Over the years in which I have worked in schools, both daytime and afternoon programs, I have received many small gifts from students. Often these gifts are little drawings that children have made, perhaps even while listening to our lesson. Sometimes they are portraits of me, a lovely reflection of who I am to the young humans before me. Other times the gift may be a poem, either handwritten or printed off a computer. These will likely have colorful, creative fonts and clip art illustrations. Teens give me gifts as well, Anime pencil drawings perhaps but mostly copies of writings that they want me to read and to remember them by. Poems they hope I will affirm. There is always something positive to state about the work. They often linger until most of their classmates have transitioned out the door toward the next class. Their need is earnest. Often my name is spelled in creative ways.
Students also seem somewhat surprised that their gifts are appreciated. I tell the elementary students that I will keep their gifts in myTreasure File. In the early days of my work with youth, I started a file folder for the little scraps and pieces of construction paper, notebook paper unclipped from 3-ring binders, origami cranes of various sizes and colors, friendship bracelets braided from embroidery floss. I graduated to the larger document pockets when I outgrew the first folder.
Sometimes students give me other gifts, little trinkets or bookmarks from the school library. This past school year, one 3rd grader slipped an ice-blue rubber bracelet over my hand to my right wrist from his own on my last day with his class. “Ms. Popoff, I want you to have this. I won it in basketball in gym…” I told him I was not sure that I should accept the gift since it was his and it represented his achievement but he insisted. I accepted but still I questioned, did I have the right to take this child’s marker of doing well? I was also conscious that he was not a child of privilege. But I remember his face as if he were right before me now and I remember his huge grin in the act of giving. I had given him something of value and he was reciprocating. That is a basic human act and we are bonded by a small circle of rubber.
I noticed later that the bracelet was imprinted with a slogan something to the affect of “Remember Autism” and an Autism support organization web site. I have close friends who parent children with Autism and related processing abilities. I have taught many students who process differently than I do. For the next couple of days, every time I looked at my right wrist, I thought of my generous young man as well as my many creative students in supported classrooms.
Three days later, in the school hallway near the art rooms, I passed my young benefactor in line with his class. I have a little sign of greeting I share with students so we can be excited to see each other in the halls but maintain the decorum expected in the common areas. It is like a private handshake and it avoids most outbursts of “HI MS. POPOFF!!!” in the library or outside the lavatories. After sharing the our coded greeting, I caught the eye of the boy and pointed to my wrist, the band of blue. His eyes got big and he exclaimed, “You still have it!” I placed my index finger to my lips as a reminder we were in the hall and then I whispered with a genuine and gigantic smile, “Of course I do.”
I knew at that moment that I was right to keep the bracelet. I wore it every day for nearly 3 months. I never took it off. After awhile, the white print of the organization and its motto wore off. The summer heat soared to 100. The sweat under the band was annoying so I took it off. Right now it is in a small dish on my nightstand with some Silly Bands that my nephew gave me. I will add it to the Treasure File when I am ready to not notice it every day, when I remember his face without the visual prompt and I keep the talents and skills of my students with special needs and abilities in the forefront of my consciousness.
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