By STEVE RAZIDLO
Superintendent District 181
He gets dropped off at the back side of his elementary school nearly every day. I have driven him to school for four years; we have a routine. As he gets out of the car, I tell him I love him. He’s a fourth grader, but he tells me he loves me too. He grabs his book bag — much larger than he needs — says goodbye to his sophomore sister, and shuffles toward the playground gate. Both of his shoes are untied, and only one arm has made it into his camouflage fleece jacket. His shorts hang below his knees. It’s a great picture of my son. It’s an image I’m trying to hold onto for a little longer, but the days are running away from me and from all of the other parents who run routes like mine to schools all over our community.
“Look at your brother,” I suggest to his sister. “At least his shoes are on” she replies, and we pull away from the curb, slowly. From inside the playground a ball gets kicked against the chain link fence and stuck against the mesh. My son kicks the ball from outside the fence, sending it back toward the “action” inside. Then magic happens. This fourth grader, my shuffler, enters the playground gate, drops the book bag, sheds the fleece, and starts to run toward his friends, toward the game of the morning. He’s at his school. He’s with friends, he’s safe, and I know he’s learning. It’s May, it’s warm, summer’s coming. There are only a few days left of this ritual. I wonder if I’ve watched him enough.
Rituals and routines are moving forward everywhere. Seniors are performing in spring concerts and saying goodbye to days as high school musicians. A few shed tears at their final band concert last week. They knew — as did their parents in the audience — that they
were leaving something special behind. A week ago BHS triathletes finished months of training and — as happens every year — crossed both a physical and an emotional finish line. Kinderfriend Day, fourth grade ‘graduation’, baccalaureate, and high school commencement are coming this week. Projects are due in countless classrooms. Teams are finishing seasons. Everywhere there are class parties, special programs, field trips, and final exams. Teachers and students alike are pushing to finish that last scheduled unit, that last assignment, that last presentation ... and then, often before we feel it, our time runs out. The rituals cease, for a time, until our students return.
Tuesday night I went back to my son’s school. He returned just after 8 p.m. from his field trip to the Minnesota Zoo. It was hot outside, but he was still wearing his fleece. His cooler, full of food that morning, was lighter, nearly empty. Mom told him to eat his sandwich before he ate all his snacks, and I laughed a little when I saw that everything except the sandwich was gone. The playground was full of families — taking 100 fourth graders to the zoo is a big job, a long day. Parents and children said goodbye to the sunburnt teachers and a few tired chaperones. My son and I walked quietly across the playground, and as I reached to carry his things he grabbed my hand. He is 10, and this won’t happen much longer. I held him a little more tightly as we walked from that magical place, through the gate, to the car, toward home, on one of the last days of fourth grade.
STEVE RAZIDLO is superintendent of the Brainerd School District.