May 29, 2010

Everyday Heroes

Our 8th grade vice president who I call "DeepBlue" (second from right) with her Heroes at CAA's 7th and 8th Grade First Annual Heroes Reception, May 13, 2010. It was kind of neat to meet these people who I'd read about and seen pictures of all school year. It was sort of like meeting celebrities when I finally met them in real life. Of course these amazing people have made a far bigger impact on this young woman's life than any celebrity ever will!

It all started with the 100 Days of School. In the days just before school began last August, our principal, Brenda told all the teachers to come up with something they could do to celebrate the 100th day of school. I'm not sure who first came up with the idea of celebrating the 100th day of school--a Google search only pulls up ideas for how to celebrate it but nothing about it's origins. But given that it tends to fall right in the middle of that particularly long third quarter of the year, right in the dead of winter, when there are few holidays, I imagine it was an imaginative teacher who decided to create a reason to celebrate. We'd observed the 100th day once in Saipan, at the urging of one our teachers, and I remember having a 100 meter race and other hundred-oriented activities.

After racking my brain for a bit I came upon the idea of 100 Heroes. Beginning on the first day of school, I and my students would introduce each other to our heroes--one hero each day. I presented the first four heroes on the first four days of school. The four--"Harry", Dr. John Carlos, J Carlos, and my mom, Rosalind Maycock-- were all gleaned from my own annual Heroes and Inspirations posts here on this blog as well as from my Most Influential People Series. After the fourth day, I turned it over to the kids. And so for next six months or so, each day before we went home, one of the students (or two if--as we often did-we'd missed a day or two) would get up and share a brief tribute to someone who had inspired them. The tribute and the hero's photo (or a picture of something that symbolized them) would be posted on the wall, adding to a hall of fame that snaked around the room as the year wore on.

The kids didn't receive a grade for this project so I suppose technically they didn't have to do it. Nonetheless, day after day they gamely got up to share their heroes. Granted sometimes the tributes had been dashed off at the last minute, and there were a few that were only a sentence long. But by and large the students put some real thought into their heroes and many of the tributes were quite moving. And who were these heroes? Of course there were the sports stars and celebrities--but far fewer than I would have expected. The vast majority of the heroes were parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, close friends, teachers, and church members who the kids knew personally. They were ordinary people, everyday heroes, who had made an extraordinary difference that would last a lifetime.

Our 8th grade president (in white) who I call "PoetSoul" with her heroes.Included in her diverse group of heroes were her parents, brother, former teachers, other relatives, church members, one of her best friends (who was away at academy, so her parents and younger sister came in her place), one celebrity-India Arie, and even her dog (who was unable to attend). Also included on her list was none other than her Savior, Jesus Christ. Though not visible, we believe He was there too.

We finally reached the 100th day, and sure enough, we had 100 heroes. A couple of the students shared one of their tributes at the school's little 100th day celebartion in the cafeteria and we moved the Heroes display out into the hall where the whole school could see them.

That might have been the end of it, but I had this crazy idea--that we should have a gala to celebrate these 100 heroes and invite the heroes to attend. I'd gotten the idea from Time magazine, which sponsors a Time 100 Gala to celebrate their annual list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. I'd seen the pictures in the pages of Time of the famous and influential hobnobbing together--each photo a who's who of the world's movers and shakers--and pictured a similar spectacular affair for our own everyday heroes.

Here's a video clip by TIME of, I believe, the 2009 Time 100 Gala (I've added a link since this embedded video doesn't appear to be working) . Watch this video to get a sense of what we hoped to accomplish with our own gala. I'd say we came pretty close, though we didn't do a red carpet (though maybe we'll add that next year!)

I'd mentioned the idea casually to the kids and they seemed interested, but I came to the conclusion that it was probably too late in the year to try pull something like that off, and that we'd be better off to wait until next year when we could plan it properly. I told the kids the only way I'd be willing to do it was if they took ownership. They would have to do the work, they would have to have the passion and the desire to see it through. I was not going to harass them into doing something that I didn't feel we could do properly in such a short time frame. Amazingly, the kids took on the challenge and rose to the occasion.

