State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

After Two Decades I'm Finally Graduating

by on June 01, 2015 6:45 AM

In many work settings, when an employee hits the 20 year mark, he or she is recognized with a party or a gold watch.

Next week, barring arrests for throwing food in the cafeteria, the down-to-the-wire completion of the community service hours and a passing grade in all of his classes, the last of my three children will graduate from public school.

That brings my running total to 21 years as a mother of a kid in the State College Area School District.

My friend Robin noted the milestone and said "That's a lot of"

"We had phone chains and a home room Mom way before," I said, showing my age.

I could write a book.

Over those 21 years, I my kids attended Matternville Elementary, Park Forest Elementary, Grays Woods Elementary, Park Forest Middle School and the State College Area High School (and we took a short detour through St. Joseph's Catholic Academy). We lived in the same house through all of those schools.

Each of my young learners got started with Mrs. Dobash. They learned how to use inside voices. They took risks with sound spelling. They learned "crisscross applesauce" and that going to school every morning was something to be excited about. Those yellow name tags with their names and homeroom and bus number pinned to their chests are a feature in each of their "First Day" pictures.

Lunch at school and the whole cafeteria experience has changed just a bit. Peanut free zones and gluten free options were not a focus at lunch in the multi-purpose room at Matternville in 1995. A sandwich and an apple in a lunch box couldn't stand up to the competition of Papa John's pizza on Fridays and the taco bar. There was the urban myth that a cafeteria chicken nugget will actually bounce.

There was that one angry lunch aide who wouldn't let the kids talk at lunch at Matternville and others at the high school who kindly said "pay us tomorrow" when Mom had forgotten to send in lunch money again. Today it's a reminder by email to load up money on the online account that also lets parents track what their kids have purchased.

And then there was the bus. Twenty-one years of kids riding a school bus and the antics and stories that come from the bus could be a chapter all by itself. Bus partners and assigned seats. Older kids sitting in the back. Younger kids getting picked on when the driver wasn't looking. Whining about the driver playing country music on the way to middle school.

High schoolers asleep in their seats with their earbuds on full volume. The fight with the neighbor kids when younger sisters got into a scuffle on the bus and older siblings ended up tousling on the ground after the bus pulled away. Fire drills and bigger guys helping the little ones exit the back door.

The driver of Bus #7 should be sainted for waiting at the end of our driveway every day in 11th grade when our high schooler just could not make it to the bus stop on time.

Enrichment activities. Band. Building the castle for Mrs. Poehner. Looping. School plays and talent shows. Baking pies in cooking class. Adirondack chairs in wood shop. Back to school picnics. Choir concerts. Intramural skiing at Tussey. Fun Nights. Mini-Thon. Halloween parties. One hundred day celebrations. Holiday concerts that covered any and every December holiday ever invented. Mean girls. First boyfriends. Ex-girlfriends. Instant messaging before Facebook. Book sales. Text messages from school about homework left on the kitchen table. Prauma -- otherwise known as Prom Drama.

The time my daughter came downstairs, ready for school, having experimented with just a bit too much blue eye shadow. I asked if the middle school was having a cocktail party that afternoon. She didn't think it was funny.

Teacher conferences. I sat patiently through the academic performance updates although I really just wanted to know if my kids had friends and were kind to others. I knew the academic stuff would eventually come together.

School nurses with the diagnostic abilities of the Mayo Clinic. "You need to come pick him up but we don't think it's broken." The annual lice scare. Eye tests and hearing checks and BMI letters sent home in the mail.

Sports team tryouts and the coaches like Mr. McGonigal who understand that young bodies and their skills and abilities are sometimes a work-in-progress. The coaches who didn't get it. Two college kids whose positive attitude and dedication to coaching are still having an impact in my home.

The coach who didn't have the guts to tell our neighbor's 15-year-old she didn't make the team. He handed her a letter mid-practice on the last day of tryouts and walked away. Too young to drive, embarrassed and upset, she showed more character than he did when she tucked the letter in her bag and went back to practice until her Mom was scheduled to pick her up. And yet we let these people work with our children.

Principals, school secretaries and para-professionals who know more about our families than our immediate relatives.

Student teachers who are "really cool." Ski trips. High school dress codes. Overhearing my kid tell a friend "My parents say jeans with holes in them and sweat pants in school are disrespectful to the work the teacher has put into the process."

Field trips. A buzzer system to screen visitors to the office. Counselors who helped with scheduling and with breaking bad news. Homework. More homework. Laptops in the classroom and grades posted on the internet.

Commencement in the Bryce Jordan Center.

Parents who pushed, who were oblivious, who forgot, who embarrassed their kids, who volunteered, and who did our best.

In the end though, it is about the teachers. The people to whom we entrusted our children and their futures day in and day out. The people who work with our little people who, at times, awkwardly became big people. Those amazing professionals who worry about individual needs and strengths in a classroom full of other kids with different needs and strengths.

Mrs. Abrams who knew a nervous second grader could benefit by being a special helper. Teacher Ron who became Mr. Kauffman and who showed boys that dancing and showing emotion is okay. Mrs. Poehner who shared her family and her culture with us. Mr. Shirk and a sense of humor that parents and 5th graders appreciated.

Mr. Cunningham who understood that the person who is bullied is not always the nerdy kid and who made writing fun. Mr. Ammerman whose gut instinct changed our thoughts on our learner. Ms. Bowersox for knowing that current events can really spark a kid's interest. Mrs. Keim who gave teenagers the feeling "she was always on my side." Mr. Robinson who shared his love of music and built confidence by letting young performers take risks. Dr. Klindienst who understood senioritis and who saw potential even when the student hasn't seen it yet.

The high school teacher who told a room full of parents that the 2005 renovation plan offered no additional classroom space which led to a community asking the school board to reconsider.

And finally, Mr. Boris. Mr. Boris taught generations of parents and kids, as well as aunts and uncles and cousins, including my last kid who had Mr. Boris as a post-retirement substitute teacher.

The teachers they hated ("We don't hate people in our house") and the classes that were "boring." The tests that were too hard. The worksheets that were too easy. The presentations that made them anxious but taught them how to speak in public. Those darn standardized tests.

It's been 21 years and a lot has changed but so much has stayed the same. Three kids, too many teachable moments and incredible people to count. I wouldn't change a thing.


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Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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