End of third grade, and standing on solid ground

On the final day of his 3rd-grade year, a grinning Bill Clinton Hadam made brownies, caught water balloons, played foursquare, feasted on candied apples and chicken wings, and read aloud in several classes. As his teachers explain in our newest audio slideshow, at right, he seemed like a different kid from the sad, shy boy who entered their classes last August.

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    Bill Clinton Hadam, far right, graduated from third grade in May and starts fourth grade next week.
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On the final day of his 3rd-grade year, a grinning Bill Clinton Hadam made brownies, caught water balloons, played foursquare, feasted on candied apples and chicken wings, and read aloud in several classes. As his teachers explain in our newest audio slideshow, at right, he seemed like a different kid from the sad, shy boy who entered their classes last August. And though the last day of school was mostly one of celebrations, several telling things happened amid the revelry.For one, Bill was mobbed by friends: wanting his picture in their autograph books, wanting to sit by him, getting photos taken together, and challenging one another to two- and foursquare championships.

During a long presentation of certificates of achievement, Bill quietly took a toy car he'd been given in one class, and the wrapping paper from a framed photo he'd received in another. With great care, and the help of most of a roll of scotch tape, he wrapped the car and gave it as a goodbye gift for his friend Kelay, a small, ebullient, Eritrean boy who was moving to another school in the fall.

In Bill's homeroom, teachers Sherry Forbes and Naza Orlovic asked each student to fill in a small workbook full of questions about the year: Popular TV programs? Books I want to read this summer? What I did not like about this year?

For Bill, a lover of slapstick who started to write English stories this year with confidence, "The funniest thing that happened this year" was: "Wons there was a boy he was wilking backwrad when he terd orund he hate he facs on the doore."To "In the news this year," Bill answered: "that brarak Obam was the new president." His heroes, he wrote, included Obama, his homeroom teachers, "and my mom and my dad." But Bill's concerns had started closer to home. The most important event in the US this year, he wrote, was "to lren how to do your multiplication time teabls."

And finally, in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) class, teacher Francie Wallace asked Bill and his classmates to read aloud a quotation paraphrased from Hungarian physicist Edward Teller. Of all the teachers at ICS, Francie wears her heart the most on her sleeve. She talks with her students about the challenges they and their families have faced more often and more directly than anyone else I've observed. Bill adores her.

"When you come to the end of all the light you know, and you are about to step out into the darkness of the unknown, have faith," she coached the kids to read. "There will be a solid place to stand, or you will be taught to fly."

Each kid took a turn reading. Over and over, they stumbled on the longer words.

"What does it mean, Bill? Unknown?" Francie asked. They were beginning to lose interest. Then, Ms. Francie told her students that when they went home that night, she wanted them to share the reading with their parents: "because your mom and dad did something, and you did it with them. And this is something they will understand."Now she had their attention.

"Did what?" asked Kelay.

"A few years ago, your parents decided: We are gonna go somewhere where we don't know what will happen. Because where we are is either not safe, or we don't have enough to eat, or we have no home,' " Francie said.

Not even Bill was fidgeting.

"So they decided to do something so scary," Francie went on. "To get on an airplane and come to America. They made a strong decision to step out into the darkness of the unknown. They had never been to America, and they had little children to take care of. And they had faith that they would figure it out once they got here."

"And look at you!" she said. "You are the people who are saying: Look how healthy and strong I am and we have a beautiful school to go to.""Start again," she said, "we're gonna say it perfectly."

And they just about did.

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