Downhill skiing and snowboarding is a favorite activity in which about a third of the school’s population participates. As a consequence, ice skating has to wait until March. I love skiing and am not fond of skating. I hate the cold that seeps into my bones over the two hours we spend there. Tying ten pairs or so of skates is not exactly a fun activity to do with numb fingers either. So, one might ask, "Why do I enjoy taking twenty students aged seven to sixteen skating for four consecutive weeks." A question, I must admit, I was asking myself.
In fact, to my own surprise, I found myself riveted by the kids and stood there watching them skate for hours without getting bored, in spite of the cold. It is great fun to see kid after kid overcome their fear of falling and slowly but surely gain skills and confidence as the weeks go by. It is lovely to watch how more advanced students help their friends and patiently show them what to do before they go off and skate away at high speeds. It is fascinating to watch the many and varied games they invent and enjoy playing. Not just “catch” and racing each other but others which I can’t really describe because they seem too complicated for me to understand. But I see them sitting on the ice in patterns, or skating in groups holding hands, all the time laughing and enjoying themselves. At other times some person may be a little upset because they can’t keep up with the others or with their own expectations of themselves. I try to be consoling but often I am not successful, and have to leave them alone to work things out on their own.
Another thing that I often encounter and absolutely love is the way strangers are impressed with the spirit of fun coupled with good manners and consideration they observe in our students whenever we take them out into the community. An older lady stopped her skating to chat with me and commented on how extraordinary our kids are in comparison with others she encountered in the rink. Subsequently I started noticing things, too. Even though some of them were skating very fast they always seemed to respect her personal space and to give her a wide berth. They play rather roughly at times but no one gets hurt. I take these things for granted at SVS, but sometimes strangers comment on this with surprise and I realize how mature and decent our kids are. I think it is the result of the respect we give them and the expectation we have of them to be responsible and considerate.
And last but not least is an incident the likes of which happens to me from time to time and is so remarkable and so sweet. What happened was that an adorable boy who just turned eight took care of me. This is how it happened. I noticed that he had no gloves and that his little hands were very cold. I gave him my mittens which he gratefully put on and I kept my hand warm in my pockets. Later I was telling Maria, the other staff on the trip, that I was freezing and from a distance of fifteen feet or so he heard me, took my mittens off, and came over to give them back to me. I told him that my hands were OK and that my whole body was cold, but he insisted that I take my mittens back. Of course I did out of respect for him and to acknowledge his caring, sensitive gesture toward me. It made being cold worthwhile because it warmed my heart.
These are the things that have made working at this school fresh, exciting, meaningful, and enjoyable for me for decades.