Monday, September 8, 2008

Recognizing Greatness: Write Their Name in the Teacher's Book or Hand them a Flag

This week my class is reading about the Orphan Train Children. Our selection in the Scott-Foresman program is called "Train to Somewhere" written by Eve Bunting. In this story children leave an orphanage in New York City and are taken by train to the Midwest where families greet them and choose a child that they may adopt. The girl telling the story is the last child on the train after all the others have been picked. She is waiting with the hope that maybe her mother will be at the next stop and feels that she might never be adopted.

An older couple arrives at the last stop. The man is tall and stooped. The woman is small and round as a dumpling. It seems they wanted a boy and Marianne is all that is left. The woman starts to say, "Is she all..." but then stops herself and looks at Marianne closely. Marianne sees the woman's face change with a softness in it.

Marianne thinks, "Somehow this woman understands about me. How it felt when nobody wanted me even though I was waiting inside myself for my mother to come. Somehow she understands my hurt."

Last year my class read that section and one of my tough boys raised his hand and said, "Mr. Hansen, that is an example of empathy." I wasn't looking for that but he was right. The previous week we had gone over a poster in my room I had made based on a Responsive Classroom workshop I had previously taken. It has an acrostic for "CARES". I teach the class that we want a classroom that "cares". I want students to be caring, to be assertive, to be responsible, to have empathy for others, and to practice self-control. We had gone over all these words to make sure they knew what they meant. You never know if they listen, but this boy surely did and it was great that he pointed out a situation where a character showed empathy.

Whenever students come up with a creative answer, question, or thought I write it down in my teacher's book along with their name and year. Then when I come upon the comment another year I might say the comment and tell about the child who said it. I tell the class I do this and they get real excited if their comment makes my teacher's book. After all their name will go down in history!

To go along with this story I ask my class if children today are taken to new places to settle due to life circumstances. They think not. I tell them about my in-laws who were children in London during the bombings of WW2 and how they were placed on trains and sent to live with strangers out in the country until the war was over. They know this story if they have read or watched "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe". But that was an incident still too far in the past for my students.

So I tell them about the Lost Boys of Sudan who were brought to America a few years ago after fleeing Sudan for Ethiopia and then to Kenya where they lived in a refuge camp for many years. They enjoy my reading of "Brothers in Hope: The Story of the Lost Boys of Sudan."

I tell them and show the front page Boston Globe articles of my sister's family who took in four of the Lost Boys (who have all since moved on to college and beyond).

I tell them of the recent Olympic Games held in Bejing, where a Lost Boy, Lopez Lomong, not only made the USA track team in the 1500 run but was elected by all the athletes on the American team to hold the American flag as the American athletes entered the stadium for the opening ceremonies.

Here is a story on Lopez Lomong and below is a video.

My sister no longer has the four Lost Boys in her home, but last year she took in a high school girl from Burma who was rescued from a life of virtual slavery after fleeing for her safety and life from the Burmese soldiers who took an interest in her. She is now earning high grades in high school in Winchester, MA.

So yes, children today often do leave the places they know and are transported to new places where they might have a chance at a better life. In that new place or country they can find a new life and sometimes even greatness!

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