Farewell, Emerald City

Spirit Week is over, but my hallway is still dressed up for our Homecoming Theme: The Wizard of Oz.  An idea sprouted during a Friday night chatting in a coworker’s living room just before Charming’s proposal about doing a faculty skit at the pep rally.  In the weeks to come, we weren’t sure if it would take root, much less take on a life of its own that would high jack my To Do List and prioritize itself above all else.

Really, everything. Charming was on a canoe trip with friends.  It wasn’t until our weekend off that I was finally able to log enough hours of work to feel like I could get to enjoy the process of looking for venues.  Until Sunday, I’d been engaged three weeks and hadn’t even Googled wedding dresses.  I know there will be time to be the glowing bride on cloud nine, the Cinderella to her Charming, but last week, a twister dropped me into a completely different storybook with a new character to play.

Sprit Weeks have mostly been stressful times for yearbook staff as the events of the weeks comprise the majority of our Student Life section.  We’re rushing around getting pictures and names and interviews.  It wasn’t until this weekend that I could finally invest the hours into finalizing staff positions, so I decided to focus our efforts into rolling out a yearbook campaign themed around The Emerald City.  Kecoughtan High School’s colors are green and white, and I know some of my senior staffers are going to pitch a color-themed yearbook to the team next block.  Emerald is green.  Green is school spirit.

Green is also new life, renewal, growth, and change.  My sophomores are studying archetypes, delighting themselves with their ability to see that Ray Bradbury used that desert simile to reinforce the hopelessness and despair of a character, and that by starting his short story describing the protagonist coming to a crossroads set us up for a decision.  Carl Jung called it collective unconsciousness.  I don’t know when I learned that purple represented royalty, but we all come to agree at some point with these recurrent images.  There are familiar characters like the Innocent, the Villain, the Mother Figure, and the Faithful Companion, associations like thirteen with unlucky and step-mothers with evil and forest with scary and the sea as unknown.

When we take on the elements of a short story in my room, I emphasize that our growth is not in the stories we choose to read, it’s what we choose to do with them.  I love to see twenty-five heads bent over textbooks, following along with their eyes as we read aloud, one hand with a pen in their reading guide recording key details as we actively analyze and dissect the brilliant manipulations of a writer.

It’s this new batch of green and white students that really inspired me to buy in to Homecoming this year.  When I left the game at the end of the week, I wouldn’t be coming “home” to Kecoughtan again.  When Dorothy concludes that there’s no place like home, it’s only after a long and hard journey to get there.  When I set up my classroom for Back to School night three years ago, I didn’t know what to expect.  I certainly couldn’t have guessed that, a few summers later, I’d end up taking the daughters of some of the parents I’d meet that night on a trip to Italy.

I wasn’t really a fan of our school colors, preferring a soft blue that compliments my skin tone, but the Warrior green grew on me as the community incorporated me.  It fits the archetype, too.  I started over here after my divorce.  It was a new chance for life, and I’ve grown immeasurably.  There’s no rubric to evaluate how I navigated through some tricky relationship and life issues.  I just know that CD23 in the yearbook hallway is a place of peace and hope.

Our school accountant worked with me as yearbook advisor from my first day of pre-service.  Simple exchanges grew to meaningful discussions during planning when I’d realize the things on my To Do list could wait.  She’s full of advice and wise counsel.  Her family is her heart, and as our hospitality coordinator, her willingness to sacrifice to benefit Kecoughtan is never in question.  I love that she reads my blogs so we get to skip small talk and start with reactions and suggestions.  After a visit in her office, it’s as though I’ve been sprinkled with magic fairy dust.

That’s it.  She’s  my friend and our accountant, but she really fits the mother archetype of Fairy Godmother, my students would agree.  She shows up at the right time to say the right thing, and her invitation to hang out on a Friday night laid the foundation for what would become the beginning of my farewell to Kecoughtan.  We had ideas for who would play which characters and how to create costumes.  I agreed to write the script after we had it approved.

My mother gave me her best genes, and they’re not blue.  If we start working on something early, it doesn’t mean we finish early.  It means we end up with something even more incredible than we had planned because we just kept working until every idea was realized. That’s what happened here.  So while my mom was trying not to be excited about wedding plans, I was in a twister that took me someplace unexpected.

I had an idea for the script, but I wanted to get everything in place.  We had just over a week to pull it altogether.  We needed actors, set materials, costumes, artists, construction crew, transportation, microphone, photography and videography coverage.  By the time the weekend staff selection time arrived, I’d had an incredible opportunity to see which of my staffers stepped up to pull it off in time.

