April 19, 2019
BANGOR DAILY NEWS (BANGOR, MAINE

School partnership provides 14 small mentors

Bangor

See that cross-hatched image of a face a couple of columns over? Picture that solemn mug, shaded green, attached to the neck of a large green dinosaur, which is stomping through a Magic-Marker rendition of Jurassic Park.

This was the one of the more vivid images in a special program presented by Mrs. Levesque’s fifth-grade reading class at Fairmount School last Friday. I am still pondering the message implied in a pupil drawing of me as a brontosaurus, but that is not why I am writing about Mrs. Levesque’s class.

Nor am I writing about this class to express my appreciation for “The Kloehn Address,” a parody of Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg, which included this memorable line:

“It is altogether fitting and proper that we thank Mr. Kloehn, but in a larger sense, we will throw him a party.”

I am not even writing to applaud the crisp rhyming in much of the poetry recited at Friday’s program, such as:

“You always give us helpful tips

Even when we act like dips.”

I am writing this to tell Mrs. Levesque and her pupils that they got it exactly backward — I should thank them, not the other way around.

I got involved with this gang through the “Partners in Education” program. “Partners in Education,” which has taken root here and there across the state, pairs a school with a nearby business.

The idea is that the school gains access to the resources, human and otherwise, of the business; somewhere down the road, the business and the rest of the world get graduates who have grown up with mentors and a link to the “real” world.

In practice, I cannot vouch for what Fairmount School pupils get from their alliance with the Bangor Daily News.

But I can say that for several years, I have been able to spend an hour a week in a part of the world that seems much more real to me than most of the world a reporter encounters — more genuine than the marbled halls of the State House, more spontaneous than the clipped tones of police and firefighters, more sincere than glossy piles of press releases and more human than the vast portion of the world that sums itself up with the words, “No comment.”

In this world, on the lower floor of Fairmount School, the faint odor of hot lunch lingers. The steam heat bangs, and muffled piano music occasionally comes down through the ceiling.

That is where these particular classmates came together in the fall of 1992, as fourth-graders.

There were 14 of them. They giggled at inopportune moments. They wore shorts in March. They sometimes said “I dunno,” when you knew darn well that they knew.

More often, they tumbled over one another to answer, raising their hands with a whole-body motion that lifted them off their chairs.

Mrs. Levesque (Children, avert your eyes here: Her first name is Victoria, and she is one of the Bangor School Department’s best) had them write with a frequency a newspaperman could appreciate, then revise and revise again.

That is where I came in. I discussed student writing about hockey and cats and pre-teen crushes. I listened to tales of spaceships, and an intricate, gothic twist on the Dracula legend.

More recently I have heard a story about a poor, old black woman who received the greatest gift of her life from a grandchild. I also have listened to a wide-ranging tale of the Civil War, seen through a young soldier’s eyes.

Both of these stories showed a depth I had not seen before. They, and others from this bright group, stretched my ideas of an 11-year-old’s capabilities.

Something else has happened, too — they got tall, tall enough to look down on fourth-graders with the profound indifference of fifth-graders.

All of that was a pretty good tonic for the hypocrisy and petty deceptions of the workaday world. It offered some perspective — a commodity so elusive that adults employ armies of consultants and therapists in hopes of finding a slice.

And frequently they made me think. Take this couplet delivered on Friday, for instance:

“Thank you for all the work you have done,

“Eat a biscuit for supper instead of a bun.”

I have considered that for some time without making any progress, and I might add that the context is no help.

Then again, one of the lessons I have learned in the last two years is that sometimes it is best to let fine art wash right over you — that, and have some fun. Thanks.


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