Mentorship by older students leads to decorum, success down the road

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I got so caught up writing about preschools of our distant past that it never occurred to me to write about the preschool of our very recent past. Until a couple of months ago my son attended the Center at Assumption, where he was happily surrounded by loving friends and excellent teachers.

My favorite thing about Assumption is that it starts with the Educare Childcare Center at age 2 and goes through eighth grade. I loved seeing my kids get to know much-older students, and as they grew it likewise was fun to see them help with the younger kids.

One of Noah’s teachers, Maria, has a son, Joe, who was in eighth grade. The whole family is marvelous, kind and loving, but Noah idolizes Joe. And Joe and his friends were great to Noah and my daughter. It would crack me up when I would drive away and my kids would make me roll down the car windows so they could holler out to an eighth-grade friend.

The best part was how the kind eighth-graders always had a smile and a wave to share. They seemed to relish their roles as leaders of the school.

I love the idea of a K-8 school. The first time I visited I didn’t even know the eighth-graders were there — they don’t act like the middle-school kids I work with. I was in the lunch room talking to the religion teacher, Mrs. Michaels, asking questions about how the school works, about the uniforms, about the different classes. I asked her where the middle-school kids were. She pointed to a nearby table where a group of students were calmly eating their lunches: “Right there.” I was surprised.

Now don’t get me wrong — I absolutely love the kids I work with. I spend the majority of my day chuckling at the silly things they do — but they just don’t act like these kids. My students in the lunch room are loud. Really, really loud. And they are messy. And they move around a lot and stand in big clumps. And sometimes they throw things — small things, but you know what I mean.

Our school cafeteria is a very exciting and energetic place. These kids were seated, conversing quietly. No one was wearing short-shorts or T-shirts with cynical messages. No one wore an expression of sullen defiance. They all calmly threw their trash away and calmly went outside. I was impressed.

But what impressed me most was what I saw outside. Have you ever noticed how DeSales has a pretty good football team? How, despite the school’s small size and the fact they don’t really have that many kids to draw from, they still manage to do fairly well?

I know about as much about football as I do about soccer, which is to say, nothing. But I’ve overheard people mention that DeSales is good at sports. I’ve even heard people declare that they should be playing against bigger schools since they are so good.

But after watching these kids play out at recess at Assumption, I have another theory: The kids at DeSales are good at sports because the kids at Assumption start playing organized sports really young.

They are amazing. It’s incredible to see these kids playing football out on the field. They are talented and truly understand the game, plus they value good sportsmanship and excellent playing abilities.

I tried to get my daughter to explain to me how this worked out. Is there a teacher who organizes this? She said she thinks so.

But having eighth-graders there playing, showing younger kids the ropes, is probably another good reason many of the kids end up playing so well. And a reason even the girls seem to understand what those guys in shiny pants are doing when they jump all over each other.

Sara Van Donge is a Walla Walla native, middle school dual language teacher and mom to two children. She can be reached at saravandonge@gmail.com.

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