After an employee at Home Depot lent me his truck to transport four huge panels of sheet rock, our art teachers Mr. Burns and Ms. Brewer gave me supplies, lent me students to paint sets, and had others make portions of the costumes. Mr. Pohlman’s students mounted the murals and transported them to the gym for the pep rally.  My yearbook kids used supplies I’d purchased to decorate the hall and even run a photo booth on twin day.  Mr. Conty’s band would play twister music at the pep rally.  Mr. Brant’s drama students would serve as stage crew.  Faculty was lined up for various roles.

I’d created visuals, but three days before the pep rally, I hadn’t written the script.  Maybe I had to be thinking about the elements of a story with my new sophomores, my last bunch of bright green minds, to see that I needed to start with a conflict and a plot and a theme just like we looked for together today.  For me, a Wizard of Oz theme emphasized unity – we all came together to pull it off, and my script needed a theme that supported my message to Kecoughtan.

We rehearsed a couple of times, but nine hundred teenagers revved up for a pep rally was a different experience.  I honestly didn’t care if half the room couldn’t hear us.  It was amazing because we had essentially come to illustrate all the same themes of the classic story to make the skit a reality – the real value was in our journey.  Bonds deepened as we all played our parts in putting on a little play that meant something much more to me.

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It was just five minutes.  As a derivative plot, the four main characters from Oz start the pep rally by landing in Menchville, our rival for the game where Dorothy’s house has landed on yet another of the Wicked Witch’s sisters.  The Witch, ironically played by my Fairy Godmother friend, describes the undesirable behaviors we can expect now that we were trapped in Menchville, but we just want to get back to Kecoughtan for the Pep Rally, and we explained why.

The Tin Man had found a heart and a community there; the actor is our new security guard, and stepping into a role like this showed commitment to our Kecoughtan family.  The Lion understood that true courage meant fighting for change for the benefit of others; she’s played by our librarian, another dear friend of mine who’s always been there for me when I needed a favor.  The Scarecrow had a brain, and Kecoughtan taught her how to think critically with it; that’s one of our assistant principals, the woman I see as the heart of the unity initiative at Kecoughtan.

Short story shorter, the witch decides to change and after a series of attempts we all make it back to the pep rally where we conclude, like Dorothy, that there’s no place like home.  For me, Kecoughtan is the real Emerald City.  If you want to write a story with an emerging theme that change and acceptance are possible, start in a school building as your setting.  Write a real story with real kids’ lives.

Yes, I played the innocent Dorothy in the skit.  It fits.  I embody her wild optimism. In my classroom, though, my role is the Mentor – it’s not enough to teach them definitions for setting, plot, conflict, and theme – I need to facilitate manufactured experiences with life and literature where they see the impact and significance of these intentional choices.  We’ll all face the occasional flying monkey, but any creature can change and choose a better life like my Fairy Godmother did both when she agreed to play the Witch and actually put on the costume.

There’s a buzz about unity in the halls at KHS, a fact that awards at least some credit to the Culture and Climate initiative.  The kids are picking up on it, too.   One team of staffers is going to present a unity themed book with a visual and verbal message, “There is no Unity without U.” A girl explained that was why the “I Am” Wall changed to the “We Are” Wall, so now when everyone in school posts a word describing us, we’re talking about the collective us.  It just occurred to me that there’s no community without unity either.

I honored Kecoughtan with a funny show and a positive message in what is the beginning of my farewell to the Emerald City.  It has been home to me with faithful companions and Fairy Godmothers along the way.  I’ll always cherish this community, my time here, and its people.  We’ll keep the Emerald City display up in October as a continued yearbook campaign… and a continued reminder of the potential for growth, change, and renewal.  There is nothing I could accomplish on my own that could possibly compare to the richness of a joint product.

Next summer, I’ll marry Charming, and there will be a new unity. Shifting from one storybook back to the dream one I get to live in with Charming for the rest of my life, I see the value in the journey of The Emerald City script.  The pep rally skit was a joint product of three weeks, but we will live together and operate as a team, the richness of our daily lives in direct measure our ability to work as a united front, to accomplish the big and the small.  Like our upcoming wedding which could fall in either category at this point.

For now, I’m still home at Kecoughtan, where everyday greatness is the expectation, where change is possible, where the growth is mine too.  In June, I’ll say a bittersweet goodbye to my school community and embrace the love of my life lighting unity candles, bringing our two lives together and illuminating the discovering of a new community waiting somewhere over the rainbow.

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