Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where We Belong

It was 7:25 on Friday morning; a sixth grader bounced into the front office and circled around the secretary. "Do you know what today is? It's All In!  All In is todaaayyyy!"  That was just the beginning.

It's no secret - the Crazy Reading Ladies did their fair share of bouncing around on Friday, too. 

The theme of our first activity was "Where You Belong."  The five factions are central to the plot of DIVERGENT, so our first mission was to sort our cherubs based on what they value.  Kids rotated among seven faculty-led stations to confront various moral dilemmas.  Their answers determined their faction, and the results were entertainingly accurate

That's…a lot of initiates!

DIVERGENT has brought us our biggest numbers yet - 281 students - and we planned our first event in a way that would (hopefully) accommodate our voracious readers. We weren't sure how many would decide to stay after school the Friday before a long weekend; but, as the day wore on and we encountered one bouncing child after another, we laughed and said, "I think we're going to get slammed."

Slammed we were.  

When the doors opened, over one hundred-sixty middle schoolers poured into the gymnasium.

One happy seventh grader.
The view from Year Three is pretty fabulous.  We are thrilled beyond belief to have more participants than ever, and yet somehow, the planning has gotten infinitely easier.  We weren't nervous anticipating what was to come; we were excited.  We've already confessed that this event was planned mere days beforehand.  Well, we also made changes with one hour to go.  "Let's change how we reveal the factions." YEA! "Let's add a costume event to the relay!" COOL! We rolled with it, it worked…and it was good.  

Besides, it's kind of awesome that we've amassed such a costume cache over the last three years, we didn't even need to shop!  

Fabulous faculty faction fashionistas.
Our attendance list was impeccable, and our teachers were superlative.  Oh, while we're mentioning how organized we are, we should probably tell you that teachers came to help with zero knowledge or preparation. See, the CRL had written a two-page missive with specific instructions the day before. We emailed it between the two of us, added details, and even edited it. It was pretty wonderful, and it would have been incredibly helpful. And we completely forgot to email it to our colleagues. 

We work with the most supportive faculty on the planet; over a dozen teachers, both of our administrators, and the school secretary braved the chaos and came to play. This left the CRL free to roam, extinguish small fires, snap pictures, and enjoy.  For that, we can't thank them enough.  

Some of our wonderful cherubs.
To be perfectly honest, this labor of love is highly emotional for the CRL. It's hard not to get choked up when you see teachers dressed in faction colors, sprawled on the floor with kids after school.  We've had teachers that have been with us since the beginning, and those who experienced their first All In! event this past Friday.  

The euphoric finish to the faction relay.
We see struggling readers march in to the gymnasium with pride, unable to wipe the smile off their faces. We see regular ed and special ed kids working and laughing and posing together. We look around and see three-peats and newbies. After three years of putting up with her mom's endless meetings with the other Crazy Reading Lady, we have our own little CRL in attendance now. (She's in Candor and unsurprisingly volunteered...demanded?... to run the first leg of the relay race.) And we lost our breath when we saw a child who is a frequent truancy concern make his way to the gym. After school, on a Friday, because he read a book…for fun.

All In! alumni
As if we needed any other reason to be emotional, we can't help but reflect on our own middle school experiences. We'll be straight with you: we were NOT cool.  Just the fact that we're able to write "our own middle school experiences" without breaking into hives is impressive.  We were not popular, or poised, or pretty.  Yet somehow, we've managed to create a middle school experience to which our kids want to return.  Friday afternoon, eight alumni showed up from the high school to lend a hand, cheer initiates, hug their teachers, and have fun.  Kids wanting to come back to middle school?  That just might be our biggest achievement yet.  And it solidifies the gut feeling we've had since the beginning of this crazy reading adventure: that working together, in this school, with these kids…this is where we belong.

-Mary @allincotillo and Erin @allinoleary

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