Posted by Ross Valley School District on 8/23/2019 1:00:00 PM
If you find yourself with an unscheduled hour on a warm August morning, you might decide to spend it at Brookside School. As you cross the wooden foot bridge and pass between the rows of bright, new backpacks and planters with tumbling succulents, the sound of construction on Sir Francis Drake fades and is replaced with the happy babble of kids on the playground.
After you sign in at the front office (safety first!), you can sit for a moment on the Buddy Bench, where people young and old can go if they are feeling like finding a friend. You can admire the shaded tables of Marilyn’s Grove (delightfully named for Marilyn Grove, AA extraordinaire, who kept Brookside running smoothly for 30 years).
As you sit admiring, half hoping to discover a new buddy, you might hear a friendly “Hello!” If you are lucky, it will be Reily Urban, the Library Specialist. “Come see the library any time,” she says, and so ... you follow her in.
If you were just to look around politely, nodding with some vague adult interest in “doing what’s best for children,” you would see a clean, well-organized, well-stocked library. But this library is not about polite adult interest. Nope. This library means to fascinate, delight, and inspire; this library is meant for digging into.
Ms. Urban has been making a concerted push to find and suggest interesting works of non-fiction for the students of every level. She has an extensive collection, for example, of illustration-rich biographies for young readers. Her whole face lights up when she shows you the volumes from a series called “Ordinary People Change the World”, seeming to love each one more than the last: Jackie Robinson, Jane Goodall, Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Sonia Sotomayor, Jim Henson, Billie Jean King.
“I do a lot of extreme weather and mummies for the reluctant readers, too,” she says. And sure enough, there is a whole section with exciting-looking books about tsunamis, tornadoes, and avalanches, with nearby titles covering the dump, reptiles, and “Bears!”
“I like to tie fiction into non-fiction, use geography to sneak into multiculturalism ... the library is a space of peace and quiet and thoughtfulness.”
The Brookside Library checked out 19,351 books last year. That is a stack of books (roughly) 23 feet high for each student ... and they weren’t just fairy tales.
You could happily spend the whole morning reading the “Forest Babies” series yourself, but there is re-shelving to get on with, so you thank Ms. Urban and her kind volunteers and step back into the sunshine.
On the other side of Marilyn’s Grove, Ms. Wells’ class is just stepping out as well, for a short “brain break”.
As the kids are stretching their legs, rummaging for snacks, and quietly discussing their work, Ms. Wells comes over to say hi. She explains that they, as a class, are busy discussing, “Our hopes and dreams for the year, and how we can make school a place where we want to be, and where we can do our important work.” She invites you to come in as they begin their brainstorming.
While everyone is settling back into their conversation cluster on the rug, you notice that the class has already created an extensive list entitled: Important Work. The list includes reading, social studies, math, and science, of course, but it also includes: improving; being responsible; and being polite, and: being kind; understanding; and taking care of feelings. Ms. Wells says, when everyone has quieted, “I love that you didn’t just focus on the academic stuff. You guys recognize that it is also very important work to be kind.”
The next step is to brainstorm a list of rules to be agreed upon that will help to make the class a place where everyone can do their important work every day. Everyone begins to write, with the goal of getting every one of their ideas onto the paper.
“When we are brainstorming, does spelling matter,” asks Ms. Wells? Without looking up the class replies NOOOOO. “Do we need to use our very best handwriting?” NOOOOOO. So the ideas tumble onto the pages. When the timer goes off, more time is requested. If work is important, after all, careful consideration is due.
Here are some of the suggested rules:
— Treat others how you want to be treated — Be helpful — Don’t sit next to the same people every day — Take learning seriously and still have fun — Don’t blurt — Be open to new ideas
Outside, on the playground, the important work of swinging and laughing is well under way, and you have nearly used up your unscheduled hour. You slip out and walk back across the blacktop (hi, Ms. Jenks! Hi, Ms. Hayhurst!), back between the rows of backpacks, past the potted succulents, and over the wooden footbridge.
The construction sounds drown out the happy babble, but you are still smiling when you get to the parking lot. You wave at the dusty men in their orange safety vests who are, after all, doing very important work, and promise yourself that you will sit next to new people today, and treat others as you would like to be treated.