Friday, December 4, 2015

December Has Arrived

December Has Arrived

As the calendar page flips to the final month of 2015, I am reminded of the many thoughts December brings each year. Holiday shopping, greeting cards, travel plans or decorating for the season top most personal to-do lists. Here at school, the students begin a buzz in early December that continues to amplify as the holiday break nears. The hallways are louder and rowdier. Focus in class is harder to maintain and the chatter is filled with adolescent excitement for the season. It is that time of year where anticipation hovers and everyone counts down the days until the holiday break.

At the beginning of the school year, Mr. Cross challenged our Cougar family to “Dare Greatly” this year. With that mission in mind, I tried focusing on ways to encourage my student publication staffs to elevate their game too. First, I should explain that I have advised the County Line student news magazine and Panorama yearbook staffs the past ten years, and taught English I and English II my first five years at Cinco. Tack on four years of teaching before arriving in Katy ISD in 2001 and the math adds up to nearly two decades in the classroom.

Over the years, I’ve been blessed to work with amazingly talented student writers, designers and photographers. Our CRHS journalism room, fondly referred to as “1221” is adorned with yearbook and magazine covers from prior years along with UIL medals, plagues and banners that hang proudly symbolizing the effort and accomplishment of past students who realized they had a voice and a good story to tell. I’m proud of the work they accomplish and the skill sets they develop here, but I’m most thankful for the opportunity to observe my students (who come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities and social circles) develop a working bond based in a collaborative learning experience which requires them to drop their emotional guard and be real and dependent upon one another. That is not always a common behavior in high school.

As yearbook finishes their second deadline this week and with the arrival of County Line’s second print issue, I took time to examine our student storytelling to see if we are making progress in elevating “our game.” One of my challenges is determining how to actually measure that, so I went back to our archives and looked at some student stories from prior years. What I found were articles about the sudden, unexpected passing of CRHS biology teacher Mel Aimar, and the tragic deaths of students Chris Saiz and Terra Kuballa from automobile accidents. Then, I realized that all three of those deaths happened in December. The timing isn’t really significant until you think about the paradox of sentiment normally associated with this holiday month. The same month normally filled with joy, hope and excitement instead delivered a floodgate of emotional sorrow for our Cougar family in December, 2007, December, 2011 and December, 2014.

Looking back at what our student journalists wrote, they remembered their deceased teacher and peers with storytelling like this:

“Going into his class for the first time and feeling nervous about how hard or how strict he would be, I planned on staying quiet and just doing my work.” That proved to be difficult as Mr. Aimar’s humor drew out my own. He would engage in witty conversation with us…He was more than a teacher, he was a friend…He would help us plan pranks on other teachers (like the classic Ms. Shank rivalry)…If you stopped to visit him, he would drop what he was doing and focus on you, just talking friend to friend.”   -Scena Nayak ‘09

“As his parents unleashed three white doves, and his friends freed personal messages on balloons, the memory of Chris Saiz radiated through the gathering at his funeral. As the balloons soared, Saiz’s soul ascended to meet with what those three doves represent: the Father, the Son, and the Holy spirit.”   - Shaun Lal ‘12

“There was a bitterness in the December air and the cold months after, but also a sense of hope and perseverance – a feeling that Terra Kuballa inspired in many. Even though she is no longer physically present, her hopeful and beaming spirit remains.”   - Maria Salome Cadavid ‘16

This trip back in time helped me remember that our work in the journalism room should never be focused on the end product. “Daring Greatly” is about experiencing the journey – about absorbing and connecting with every human moment one experiences - even the moments filled with tragedy. Each of the student journalists above knew the person they wrote about. Each had a personal relationship with the deceased and chose to express their sense of loss in words that told a story that helped others understand the character and person of a life too soon lost.

“Daring Greatly” happens when teachers make that connection with students and it happens when students see that modeling, shed their vulnerability and peel open a new understanding about themselves and the world around them. It happens when students reach out and create a friendship that is genuine and authentic and it happens when that reaching out to someone extends beyond a social circle that one is comfortable in. Reading those stories again helped me realize how meaningful our responsibility is in providing students a tangible voice to share with their peer audience and to encourage them to share the common human bond of compassion.

As our current students at Cinco and Seven Lakes remember the friends they lost a year ago this weekend, my encouragement to them is that they will not lose track of the empathy they felt for each other during last year’s time of sorrow. The great gift that Mel Aimar, Chris Saiz, and Terra Kuballa left all of us is a legacy of human caring.

“Daring Greatly” isn’t about what we produce with our work and efforts, it’s about genuinely connecting, openly communicating, honestly listening, and reflecting in the glory contained in each day of life, so sponge in each day this month as you “journey” toward Christmas.

-          Ed Larsen
Student Publications Adviser


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