Oh, I still worked pretty hard, and I worried a lot. But the kids really did make the evening their own. They planned the program, picked the menu, designed the invitations, decided on a decorating scheme, a seating chart, and gift bags for the honorees. I like to say all I did was choose the font for the hero tributes (though in actuality I also retyped and reformatted all one hundred tributes as well--a herculean task in itself--and had them printed up at FedEx Office in nice glossy 11 by 17 posters). I'm really proud of the commitment and effort my 7th and 8th graders put in, and it all came together on Thursday evening, May 13, 2010 at the first annual CAA Hereo's Reception.

The gym decked out for the evening. You can see the posters of the heroes lining the walls. This photo was actually taken at the end of the evening right before they started taking everything down.

The program was simple but heartfelt. After allowing time for our honored guests to arrive and to look at the 100 posters of the heroes that adorned the Ephesus SDA Church gymansium walls, we began the program with a tribute to Jesus (who two of the students had selected as their heroes) and prayer, a welcome followed by a short slide show.

"Flashback" (so named because as my one Asian student he reminds me of my days in Saipan), looking quite snappy in his white tux and red bow tie, did the welcome.

Then through the rest of the evening--before, during, and after dinner, each of the students stood up to pay tribute to their heroes.

"Master", the big "tough guy" of my class shares his tribute to his family. For all his nonchalant attitude in the lead-up to the big night, his actual tribute was quite heartfelt.

The heroes who came were genuinely touched by the students sincere appreciation, and despite a few snafus here and there (the students painstakingly constructed playlist of music featuring tunes by Heroes Alicia Keys, India Arie, and Michael Jackson) never got played and there was some confusion regarding the seating assignments), the evening turned out wonderfully.

It's true that not all the heroes could make it. Some like the apostle Paul, Samson, and Queen Ester were long dead, others like "PoetSoul's" great-grandfather more recently so. Some, like Alicia Keys, Kobe Bryant, and an assortment of football stars, are used to accolades from untold millions and one more honor from a few middle school kids probably got lost amidst the mountains of fan mail they receive every day (though we went ahead and sent many of them invitations anyway). Some, like "QuietMan's" mom and dad and most of my heroes were too far away to attend. Some, like President Obama, were just busy that night. But at least a third of the hundred could--and did--come, and I think they were as blessed by being present as we were by their presence.

This seventh grader, who I call "Quiet Man" came with his brother and older sister. Neither of his parents, both of whom were heroes, could attend as they were both out of town that week.

I hope to make the Heroes Reception an annual event, and as word and appreciation for the event continues to spread, we will be able to make each year's gala more spectacular and special than the ones before. It will still be the kid's doing--but I think we'll be able to do more to make their dreams of an unforgettable night for their heroes a reality. Of course even with fine china, linen table cloths, and live music in a fancy ballroom, what matters most we already had this past May in that church gymanaisuim with our color coordianted paper plates, plastic table cloths, and recorded music--sincere love and appreciation expressed from the heart. That is what will always mean the most to our everyday heroes.

This is my one seventh grade girl on the left. I'll call her "Funny Girl" because she often makes me laugh. She's posing with her mom and sister, the two heroes on her list that were able to attend.

"Cool" in red and black, one my 8th grade students who always keeps her cool with her heroes.

"Master" with his heroes.

One of my seventh-graders, who I'll call "The Mover" (in red with black vest) with his heroes.

Here I am with the three heroes on my list that were able to attend--my wife, my mother, and my son.

Some of my heroes: My sister, Dawn, above. My Uncles Robert and Roland,
"Little Sister", Pastor Eliki Ravia, "Harry", and my mom, below.

There's "J" in the upper right corner. "PoetSoul's" dog, Bella is in the center.

