The primary goal of the field trip was to connect kids with resources. This was an equity issue. It was a city, and our population was hugely diverse in economic resources, race, and languages spoken. There were small branch libraries. Students could use public transportation to get there. If they had access to a library, they had access to a computer, books, after-school homework help. This was huge.
After helping students map routes using public transportation to their local branch, we all took public transit to the library that day. It was everything you might imagine: thirteen year old girls huddled around poles and squealing at every turn, me constantly reminding students that we weren't the only ones on the bus, eventually giving up. For those fifteen minutes, my kids reinforced every stereotype the three elderly passengers had about teenage students.
But they couldn't see my kids once we got inside. They didn't see their footsteps suddenly soften when we entered the modern atrium. They didn't see their eyes widen at the computers upstairs, the vast shelves of material they could take home for free, the absolute kindness in the librarians' eyes (I'm convinced that most librarians are actually saints). They didn't see smirks turn to grins as library cards were passed out. They didn't see my rowdiest boys fight the temptation to play in the fountain as they ate sack lunches because we were at the library, and you acted civilized.
They didn't see the long-term impact, months down the road when I asked kids if they could work on this assignment at home. "Do you have a computer?" I'd say.
"No, but I'll go to the library."
We waited at the bus stop for our public transportation to take us home. We had to make this bus in order to get the kids back to school in time to catch their own buses. There were sixty of us. It was going to be packed. The bus approached, the driver looked at us standing there, and kept right on driving. He was not interested in giving us a ride. I made a split second decision and took off after it. We had to get on that bus.
A block later, the bus stopped, the driver glared at me, and we took deep breaths as we poured up the stairs. The kids packed themselves in, buzzing with the energy of the day. As we rounded the first corner and the girls at the back screamed, I made eye contact with a man sitting across from me. He was about sixty, wearing a dirty jacket, sporting a weathered face. The girls' screams were loud, and I always forget how loud in general the kids can seem for people who don't live and breathe that environment.
He rolled his eyes. One at a time, slowly, the words came out of his mouth: "There....is...no...god...today." I couldn't restrain my smirk, and I didn't try that hard.
But I thought of Juan's arms lugging a huge pile of graphic novels sprinkled with a biography and James' carefully selected novel. I saw Karen's face at the rows of computers: "These are ours... to use?"
I wished that man could see the light in my students that I did.