Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The New Honor Roll


It has been quite a week in my old home town— um, school. I managed to squeeze in two old traditions I began some 35 years ago— The Samba Contest and The Cookie Jar Contest. The first is a Brazilian-style mini-Carnaval with cross-graded (and sometimes cross-dressed!) kids choreographing their own samba routine in groups of two to eight. The dancers are between first and fifth grade and they practice for four or five days during their precious recess time. The 6th grade splits into judges, decorators and musicians in the “batterie” percussion ensemble.

On the day of the contest, the drums are thundering, the bells are firing, the samba whistle is blowing and the music room is awash with colorful movement and spirited singing. At the end, the judges announce the winners. Everyone is a “winner” in some category— best costume, best style, most gymnastic, best choreographed and my favorite from this year—best “swag”— and then there also is an overall first, second and third place winner. All get cool hand-made certificates and some post-samba snacks. It’s really quite a spectacle and just having kids dancing to kids playing live music is remarkable enough these days.

Then came the Cookie Jar Contest, 12-kids who made it to the finals in this game of rhythm, speech and sharp attention. One slip of the tongue or pause in the rhythm and you’re out, your dreams of Cookie Jar glory shattered— until next year. The winner gets—you guessed it— a cookie jar (thanks Cost Plus!) filled with cookies. All participants again get a certificate and have a little post-contest cookie party.

I’ve offered up The Frozen Logger competition— the chance for any kid to get up in front of the whole elementary school and attempt to sing all eleven verses of The Frozen Logger folk song by memory. Some kids asked for the words to study, but so far no takers— I may have to let this one go for this year.

Coming up is the Mud Pie Celebration, a whole class of kids singing “The Mud Pie Song” ( the “One Bottle of Pop” song with new words I made up) and then sitting in absolute stillness and silence looking down at their mudpie dessert (chococalte sauce over ice cream with crumbled Oreo cookies) in a state of “complete control.” If anyone moves or laughs, the teachers snatch their mudpie away. My job is to see if I can get them cracking up with such mature statements as “stinky socks!" or belly-button juice!” It’s a sight to behold.

And so, while most schools continue with their narrow view of what’s worthy of celebration in the human mind, body and heart, the old tired Honor Roll and Athletic Trophies, we aim to expand the possibilities with samba, cookie jars, frozen loggers and mudpies. Why not celebrate kids’ ability to express themselves collectively through organized spirited movement? To honor them for grace under pressure, keeping attentice in the midst of the cookie jar storm. To acknowledge them for memory and song and effort made to remember and perform? To celebrate their ability to sit calm and composed while ice cream melts in front of their eyes and sadistic music teachers try to make them laugh?

The world as it is is divided between the “My child is on the honor roll at…” bumper sticker and “My child can beat up your honor roll child” sticker. (Or the one I saw today: “My child skateboards better than your honor roll child.”) I’m looking forward to the day when cars abound with “Cookie Jar Champion 2013!”, “Frozen Logger expert!”, “My child is a mudpie yogi” or “My child danced exuberantly in the 2014 samba contest.”Or the one my Mom could put on her wheelchair: “My child has published over 500 blogs — and still won’t shut up!”

My friends, there are lots of ways to shine in this world. Let’s enjoy them!

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