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Hail Guest, we ask not what thou art.
If Friend, we greet thee, hand and heart.
If Stranger, such no longer be.
If Foe, our love will conquer thee.
-Old Welsh Door Verse

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Genius Hour Tears

For the better part of this school year I've had my 8th grade students involved in Genius Hour (also called 20% time).  They had class time every Friday to pull together a presentation on whatever they wanted.  My only hard-and-fast criterion was that they had to show how their chosen topic (from cupcakes to surfing to how The Hunger Games is reflected in today's political climate to common traits of American Nobel Peace Prize winners to animal abuse to cheerleading as a sport to landfills and the Pacific gyre to Fender guitars and on and on) related to the United States Federal government.    The medium was student's choice.  They had access to a Chromebook for the period and most students chose a Google slides presentation for their project.

By far my favorite was a Google slides presentation called "Thinknoodles."  Thinknoodles is a youtuber, and one of my students is a huge fan.

His presentation - and what happened with it - brought me to tears.

You, see, this wonderful young man has Cerebral Palsy.  He has a one-on-one aide to do his writing for him to help him keep up with the daily classwork.  He walks with a walker, unless he gets too tired or is ill, and then he will reluctantly use the wheelchair his aide has with her at all times.  He sits at his own large table at the side of the classroom because it's easier to drag himself in and out of the walker and into the chair.  He is intelligent, funny and when he is fully grown is going to be movie star handsome.   He goes to the school dances, wears his Renaissance shirt with pride and insists on doing everything that the other kids do in class.  It is difficult for him to speak clearly (although a true listener has no trouble understanding him). 

Over the years I've had many special education students in my history class.  Too many of them have been trained to use their disability to slack off.  Usually in a presentation like this they (followed by their SPED caseworker and parents)  ask to give a presentation to me alone during lunch. 

Not this kid.

I was thrilled, but not surprised, when he chose to drag himself in his walker to the front of classroom and narrate his slide show.  Himself.   In front of a full class of middle school peers.

The presentations were to be 3-5 minutes long, but students who wanted more time simply told me what they needed and I programmed the days accordingly.  I allotted ten minutes for my brave young student.   Sadly, our district bandwidth wasn't sufficient to really pull this off smoothly. The Chromebooks took longer to load each presentation than the presentations lasted. And with this student's disabilities, the loading and reloading of his show caused it to run over by about 15 minutes.

Into the lunch period.

On Renaissance pizza reward day.

On pizza reward day, the students getting the pizza form a separate line from the usual lunch line.  The school never really knows how many kids will actually eat the pizza that day.  When they run out of kids in the line, the people handing out the pizza pack up the leftovers and leave them in the staff room.

When the lunch bell first rang, nobody twitched. They stayed to watch the end of the presentation. But five minutes later, worried that they might miss their chance to get their pizza,  I interrupted the presentation and invited the kids to go get their lunch if they wanted to.

Not one kid left.

Not one.

A few minutes later I asked one of the speaker's instructional aides to go tell the folks distributing the pizza to wait for the class. When she returned she said she had told the principal, who started to cry.
When the presentation was over, the class filed out, gifted the speaker with high fives and "great presentation!"

As the last four girls headed toward the door, I lost it and started to cry.  They were immediately concerned and asked if I was all right.  I grabbed the closest one for a hug.  All I could say was, "You guys just don't know what you just did.  You just don't know."

And I was so glad they didn't.  This is just how they are.

As the girls left, the principal flew into my classroom still in shock.  Days later, the speaker's mom told me her son had been on Cloud Nine ever since.  The SPED staff that works with him tell me he is still telling the story to anyone who will listen.

And now he plans to walk graduation.  And I know the students will all wait with pride for their friend to take his diploma with them.

Do not fear our future.

The kids are great.


1 comment:

Von said...

Wow, that's an amazing story and so encouraging. I think if more of those kinds of stories were told, we'd be more confident of better days ahead.