Jen knows well the importance of early childhood education and works hard every day to give her students the best start she can. Since this is her first year at this level, she is typically in the classroom until 5 p.m, working on lesson plans, grading papers, changing bulletin boards and frequently meeting with parents, some of whom may require a Hmong interpreter.
Jen delights in the progress of the children she teaches and is justifiably proud that visitors and parents of prospective students are often ushered into her classroom by the Principal. When she is finally able to leave the classroom behind, she goes back to her other full-time job as a wife and mother to our grandchildren Sydney and Evan. Because she is so far away, it is not possible to give her much support beyond a long distance pat on the back over the phone.
Her brother Ryan, younger by 17 months is a different story altogether. He and his bride of less than a year live just 15 minutes away and after two years as a substitute began his teaching career at a local high school this year, not just any high school, but San Diego High School, the same school I graduated from 50 years ago in the class of 1964!
And get this, only two buildings remain from when I was a student there and Ryan’s room happens to be in the old math building where despite several attempts, I failed to learn algebra, a subject I’ve never understood and fortunately never needed in the half-century since graduation. As a Special Education teacher, Ryan has a case load of 15 students that he follows and monitors as they move from classroom to classroom where he becomes a second teacher available to every student in the room. They ask for his help and some confide in him their problems, which in some cases are profound and heartbreaking.
Ryan recently volunteered to assist the Junior Varsity softball coach. When the coach was dismissed, the team was on the cusp of dissolution for lack of a certified coach. Concerned that girls, some of whom have already known disappointment and abandonment would suffer that fate again, he quickly completed the certification process and accepted a battlefield promotion to become their coach. When no one volunteered to assist him I was drafted, but my ability to help has been limited by restrictions on volunteers.
In order to actually physically assist (coach), I need a current CPR certification, completion of a national coaching test, a criminal history background clearance and a district required course on sportsmanship. I can complete the first three in a few days and would be happy to do so at my own time and expense, but the sportsmanship course will not be offered again for spring sports which are now underway.
As a result, my volunteerism is supposed to be limited to paper work and driving. Yesterday I may have fudged a little bit in discussing things with the girls. They’re great kids with the courage to try something new and more desire to learn than I am allowed to help teach them. At the moment, My “paperwork” reveals that there are 13 girls on the roster, only three of whom have ever played fast pitch softball before. Three, including one with fast pitch experience have indicated they won’t make grades. If that is the case, the roster will be reduced to 10, and none with pitching experience.
With games this Wednesday and Friday, then six tournament games Monday through Saturday of next week, attrition and the ability to suit up nine players in order to field a team becomes a concern. I don’t know how Ryan is going to manage this situation, only that he will do everything he can to keep his team and girls up and running. He will do everything he can to keep them playing softball and working together as a team so they will not suffer the disappointment of having that experience pulled out from under them. Everything.
As a volunteer who will be there every day, I’m probably the biggest beneficiary of this adventure, because I’m able to get back to working with kids, which is how my career started. Tomorrow I’ll help Ryan make sure the field and his team are ready. Thursday I will be a chaperon on a field trip to the Birch Aquarium – another job that Ryan signed me up for. Frankly, I’m getting more out of this experience than the girls and more than I’d expected, including the conjunctivitis I woke up with in my right eye this morning.