Grandpa and Grandma

"PoetSoul", "DeepBlue", and "YoungMoney" hang out with the Feller at the end of the evening. The boy in the back is "DeepBlue's" brother and one of her Heroes.

May 22, 2010

The Other Side of the World

The two classes pose strike a pose together.

"The other side of the world is not so far away as I thought that it was"
--Rich Mullins

On Wednesday evening, May 12, 2010 my 7th and 8th grade students traveled to the other side of the world to visit with their peers in the 7th and 8th grade at the Saipan Seventh-day Adventist School. Their journey was made possible through the technological miracle known as Skype. It was 6:30 P.M. here in Columbus, the end of a long school day for us and 8:30 Thursday morning in Saipan, just the beginning of Sharla Schroeder's students' school day. The sound was a bit patchy--we spent much of the time hollering "Did you hear that?" and sometimes the picture pixellated a bit, but nonetheless both groups of students seemed to have a great time. The students were supposed to ask each other pertinent questions that would tie back to subjects they were currently studying. The Saipan kids had been reading Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and wanted to compare what they'd read to the observations and experiences of black kids in 21st America. The Ohio kids had been studying about the expansion of the United States' influence around the world and wanted to know what the Saipan kids' impressions were of America and American culture. But a lot of the questions were of the less academic variety--what kind of food do you like? What kind of music do you like? The kids may not have learned as much as Sharla and I would have liked about race relations in America or America's global cultural reach but they learned something else, perhaps of even greater value:

That even on the other side of the world, kids are still kids.

They think where they live is boring.

They like Japanese comics.

They don't like homework. They would like more recess.

They like junk food.

They love (or hate) Justin Bieber.

They notice cute boys or girls.

They like to laugh.

And I noticed too, that whether on this side of the world, or the other, when I think of my kids it is always with warm affection and the highest hopes for their happiness.

"But the other side of the world
Is not so far away
And the distance just dissolves into the love
Into the love"

My students settle down to business after some silliness and hyperactivity early in the web conference.

The Saipan kids ponder a question asked by one the Columbus kids.

The Columbus group near the end of the webcam interview. By this time we'd been joined by the 8th grade class president who came late (she's seated on the floor on the left), a fifth grader who'd popped in to see what was going on (second from left), and Brenda Arthurs, our school principal (she's partially in view on the far left).

May 8, 2010

Leaving Home

I know the picture quality is poor--in fact we have a better photo of the farewell crowd--but this one is my favorite for some reason. I love looking at this photo, picking out all the faces of familiar friends. I don't know why I like this particular picture so much. Perhaps its because on every face I see the same thing--love.

It's been nearly a month since we left Saipan--it's taken me that long, accounting for the busyness of ordinary life here in America to recap it all. Already, that wonderful week back home is beginning to fade into the warm glow of memory. It all seems so far away now, almost as if it were the most marvelous dream. But the Feller loves to look at the pictures and videos of our trip. "Beach! Beach!" he'll say practically every day, and we'll take out the laptop to take a look. He seems to recognize "J" and "Little Sister"--one of his favorites videos is the five second clip of the two girls when I'd intended to take a photo but the camera was on video setting. He always squeals with laughter when "J" laughs. You can see the video, which does have a funny kind of charm in the post just below this one.

So, leaving home to go home was hard--but not as hard as the first time (though ironically, all three of us had a much harder time after this trip readjusting to life here). We had proved that we could go back--that the wide Pacific Ocean and the pricey airline tickets could be managed somehow. This time there were no farewell leis, no parting gifts, and I was pleased. Those things would have meant that we were visitors, unlikely to return. The lack of parting ceremony indicated we were just going away for a little while, but would surely be back.

And we will go back again--of that I'm sure. We're making tenative plans for next year, and if not then, definitely the year after. We're thinking we might go in the summer when we can stay longer and maybe work at the school for a month or so, if that's possible.

