Throughout my day on September 11th, I have had multiple reminders of what an important day 9/11 is in America. For instance, I work in a department of three people and the other two were dressed in red, white and blue. I also received an email reminder that Trinity was going to come together as a community with an open 9/11 Memorial Service to remember the events and the sacrifices that so many people have made since that day. Even when I checked the start time of my hometown Major League Baseball (MLB) team, I read about how the St. Louis Cardinals honored service men and women with free tickets for two nights. Everywhere I looked, I was faced with examples of people who were recognizing the relevance of the attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Flight 93 in western Pennsylvania. As I remember what I was doing on 9/11, the shock of the tragedy is very visceral. It still knocks the wind out of me, even 12 years later. Although remembering is sometimes painful, I appreciate the constant acknowledgement from so many different audiences. All of the little ways people have shown their pride in America and pulling together make 9/11 a little bit easier for a lot of people.
Since so much of my workday is spent thinking about serving K-12 teachers and their students, I wondered what kind of an impact 9/11 was having in schools, most of which had students who weren’t old enough to remember where they were on that day. After the Boston Marathon bombing, we wrote a blog about helping students understand tragedy, so I won’t revisit that perspective of a terrible event. Instead, I want to take the point of view of how students can learn from something important to them, get involved, and have pride in their commitment.
I think I was in the 5th grade when I first felt the spark of learning something new, discovering my own interest in it without being pushed by teachers or family and feeling satisfaction in my involvement. My 5th grade teacher extolled the benefits we had in store for us at the big high school our school district filtered into. Mrs. Ingersoll said that our high school would open the door to new opportunities for everyone and we were selling ourselves short if we didn’t join a club, try out for a sport or lead the class in student council because there was something for everyone. She was one of those teachers who encouraged us to tell our parents we wanted a subscription to National Geographic for our birthday rather than games. I didn’t tell my parents that then but I have a subscription now, so her words definitely resonated. In fact, I also got subscriptions to Nat Geo’s Kids and Little Kids magazines for my nieces too.
That year was the first time I remember thinking about doing something I wanted to do rather than doing it just because my older brother and sister did it before me. But how do you get a 10 year old to independently commit to something that interests them? Experience. They have to try it.
In the 5th grade, my school had our first level of a competitive basketball team that included both boys and girls. I was very short at the time so that felt out of reach, especially during jump balls. We were all taught how to play chess that year and were automatically entered in the 5th grade chess tournament. I love games and strategy but chess didn’t do it for me. It was also the first year we could try out for the school band. I made it and choose the trumpet as my instrument. I was terrible and it was loud, so I hated practicing. I only enjoyed it when I would play songs that were recognizable and my mom would sing along. We had a big spelling bee that included four homerooms of grades 3-5 and the winner would go on to represent our district in a bigger bee. I was a pretty good speller and missed winning by one word, but didn’t relish the pressure enough to see a future in national bees. The end of the year helped me find an area that I wanted to dive into: field day. It was an all around competition that we all looked forward to with multiple events, sort of like the Olympics, some of which were relays pitting the four 5th grade homeroom classes against each other. It had events that awarded individual ribbons, but it also tallied all participation per class so everyone could contribute to the success of the class. I remember one blue ribbon I earned to add to our points but I had at least two more 2nd place ribbons that kept building the total class points. Finally, I practiced, found my strengths and felt great about contributing!
Not everyone in an academic setting thinks of sports as an achievement to strive for, but I think they can have a huge impact on a student’s success in many areas. I remember an ad campaign by Nike in 1995 that showed girls of many ages and backgrounds and threw out some bold statistics of what dedication to sports could do for women. A sociology professor, Michael Messner, wrote about the ad in his book, Taking the Field: Women, Men and Sports. He explained how Nike capitalized on the empowering aspects of athletic participation through their ad:
“If you let me play; If you let me play sports; I will like myself more; I will have more self-confidence; If you let me play sports; If you let me play; If you let me play; I will be 60 percent less likely to get breast cancer; I will suffer less depression; If you let me play sports; I will be more likely to leave a man who beats me; If you let me play; I will be less likely to get pregnant before I want to; I will learn; I will learn what it means to be strong; To be strong; If you let me play; Play sports; If you let me play sports.”
From that ad, the ‘Just Do It’ era was born. On a website for parents focusing on the health and happiness of their children, Active for Life shows the original tv ad and highlights the Nike ad’s relevance today. That ad still resonates with me and I think my participation in sports contributed to a lot of other areas of success and pride in my life.
I was fortunate to have so many choices in the 5th grade and for many years since. Not all schools have funding for so many extracurricular activities, so it’s often up to parents to find clubs or teams for their kids to experiment. Some of them have costs that are out of reach, but parents, don’t let that discourage you. Volunteer. Tutor. Be a Big Brother or Sister. And teachers, don’t forget the influence you have on your students. Not everyone is athletic, so think of Mrs. Ingersoll’s words and nudge students to explore every opportunity out there to find an area where they can excel and contribute to something positive. Those skills might help them with something later in life. You may not see instant results, but keep encouraging your students to get involved and make sure they recognize their own strengths. My participation and exploration in the 5th grade is what got me started. I love team sports to this day and working together for a common goal. I think that motivation is what enables me to lead a department every day.
How can you contribute to help others or help yourself? Do you have any untapped strengths left to discover? I say, listen to Nike and Just Do It.