Afternoons with the Kids

by Paul Chilvers, Lead Teacher (3rd-5th grade)

As the children arrive at the Janice Mirikitani Family, Youth & Childcare Center, they have been at school for hours, being told where to go, where to sit, when to talk, what to read and write.  They remind me of cartoon steam whistles at the end of a work shift, letting off a huge gust of pent up energy.
I place myself strategically in the room, able to see everyone at once, and greet each child by name as he or she comes in.  I am usually playing a game of “Connect Four” with one child, while playing a game of “Gobblit”with another, while marking attendance as the children arrive, while scanning the room constantly to make sure that all are playing safe.

Some play hard, the sounds of the foosball table crackling off the concrete walls of the basement, echoing up to as far as the second floor.  Some read, trying to catch up with homework, or just pursuing their favorite characters through a good book, enjoying the space and comfort afforded to them by our couches and carpets.
Beyblades are pretty hot right now–for us old timers, think “spinning tops”–, and the industrious little ones construct an arena with the building blocks provided for play.

Others sit and chat, occasionally playing cards, or putting a puzzle together.  This is one of the times of the day where I can sit and chat with a child, catching up on how they are feeling about school, life, the Tenderloin, their little siblings or a mass of other topics.
A lot of the times, they ask me about things that don’t quite make sense to them, and most of the time, I have a pretty good answer, often followed by a “do you want to see a picture of it on the computer?” They smile, and we Google images of anything from really scary bugs to the Blue Angels.

Someone yells “PAAAAAAAAAAAAUL!” from across the room, and I walk over to politely remind them that screaming hurts people’s ears, and they look around, often a little surpised at the reminder of so many thoughtful, feelings beings so close to them.  Learning how to be a good human is a process.

All too soon, it’s snack time. This means lining up every child, and marching them upstairs–there is no running water in the basement– to wash their hands. The children know what’s expected of them, and line up with few protests.  Snack is healthy–fruit, grains, protein and milk are the four staples.  We have a food policy in place that keeps the high fat, and high sugar content foods out of our room (or at least really well hidden).

Next comes the all emcompassing “quiet homework time”.  There are a wide range of responses at this point.  Before I can blink, there is a small contingent of children striving to focus on their homework and earn “respect and responsibility” points which can be cashed in at the end of the year for fabulous prizes.  Most need a bit of gentle urging to finish up thier attempt for a high score on a video game or to bang out those last two points to see who wins the foosball game.  There are a few who magically develop sudden unspecified ailments.  Stomachs begin to churn, old playground injuries from last week flare up, making sure that there is no way any homework can be accomplished.  I treat every ailment with the four things that every elementary teacher is allowed to use; compassion, band aids, humor and ice.
At this point, there are about 15 requests for help with homework, 3.5 behavioral corrections waiting to happen, 4 unfocused children who need little more than a “look” to get back on track, and about 4 tears.  My staff of two and I split ourselves into the required 26.5 people and manage to do a lot of good in about thirty minutes.  It’s one of the everyday miracles of GLIDE, the modern equivalent of loaves and fishes.  The look of satisfaction as an assignment is completed is equal to the look of gratitude on the parents face when they see that their child has completed their work when they get picked up.

Enrichment follows, and takes many different forms.  Art, photography, literacy, physical game instruction, indoor game instruction, movement, drama, story time, yoga, gardening and general instruction on how to be a good human being are a few off the top of my head.

This Monday, the teachers in the program are performing “Anansi and The Moss Covered Rock” for all of the children in the building from Kindergarten to fifth grade.  The book itself will be projected on a large screen behind the teachers as it is read aloud to them, and their teachers will perform it, costumed in beautiful and fun ways.

My father always said “If you like what you do, you never have to go to work again.”  That’s GLIDE to me.  I love it here.