Early May. A Thursday morning. 7:50 a.m. I am paged to the office. There is a minor emergency. I need to put aside my literacy coaching duties and cover the eighth grade music class.The students are waiting for me. The secretary hands me the lesson plans, and I hustle upstairs, wondering what I know about teaching eighth grade music.
I am pleased to discover that I do not have to sing or play recorders, instead, students will be writing reflective pieces about an upcoming performance. The eighth graders are not so pleased. They do not want to write during music. They do anything they can to avoid getting started- try to catch a little more sleep, argue with me about the purpose of writing in music class, poke at each other, argue with me some more, horse around with each other, argue with me again.
M is sitting on the right side of the room, surrounded by a group of drooling admirers. She is darling- petite, long dark hair, large dark eyes, and a quick smile and ready laugh. Her fan club is large and loud, and I make my way toward that side of the room to try and initiate some kind of order. The boys grumble as I encourage them to find paper and pencil and get started. M doesn't need my help, however. Despite the uproar, she has almost a full page of writing. I am struck by her integrity, her desire to do the right thing when it would be so much easier to succumb to peer pressure.
Noon recess. Late May. Three eighth grade girls approach me with a special request. The administration at our school has a strict no phone policy and they want to know if I will them them use music from one of the girl's phones, just this once, so they can practice their dances for M's upcoming quinciñera. I send them to the far corner of the playground, where they spend the next thirty minutes happily dancing. Again, I am struck by the girls' integrity. They probably could have just gone to the corner of the playground and not even asked about the phone and I never would have known…
Early June. Eighth grade continuation. I am on crowd control in the library with 45 eighth graders. M is darling in a short black skirt, bright orange blouse, and high, high heels. As always, she is the center of an adoring fan club. Sometime during the continuation ceremony, the office gets a call. M's mom, a long time lupus struggler, hospitalized right after the quinciñera, has passed away.
Yesterday. The funeral, at 4:00, is all in Spanish. About a third of the eighth grade class, along with five staff members, attend. M sits next to her dad and high school brother. My heart breaks as I see her tear-stained face and mussed hair. There are no words to say to this sweet, sweet girl on this hard, hard day.