I have this ridiculous addiction to people and places that somehow translates to the fact that on each of my school “breaks” I spend at least a few days traipsing around school campuses causing a raucous. (I had to look that word up to make sure I spelled it right. Yes! That’s it! Synonyms: wild, noisy, rowdy, unruly, boisterous)
Yesterday, I visited Hidden Valley Elementary School in San Anselmo, CA. I used to teach at Hidden Valley “back in the day” when it was called Brookside Upper. It’s a gorgeous campus tucked in the quaintest of neighborhoods and spread out over a lovely rolling hill. On this particular school visit, I wasn’t alone, as two of my closest teaching friends, Ashley and Ashley (yep, “the Ashleys”) were just as excited to visit this old place we poured our lives into together for years.
A number of things struck me on this visit. The campus looked wonderful. Colorful benches, brightly painted doors, smiling staff members, a knock your socks off kinda dress on the principal (a definite must) and the memories that came flooding back with each turn of a corner. Despite the upgrades, the changes, and the tons of new faces, there was something different about this visit, and those forever spaces.
There they were. The table where I sat and cried with one of my students as he had a complete meltdown. The tree where another student stood for about 30 minutes because I forgot I sent him outside to take a “quick break”. Room 21 where I went for my daily laugh, vent, and inspiration. The top of the cabinets in the staff room - cluttered with bowls and trays – I must have reorganized and sorted that stuff at least 10 times. The music room turned classroom where I used to hide out with my students and our 5th grade buddies when we needed a change of scenery. The scent of the office bathrooms – yes, the same orange mist air freshener! Old Places. New Faces. Forever Spaces.
It’s been almost three years since I stepped out of Room 22 as a 2nd grade teacher and into my office at Penngrove as an elementary principal. A little quick math will clue you into the fact that the current 5th graders at Hidden Valley are also the group that was my last class of 2nd graders. Knowing this would be the final time I could cause a huge raucous on campus, I took full advantage. Thank God Mr. Brandt was only doing agendas with his class because when the Ashleys and I walked in – oh boy!
“Oh my gosh, I forgot what you looked like!”
“Are you coming back to teach here?!”
“Do you remember when…”
I went around the room and greeted each of my past students one by one. I wanted so badly to pick each of them up in my arms, swing them around, and tell them they still mattered to me. But in fear of making the others feel neglected, worrying that Mr. Brandt would kick me out momentarily, or the honest truth which was that I worried I might totally lose my composure, I opted for some side hugs, ruffled hair, and back rubs. I didn’t leave Mr. Brandt’s room without making sure we sang happy birthday to Jimmy (he glared at me the whole time), reminding Jake and his entire class of the nickname I gave him: Jakey Poo, and of course, numerous photo ops.
I swung by the other two 5th grade classrooms a little more politely and made sure all my students knew I would do my very best to make it to their 5th grade promotion in June. The highlight of the stop in Mrs. Leader’s room was that I was a little nervous to pop in, in the first place. I respect Mrs. Leader immensely and think she is a wonderful teacher. However, she isn’t exactly the “let me just pop in and totally destroy your class for 5 minutes” type. So I quietly opened the door and was relieved that there were only about 7 kids in the room finishing up a test. Mrs. Leader had a student at her desk asking a question and when I saw that it was Ava, I knew I was doomed.
In all my years of teaching, Ava was one of the most enthusiastic students I have ever had the pleasure of teaching. Emotion, laughter, and drama, just pour out of her being! I love this child to the ends of the earth and back. And there was Ava, in all her glory. I wish I had it on film. Ava stopped listening to Mrs. Leader completely (ehhhhhh cringing inside) and declared at the TOP of her voice: “OH MY GOSH! ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!? I THINK I AM HALUCIATING! THIS CANNOT BE REAL! I HAVE DEFINITELY LOST MY MIND! I’M SEEING A VISION OF MRS. FADEJI STANDING IN OUR CLASSROOM! BEST. DAY. EVER!” After a huge hug, I made sure Ava finished her conversation with Mrs. Leader (who kindly notified me that Ava needed to finish a test), snapped a selfie or two w/ my little drama queen and scurried out of the room.
Whew! What a visit. What an emotional roller coaster. Of course I loved chatting with some of my favorite old colleagues, spending time at Teresa’s desk, chatting with Tim (the rockin’ custodian) ,and just being at Hidden Valley. But the one thing that will stay with me always was the love that I felt for old places, new faces, forever spaces.