I had the chance to dream, to write grants, to develop programs, to dig a pond, to create, and to teach. And to wander the country in pursuit of expanding my background in science education. I flew to the Science Center of Eastern Connecticut with Amy to visualize the Inquiry Zone learning space. I took three trips to the Exploratorium in San Francisco with Lee, Nils, and Celeste to plan professional development for our teachers. As part of the NASA Explorer School Program we flew to the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland for our introduction to research at NASA; to Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley to explore astrobiology; to Kennedy Space Center to see NASA’s history in space travel; and finally to Johnson Space Center to fly our sixth-grade investigation on rotational motion as part of NASA’s KC-135 Reduced Gravity flight program. Mixed in there somewhere was a trip to Huntsville’s Space Camp and three National Science Teachers’ Association professional conferences.
I was privileged with an amazing opportunity for creativity through our nationally unique Inquiry Zone – our own little science museum designed to get kids to ask investigable questions, seek answers, and present findings. I developed stations to go along with themes that lasted a semester, including: Institute of Engineering, ThinkMath, Inventa Zone, EcoZone, Quid Zone, and Aerospace Research Center. Each of these presented their own creative challenge developing centers to stimulate kids’ thinking. One Intersession, I created a centerpiece project with three sixth-grade girls building a model of the Space Shuttle to hang from the ceiling.
A highlight of the year was our trips to the Audubon Center of the Northwoods for a three-day stay in the northern Minnesota woods. Our sixth grade went in January and fourth grade in June. Riding the bus up, one student asked me, “Will this be where it is daylight all the time?” (we traveled 70 miles north of the cities). Sixth graders that could loom ominously in school became the kids they were and needed to be. They listened quietly to my reading of picture books at night until they fell asleep. They asked if we could leave a light on. Some snuck their teddy bear along. We faced our fears together on the high ropes course. We waded in the creek, played games in the fields, and roasted marshmallows by the campfire. We caught one group of boys retreating to their room and chugging maple syrup (there are worse things to chug). We learned about the environment, ourselves, and each other.
Crossroads was a powerful place to work. We opened a school community, we assembled desks and tables, unwrapped boxes of books and supplies, and opened the doors to kids and families. We began with a blank slate – never caught ourselves saying, “but that’s how we always do it” – rather contemplating what traditions we desire to make. Collectively we found ourselves in a supportive, productive, nurturing learning environment. Periodically in those years, I found myself gracing the boundaries of Maslow’s stage of self-actualization. It was a good place at a good time. Crossroads added rich threads to the fabric of who I came to be. Life is good.