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  • Writer's pictureDrKennethKunz

“Verano:” During the 2020 Pandemic

I have not blogged in quite a while, and, this evening unfolds like most of the repetitive nights recently in New Jersey. Another day at home, and another day of Zoom meetings and distantly collaborating with colleagues. The evening sunset nears, and our dog Skylar gives me that hopeful look that we will somehow go on our second (or maybe third) walk of the day.

Leaving my house and following the lead of our dog, we proceed on our walk. We live on a quiet dead-end street alongside the Watchung Reservation, so most walks tend to go the same way. Occasionally, we venture onto a trail in the woods, which was featured today on our NJ Literacy Association (NJLA) “Wonder Wednesday” Story Time. As we continue our walk, I notice an unfamiliar SUV parked on the side of the street, but still running. In my head, I think that it is someone delivering some sort of package (we are doing a lot of that these days). A window rolls down and a voice asks, “Are you Mr. Kunz, my fourth-grade teacher?”

If you are a teacher or work in the field of education and are reading this, you know this feeling. Your heart lifts, even as the sun sets. Of course, I respond excitedly, mostly because of my pride as a teacher, but also partially in that this young lady (Katherine) is driving around in an SUV and I somehow still look like the same teacher I was from twelve plus years ago. In this stand-still moment in the street, she shares that I probably will not remember her, but that she was a fourth-grade student new to the country and just learning English when she was in my class. Immediately, I remember her poem and her smile. We laugh and share some memories, and I learn that she is graduating from college and about to pursue a doctoral program at Rutgers University. Of course, I share how super proud I am, especially because it is where I completed my advanced degrees, too!

As we stop and talk for what probably seems like hours to my impatient dog, I let her know that I am still learning and back in school getting certified for ESL. Unexpectedly, she and her friend applaud in the car and ask for a selfie. She goes on to say that she was recently texting pictures to her former classmate from the class yearbook that I made as a keepsake for my students. In my head, I immediately began to remember that yearbook, and its exact place in my house. I ask, “What brought you to this dead-end street?” She responds, “We were hiking in the Reservation.”

I tell this story to say that even in the most challenging of times, we are connected by an amazing energy and spirit. We show up every day and we dust off our colleagues when, perhaps, they are not as up to showing up and being there for kids as we are.

What brought her to this little dead-end street in this little corner of the world on an (almost) summer evening? On this “Wonder Wednesday” read aloud featuring the Watchung Reservation, what brought her to hike with a friend and have the courage to ask a stranger walking a dog if they are, in fact, a teacher from the past?

Besides being a lover of teaching, joy, and all things comprehensive literacy, I also believe in the power of reflection and remembering one’s purpose (even during the most challenging of times). Back then, I was a workshop model kind of writing teacher, and still am. I believe in the power of choice, relevance, and authenticity. I don’t remember how she scored on standardized tests, but news of her graduation and acceptance to a doctoral program is all the data I need. I leave you with this poem that she chose to include in our “Collection of 4-K Exceptional Writing Pieces.”

If you needed this story, or just a morsel of positivity, Katherine writes (in her poem as a 4th grader): “El sol esta ahi para verlo caer.” The sun is there to see it fall.

Take the time to appreciate every sunrise and sunset. You never know what special surprises are in store!

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