I answered the door at 10:00 a.m. Sunday morning, to find a good looking, gray haired gentleman. “Yes?” I said, somewhat perturbed that my racing to set up for the 12:30 p.m event was being interrupted. “I am Jeff Hearn” said the guest who was supposed to have arrived at that 12:30 start time.
“You’re Jeff Hearn?” I choked, incredulous, not having seen Jeff since he was an 11 year old classmate, graduating from sixth grade at UES. (I also wondered if he never learned to tell time after 50 years.)
Fifty years after my fellow sixth graders left UES, (previously rededicated as Seeds UES, now The Lab School of UCLA) 17 out of our singular class of 26 reunited. One class together for seven years, together again 50 years later.
We are all gray like Jeff Hearn. We are all 62 years old. We have adult children and grandchildren. We live all over the country and all over the world. We all went to college, many to graduate school. We are artists, writers, teachers, doctors, nurses, and lawyers. We teach at universities, work for opera companies, own gift shops, and work in I.T. But we are all united in vividly remembering our UES education.
In this time of overt questioning of our system of education (Waiting for Superman and Race to Nowhere ), we members of the class of 1960 do not. I am not talking about learning to read or write or do math. Clearly, we all learned enough to have led satisfying, even successful lives. We all remembered our hands on, interactive UES education: building boats we floated in our “real” harbor (a maze of concrete water ways filled with water); building Conestoga wagons, making real candles out of melting wax, and crafting African spears out of wood; building a Hogan; creating an African feast; holding a session of the United Nations Security Council. Our learning was real and palpable. We all remember it all. Ask anyone how he learned to divide fractions… no one really remembers.
But there was more. It is abundantly clear that the difference in our education was also the teachers we had. Can you believe 17 people all remembered by name every teacher we had in elementary school? And each of us had a story to tell about every one of these teachers. Each of us felt connected to our teachers, and they were mostly fond memories. And therein lies core.
We know how important it is for children to feel connected at home. But they also need to feel connected at school. Each child needs to be connected to his teacher. He needs to feel that he belongs in his classroom, to his teacher, and that he is part of a team. Each child needs to feel that he matters at school. There is just so much more than those 3 R’s.
We are working overtime evaluating our elementary schoolers and their teachers—testing and evaluating their academic performance. Of course that needs to be done to a degree. But what about everything else? What about the things that make elementary school education meaningful and memorable (and the things that budget shortfalls have erased)? The seven years are filled with experiences and with people. And people are about relationships. And it is those relationships with teachers and classmates that put the child in a position to learn.
Fifty years later this reality was abundantly clear.