Somebody will ask: Will you miss any of them? And the truth is this: Not at first. When the fifth graders head out the door into a world filled with middle school and all the challenges that stand in front of them, I will breathe a sigh of relief. I hope that each and every one of them finds the education they need and deserve. I hope that they will remember the lessons that they learned here in elementary school: Be Safe. Be Responsible. Be Respectful. I hope they will continue to learn the lessons that we may have missed, or shortchanged. I hope they look back on their old school with humor and patience, like we tried to greet them all those years ago. But mostly that relief. It will only be a couple months before the new crop streams in and the adventure continues, much like it has for all these years before.
And I will miss Leon.
Leon was part of my after school group, Upward Roots. Made up of fourth and fifth graders, we met on Tuesdays after school to come up with a community service project over the course of ten weeks and turn it into action by working as a team. I knew Leon from the year before, when he came to our school as a fourth grader. Like many new students, his initial contacts were with adults, and he formed a quick bond with me, helping out on the playground, with a free-floating course of chatter that never kept him from finding that missing ball or fellow student in trouble.
By the time he became a fifth grader, he had installed himself as an integral part of the kitchen staff. Leon was there after lunch to help break down boxes and get them into the recycling dumpster. He never missed a day of helping out in the mornings with our breakfast in the classroom program. Without a grumble. Without a moan. He saw a need and he jumped in to fill it. Other kids came and went, their interests and patience tried by the repetitive nature of the work, but that didn't stop Leon. Those empty milk cartons weren't going to jump into the trash by themselves.
We didn't talk about it much, but I knew that Leon and his family sometimes struggled to make ends meet. That made it even more profound for me to hear him speak in Upward Roots about his wish to help the homeless. Sure, sometimes he talked about wanting a Nintendo Switch, or his phone, like all kids his age. But he also talked about the change he wanted to see in his world. Leon wanted the rest of the planet to be as hard-working and caring as he was.
I learned a lot from Leon. And I will miss him. I hope there will be more like him next year.