Today one of my toughest students had a revelation during the middle of his parent teacher conference. We have been planning a field trip to the Exploratorium in San Francisco for a few weeks, but the news finally hit him. “We’re really going to San Francisco?” he asked me over and over. He was incredulous. It was as though I told him that we were going to get on a bus and go to Disneyland. “Are we going to come back?” he asked, after a couple of minutes of contemplation, hoping perhaps that we were either going to stay there forever or more plausibly rent a hotel room.
Listening to this student reminded me of how fortunate I was growing up. Even when times were tough for my family, we still went to San Francisco. It’s actually one of my family’s favorite stories, how even during the hard years, we still made our annual Christmas pilgrimage to “shop” in the city. Of course, there was not a lot of shopping those years. My dad would take us every year at Christmas, while my mom would take us in the summer for the joys of tourist destinations like Angel Island, Alcatraz, and Golden Gate Park. The idea that other children did not get to go to San Francisco was foreign to me– how could you not go somewhere so cool that was only a couple of hours away?
At another parent conference this afternoon, a mom that is struggling to make ends meet because of her severe illness shared how her son and daughter have been visiting homeless people along the American River as part of a project at their church. It is also her son’s fifth grade service project. The kids have been praying with the homeless and collecting useful items to give to them every Friday evening. The mother shared with me how this experience has changed her family. She said that no matter how tough things have been for them with her illness, they still cannot help but feel immense gratitude meeting the people that live on the river in Sacramento– at least she and her family do not live outside, she added with extreme sincerity. I felt so humbled by how genuine she was with her words.
No matter how hard my job is, it never fails to humble me. I feel so inspired by the people that I meet. Many of them are full of so much hope and giving despite the extreme challenges that they face. The family of the student that was in awe of getting to go to San Francisco offered to help pay for another student to get to go too. They do not have a lot of money, but when they heard that we needed help finding $3,000 to get everyone there, they wanted to do what they could to give more students the experience that their child is so excited about. This was especially touching after hearing the mom who is struggling financially and physically but so generous with her heart. She has two students in fourth and fifth grade, which will likely mean $30 total, an amount that would create a financial burden for them. I’m so touched that in this world that feels so cold and unfriendly at times, that people still care about each other.
I was talking to my husband about all of this tonight and he shared with me his first memory of San Francisco. Like my students, he first visited San Francisco as a fifth grader taking a field trip to the Exploratorium. He said that he never forgot what it was like looking at the city while crossing the Bay Bridge for the first time.
I’m excited that my students will soon have this moment too.