When I was a young man — oh, about 12 — I wondered why we even had to go to school. I got along with all my classmates and even liked my teacher, but on a day when the sun was out and the Santa Maria Valley was warm, I just wanted to sit under a tree and chew on a straw. I couldn’t think of a time when I might need to know about math or the history of the United Sates or anything that took my attention away from the beautiful day we were having.
The Santa Maria Valley has almost exactly the same weather as we have here in the Salinas Valley. I don’t remember the wind that we have in Gonzales, but I do remember that it got hot and those days were rare. My friend Freddy Rea and I would talk about what we were going to do when we grew up. Freddy’s dad was a crew leader of a group of Braceros that thinned broccoli and lettuce. I always wanted Freddy to tell him I wanted a job, but Freddy said when he told his dad this, his dad would just laugh. I was disappointed because I wanted to make money to help my family. That’s what Freddy would do after school and on the weekend.
As I grew up, I came to understand that Freddy’s dad was a wise man. I thought at the time that he didn’t think I could do the thinning that they did with those infamous short handled hoes. I was sure I could have done it, but I think back and I know Freddy’s dad knew I wouldn’t. I would watch Freddy get into his dad’s truck after school and head out to a field somewhere. I will always remember watching his dad walk sort of bent over and taking short steps, his sweat-streaked cowboy hat cocked over the side of his head and him smiling at us.
I spent quite a few Sundays over at Freddy’s house. I learned about how a Mexican family loves their children. I also learned how spicy the food was that they ate. I left Santa Maria and the Bonita School when I was in the eighth grade. I don’t know what happened to Freddy. We said we would write or something. The something was never spelled out.
We were the two Alpha dogs of the school when we were in the eighth grade. Freddy and I would always try to be faster or stronger than the other. We would get into fights over the silliest things. I thought that was the way it was supposed to be. Freddy was stronger than me, but I was faster than him. I have so many great memories of Bonita School. Of course I had to go to school and study. I had to get ready for adult life.
I am so happy that I got to go to a school where the teacher was also the principal of the two-room school. He would spend all the time necessary to instill within the students a desire to learn. There was an agreement between Bonita School and the junior high school in Guadalupe. I played trumpet in the Guadalupe School band.
Today, we don’t have any schools like that anymore. Teachers are overworked and under paid. Classes are overcrowded and there is never enough money for the supplies needed. The students of our grammar school probably have thoughts like I had when they think about their school, but they are really having a tough time today. They missed half of a semester last year and they aren’t even going to school today. I don’t know how long it will be like this, but I know that they are being given the short end of the stick.
The idea that we are losing an entire year of school for our kids is frightening. A lot of kids today are exactly like I was at their age. School, to them, is just a burden they have to bear. If we just decide that it is OK to miss a year, they are the ones that will pay for this in the future.
Do I went the kids to go to school where they may be infected with this terrible scourge we have visiting our shores? Of course I don’t, but to miss this year of instruction is practically crippling for their future. To miss the expected move up a grade means more to kids than we can know. Everything is important to our children at that age. A lot of them don’t even know why they are not in school. They just know that they didn’t go to high school from the eighth grade. Will they ever catch up?
In the military, the cadres of most of the schools you attend are very hard on you. They want to find out if you really want to learn how to jump out of an airplane or to stay up for three days with almost no sleep so you can sew a little patch on your shoulder that says, RANGER. You learn you are capable of a lot more than you thought. You will do anything needed just to not disappoint your buddy.
I wish I knew a way to instill within the kids of today a desire to excel. There are exceptions to anything and the kids that had their pictures upon the light poles this year know a little of what I am writing about. They were special because they worked hard to succeed and made their parents proud. Maybe we could strike a brass pin that is worn upon the collars signifying they are part of an elite class of student. OK, maybe that wouldn’t work, but it is something we could think about.
The kids that are missing a year of school will have to really put their nose to the grindstone in order to catch up, but then they will be with a class where everyone will be behind. Let’s stand behind them and let them know they can do this. They can do anything they want. This is just a hint of life as a grown up. I’m going to pray for them and encourage anyone I see that needs a little encouragement.