When I was a little girl, I loved getting ready for the first day of school almost as much as I loved Christmas. I would look forward to the shopping trips to the base BX for school supplies and new shoes. Once home, I delighted in labeling and organizing my crayons, glue, paper and pencils and eagerly anticipated the time they would be used. The most magical years were those I was allowed to choose a new book bag and lunchbox as well. Growing up in a military family, quite often the excitement was heightened by the promise of new friends and surroundings. Even now as a teacher, I get giddy just thinking about the first day of school. From kindergarten to high school, first days are punctuated by stories of what happened over the summer months; beginning with crayoned drawings and later evolving to written essays on college ruled paper. While perhaps cliché, the assignment offers students a time of quiet reflection on the events that occupied a time beyond the classroom walls. So as I await another academic year, I have assigned myself the obligatory “What I did for my summer vacation” essay in the hope of discovering time wisely spent.
The summer began with me hitting the half century mark and a quick trip with my children to Jekyll Island. For two glorious days, we soaked in each other’s company and the sights and sounds that have brought me peace many of the 50 summers I have been on this earth. It was a perfect initiation into the heat and humidity of a Georgia June.
Back in Macon, the bulk of my vacation was spent finishing my master’s in special education. There was a Capstone presentation at the end of June and a 4 week internship in Bibb County’s ESY (Extended School Year) program. Accompanying the rigor of completing Georgia College’s graduation requirements were a lingering sinus infection, a collapsed sewer line and a longing to be back at the beach. At the time, each event held its own particular brand of aggravation and offered an opportunity for personal growth. But it will not be the frustration I remember when I think back on the summer of 2014. Instead, I will recall the people with whom I crossed paths. The most memorable faces that have already affixed themselves to memory are those belonging to “The Boys of Summer.”
For the first two weeks of ESY, I was assigned to the access (self-contained) room at Lane Elementary just as I had been the previous summer. Once again I worked with a little boy named Daren. Daren, a rising 4th grader enjoyed watching Monsters Inc., Wheel of Fortune and The Price is Right. He was fascinated with bugs, giggled when he said the word underwear and he adored his daddy. Daren also had a diagnosis of autism. Now, whenever I see Mike or Sully from Monster’s Inc. or hear Pat Sajak’s voice, I am reminded of Daren. I go back to a day when another student was experiencing a complete meltdown. I had stretched my hand out to reassure Daren everything would be all right and he grabbed it tightly, digging his fingernails into my palm. Hand in hand we waited for the storm to pass. And when the outburst had finally subsided, I looked up from our hands to Daren’s face and saw a single tear graze his cheek. Daren is the first of “The Boys of Summer.”
Between the June and July ESY sessions, there was a 3 week interim. When the second session began, Daren did not return. Since there was only one student in the class, I was reassigned to Miller for the last week of my graduate internship. I was told nothing about the class, other than I was needed to fill in for another grad student who was unable to work. The first day at Miller I was overwhelmed with emotion. It was an entirely different situation from where I had been before. There were 6 high school aged boys in the class with one lead teacher and two adults to assist. All 6 of the boys were considered nonverbal and their disabilities classified as severe and profound. Each boy had autism and 3 of the 6 also had at least one other exceptionality. Every day began with collecting the boys from the buses and walking them into the classroom. My first morning on the job, one of the boys who wore a helmet to protect his head should he have a seizure took my hand and silently ambled beside me. He was at least 6 feet tall and his fingers were long and graceful. His bearing was that of a basketball player. His name was Jazzy and from that moment on, if he needed to walk anywhere, he would take my hand. Jazzy is the second boy of summer.
Riding the same bus as Jazzy was his housemate Tack. Tack had an impish grin, an aversion to wearing shoes and cerebral palsy. He didn’t like to do what he was asked and had the frustrating habit of quickly looking away if he thought I was getting ready to make him do his work. Every now and then if I happened to be with another student and looked his way, Tack would repeatedly say, “hi” until I went back to what I was doing. It was the only word I heard him speak. The last day of the program, I walked both Tack and Jazzy to the bus. We were well behind the rest of the group when Tack decided to knock over the custodian’s trash can as his summer school swan song. The satisfied grin on his face as I scolded him is forever etched in my memory. Tack is the third boy of summer.
The other boys in the class made an impression on me as well, but they were able to move about independently and did not require as much of my attention. I did learn early on to stay at least an arm’s length away from a very mischievous 15 year old named Braxton with an affinity for goosing anyone who came near him. The only time he succeeded in reaching me, my shocked gasp was met with his riotous laughter. Braxton, like many 15 year old boys in summer school, anxiously waited for dismissal time as soon as he entered the building. Whenever particularly restless, Braxton would get up from his desk and say, “bus” over and over until he was redirected back to his seat. His freckled face and laugh were what broke the ice and allayed my fears helping me to no longer be overwhelmed. Braxton is the fourth of “The Boys of Summer.”
In two weeks’ time when I stand in front of my students and introduce myself, I will carry with me the lessons learned over my summer vacation. I am forever changed by my time spent with “The Boys of Summer,” and I am sure I will see their faces among those I teach. While they will not be physically present in my classroom, they hold a place in my heart and will inspire me to be a better teacher. It is my prayer that my summer boys be happy and well looked after and God’s hand will lead them when they move about.