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  • When my school was smaller we started every morning with Morning Circle. All of us; bus drivers, cleaners, Mr Robert the gardener, Mr Gerry with his elephant tattoos on his forearms, teachers, students, parents who dropped off their kids. All of us together. We sang happy birthday. Cheered for the kids who entered triathlons or won medals in karate or ballet tournaments. Sang the welcome song when new kids arrived. When they left we sang the good-by song and gave them one of the plates the kids made during ArtsFest. We told jokes. We celebrated various New Years Days, Anzac Day, Guy Fawkes Day, Diwali, and more.

    Wednesdays were for social and emotional learning. An Italian mom came on Wednesdays and taught us all brain massage and de-stressing techniques. We did role playing about dealing with bullies.

    We were a community.

    The whole school was divided into five groups. Not Harry Potter Houses but the Big Five. On Friday we wore our Big Five T-shirts (Respect, Responsibility, Cooperation, Friendship, and Perseverance) and we got in our groups and clapped and cheered our special cheers. Responsible Leopards, Persevering Rhinos, Cooperating Lions, each group had a cheer and we roused the neighbourhood every Friday. Fridays weren’t just about school spirit, on Fridays we recycled. The older kids tallied up which kids had brought in recycling and figured the percent for each team. Competition was fierce.

    Noah was in fifth grade that year. He wore his hair long and practiced yoga during recess. But he didn’t stand out in our funky little school.

    He came through the gate on a Friday.

    Where’s your recycling Noah?, called Ms Mandy.

    Noah looked chagrined. His mother walked through behind him and took him back to the car.

    She handed him a cash receipt, a cash register print-out from some store that was lodged under the seat. She watched him carry it back to the line of recycling bins. She stood at the gate arms folded.

    Ms Mandy laughed. Good try Noah, she said. But it’s not recycling.

    Noah shrugged. His mother stormed through the gates, she was ready, primed.

    She lashed out wildly. It was about power and the weak and the powerful oppressing and dominating the little people and who did we think we were.

    And he stood there saying mom, please don’t and mom I knew this would happen.

    I took her aside and it was like she was happy for the chance to hiss out her rage, glad for the opportunity to let out bile and venom. And all the while he’s standing there in his too short pants and homespun looking shirt and long, long straight black hair hanging over his face and he’s asking her to please stop.

    When she finally ran out of steam and sagged, he took her arm and led her out the school gate to their car and watched her drive away.

    She never came back to school again, her husband brought the recycling for the rest of the year until they left in early June.

    That was three years ago. This morning she sent an email asking if I would write a letter of recommendation to help get him into a special program.

    I did.

    And as soon as I finished filling in the scores and rating tables and the personality traits and all the rest schools seem to think defines individuals I wrote this story.
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