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9:05 p.m. - March 26, 2003
Head Start: You should check it out, too
I was Teacher Jason today to thirty-three 4 year olds who tackled me and daubed colored thumbprints all over my face as the other adults watched and said Look at them! They love him!

This week Iím working with a group of French officials investigating multicultural Head Start programs and what better place than California? Because one of the French visitors and the staff psychologist at the Head Start location are Deaf, Iím working trilingually Ė itís literally a headache by the end of the day but all is well. Today was the first day on site and I was unprepared for the reality of poverty and the contrast between perceptions Ė the studentsí and mine Ė but I loved each minute of the 9 hours I was there. I was the only man in the entire building and the Head Start teachers immediately pointed out that most of the children would be drawn to me simply because of my gender and would I be comfortable with that? Ah, see, thatís the secret: If you tell me you adore me or better yet show me, I let the defenses down and Iíll play with you and be your friend. Hmm. Sounds an awful lot like childhood.

Good thing Iíve never claimed to be mature.

So I was Teacher Jason and had children climbing all over me and somewhere in the morning the lesson on spelling became Letís Tickle Jason and people, I am a ticklish creature and there was no place to run; in the afternoon the lesson on fingerprints became Letís Paint Jason and I gamely submitted and you know, I loved rolling around on the floor and having my picture taken Ė yes, I allowed photos! Ė with the thumbprints and kids, and who cared about snitty, snotty, uptight French officials when I was having fun?

When I get the photos Iíll consider posting one here.

I played dinosaurs with the boys, played house with the girls, played tag with both and you may think the assignment is to play instead of translate, but no Ė I worked amply but had a lot of down time because the two Deaf professionals yakked in international sign and the Froggies parlez anglais, so Lissa and I were more or less given free rein.

During lunch there was general discussion regarding the kidsí backgrounds Ė out of the 16 morning students and 17 afternoon Ė thatís 33 total Ė only four live in a household with a biological father and all together, 8 have a male figure in their lives. All are below the poverty level, most have issues and problems ranging from ADHD to exposure to violence (one was kidnapped by his father and recently reunited with his mother, after an absence of two years, hates girls/women; one was traumatized by a deliberate drowning [read: homicide] of a younger sibling; many live with physical, sexual, and emotional abuse), and all need immense amounts of attention, remediation and bonhomie. Itís like pouring salt into water and hoping to save the drowning by making land Ė seemingly a waste, but itís imperative. It has to be done.

And I? I was selfish and took far more away than I brought to the tiny school that used to be a gas station. The kids; the esteem of the people with whom I worked refined further when I launched into (uneven) Spanish to console a girl whose mother couldnít stay the day. Emotionally turbulent and the worst part was when the regular teacher went to the kitchen and packed leftovers for the kids to bring home, salad and fruit, loaves of bread, jelly and peanut butter Ė and packages of spaghetti, cans of soup, lemons and grapefruit because thereís nothing for them at home and Head Start doesnít provide dinner, just breakfast and lunch. She was matter of fact but admitted that what sheís doing is grounds for her termination, and I wondered if she thought I would inform a higher-up of her activities. This made me really sad and has stayed with me as a foil to the painting and tickling.


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