Saturday, August 30, 2014



Newark's murder rate has been appallingly high this summer. So many yooung people on our streets are filled with a sense of hopelessness, frustration, and the rage that results from those feelings. Gangs and drug dealers seem to be flourishing in this environment like deadly viruses, mindlessly harming or even killing lots of innocent people. There were dark rumors about some sort of plan that involved random murders that would supposedly happen last weekend. So it was particularly encouraging to see little signs of victory at school this past week. Nothing spectacular, of course, but I suppose that most of life's most important moments aren't spectacular anyway.


Monday it was announced on the school's electronic bulletin board that on Friday one of our youngest and most popular teachers would be on the track behind the school building right after school to attempt to beat his personal best time in the two-mile run. This teacher is not terribly athletic-looking; in fact you might say he's chunky. This made the public announcement all the more interesting.

So, after school on the final day of our First Term a crowd of students showed up by the track to cheer for their favorite teacher. I was reminded of the image used in the Letter to the Hebrews 12:1 to encourage Christians to run their race with perseverance, spurred on by the presence of all those who had gone before:
"Therefore seeing we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily ensnare us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." 

These students, this particular "cloud of witnesses," could have come out to laugh at this teacher and make fun of his efforts, but instead they were cheering him on. The gorgeous weather enticed some kids to get down on the track and run beside him, helping him keep a good pace. (He did set a new personal best, by the way.) 

Of course the event included a lot of adolescent goofing around and hooting and hollering, but it was nevertheless a life-giving community event. There was something really right and good about that scene: A crowd of witnesses cheering on someone else to do his best. It didn't involve competing, defeating, dominating or intimidating anyone, but was about a group of kids helping someone to achieve his goal. What a great lesson to learn on the last day of First Term! And like so many of life's most important lessons, the students didn't even know they were learning it.


The previous day I asked eight of our eighth-graders to help me move all the materials we used for our annual Monkfest (canopies, coolers, barbecue implements, etc.) from a hallway up to a permanent storage place. Of course they set about the task with characterisitc energy, loading everything on the elevator that would take all of the stuff to the fourth floor. I then told them to walk up to the fourth floor of the school and start to unload the things so that we didn't tie up the elevator any longer than necessary. Off they went, thundering as only eight-grade boys can do, up the two flights of stairs, trying to beat the elevator to the top.

I followed at a more adult pace, wondering what chaos I'd find when I got to the top of the stairs. When I arrived I was greeted by the sight of these eight kids in a line passing the boxes to one another in kind of a bucket brigade. They had the job done in a couple of minutes. I don't know who thought of the idea of such teamwork, but I was impressed that everyone just went along with the idea. I would have been less surprised to see the kids competing to see who could carry the most stuff or showing their skill at balancing a fifty-pound box on their head. But there they were working together as a team.

What a great lesson to learn on the second to last day of First Term! And like so many of life's most important lessons, the students didn't even know they were learning it.

By comparision with the seeming victories of "the Street" this summer these are small victories, I admit. Insignificant. But hey, around here these days we take any victories we can get.

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