I was talking in the hall at BMS with Jenny Galasso yesterday morning as she was preparing for her week of chaperoning students on FLOW. Jenny is a highly organized science teacher, and I had offered to help her get her plans ready for her substitute teacher. We were chatting as we collated papers and updated resources on websites used for student research. At one point the subject came up of the challenge students face in bringing the big learnings from FLOW back to school life. The tendency, we agreed, is to compartmentalize experiences like FLOW that are outside our normal routines. As if on cue, Steven walked by.
Steven is an 8th grade student who until two weeks ago had never canoed and never slept in a tent. Steven didn't have a raincoat (we found one for him) and was having difficulty coming up with the $50 tuition for the trip. But he was willing to try FLOW because it sounded fun, different, interesting. He was one of the 33 students who attended FLOW during its first week. Steven offered up his hand for a high-five as he walked by and I asked him, "Hey, would you rather be back out on the water right now?" He looked me dead in the eye and with a smile blurted "TOTALLY." I explained what Jenny and I were discussing and asked him how he thought we could get kids to bring the feelings of togetherness and camaraderie back to school with them after FLOW. He said simply: "October 17th."
"October 17th?" I asked.
"Yeah," said Steven, matter of factly. "That was the day we really came together as a group, on September 17th. We decided on that day that even though we weren't really friends before, we were really glad we got to know each other on the trip and that we would stay friends forever. Our group made a pact with Mr. Hamilton (BMS Guidance Counselor and chaperone for Steven's group) to have lunch together all year long on the 17th day of every month."
Out of the corner of my eye I saw my fellow teacher's upper lip quiver for a moment. I felt a lump in my throat too.
Steven wasn't saying those words to get a rise out of us. He was being real. And for an 8th grade boy, being real is a big deal.
Later that day I was over at Woolwich Central School in the 7/8 grade wing. I saw some familiar faces as I moved through the halls, and they greeted me with little smiles and "good mornings." As I was leaving, Kyle Beeton (WCS Language Arts teacher and FLOW chaperone) stuck his head out of his door and asked me to come into his classroom for a moment. He was leading a discussion about agricultural and industrial water use when I came in, his students sitting in a semicircle around him on the floor. He stopped the discussion and asked the students if they had something to say to me. In unison, they chanted: "THANK YOU Mr. Kovacs!!"
"I can't tell you all how much I appreciate that," was all I could muster. And I meant it. I involuntarily placed my fist in the center of my chest, over my heart. I asked if any of the kids might be willing to talk about FLOW with 6th and 7th graders to prepare them well in advance for their turn in 8th grade. Every single hand shot up.
As the last FLOW group of 2014 reaches the halfway mark, it's obvious that this trip has struck a chord with both our 8th grade students and the community at large. Parents have stopped me on the street to thank me for providing this experience for their child. Teachers and chaperones have been thrilled with the trip. Friends and strangers have reached out to offer donations for FLOW because they see the intrinsic value in the experience.
And just like the students whose challenge is to apply the lessons learned on FLOW to their everyday lives, we have the responsibility to look carefully at the trip and think about ways to sustain it, improve it, and recognize it as an important part of growing up in Bath. Maybe more of us should make a pact to get together for lunch on the 17th day of every month.