Of course, in another year or two Saipan will have changed yet again. Many friends will have taken their own Long Walks and the kids will keep on growing. Managaha Island will continue to be reshaped by the waves and the wind. Eventually as the years pass, we will come to be visitors there--knowing few and unknown to most of the people in what was once our community.

Yet, one never knows when and where the paths of friendship will cross again. We left Saipan Saturday night around 9:30 in the evening and flew to Guam where we had an eight hour layover. We had decided to get a hotel rather than sleep in the airport. So, emotionally and physically drained, "Little Sister", "Luke", Babs, The Feller and I took a taxi to the Guam Plaza Hotel (we had actually intended to go to the much more economical but more pompously named Grand Plaza Hotel, but I got the names mixed up. It turned out to be fortuitous turn of events). There we collapsed into bed for a few hours sleep. The next morning, while our drowsy group waited in the cab to go back to the airport, I checked us out. As I was going through the usual check-out procedures, I noticed something familiar about the hotel desk clerk. Something about her face, an accent I hadn't heard in a long time-it jogged a memory, and when I got a look at her name tag, I knew.

"Where are you from?" I asked

"Chuuk," she replied.

"Did you use to go to the SDA School there?"


It was Miroko. She'd been in the seventh grade when I was a student missionary teacher on the island of Chuuk back in 1994-1995. Her brother, Melford, was one of my students. I hadn't seen Miroko since the day I left Chuuk, and now 15 years later I run into her behind the front desk of a glitzy hotel in Guam. We chatted for a few moments, took a photo and then I was off to catch my flight. It was a brief but special moment, a reminder that while we have breath the possiblity of reunion with old friends is always just around the corner.

Miroko and me at the Guam Plaza Hotel, Sunday, April 11, 2010.

So will we move back to Saipan someday? Maybe, if the Lord wills it. But whether we do or not, in our hearts, our little island will always be home.

In the meantime, life here in America calls. Spring is in full bloom, and summer is around the corner.

Life is meant to be lived in the present, not in the mists of memory.

A blustery April day

My students at play. Mid-April.

And so we journey on.

May 1, 2010

For the Ones Who Came Before


Not a single member of the Monster Hunters! Can you believe it? So this is one of your seventh graders from last year and some of the 9th graders you taught for science.



(I was told these were your kids. . .I hope that is correct. Also, I had to take the pictures seperately because they were already seated that way and it would have been a big production to move them. Hope you don't mind).

These are the students left from your classes from both years you were in Saipan.


Jessica (and Nicole again)


He's the only one left :(


"J" is actually the only one of your original students left at SDA. "Little Sister is in the States, as you know, and the boys are 10th graders at Southern High School.


Back Home: In The Sun and the Sand

The visit to Saipan was mostly about the people. And my main purpose in being in Saipan was to serve the school as the week of prayer speaker.

But, you can't be in one of the great tropical paradises on this planet and not go to the beach.

After all, the only beach in Ohio is The Beach, the water park hard by
I-71 between Dayton and Cincinnati and that just ain't the same.

I mean seriously? That?

Or This:

No comparison!

So, I made it a goal to go to the beach every day that we were in Saipan. I almost reached that goal, missing only the two Sabbaths and Tuesday. But the best day was Friday when we took the ferry out to Saipan's pearl, Managaha Island for a few short hours of blissful relaxation in the sun, on the sand, and in the perfectly clear water with a bunch of our kids--the one biological child, as well as a half dozen others that seem like our own. After all we've known most of them their whole lives.

The Feller and "J" arrive on Managaha Island, Friday afternoon, April 9, 2010.

We had pizza from Bobby Cadillacs before hitting the water.

"Ji", "Little Sister", and "J": Looks like they're in a swimming pool doesn't it? That's how clear the water is!

It was an almost perfect afternoon--I only wish we'd had more time, and that we'd done this more often when we lived in Saipan.