Thursday, July 05, 2018

The Story Of Our Long Cardboard Boxes

It's now been over a decade since we acquired our long cardboard boxes. We were still in our old location up on Phinney Ridge, near the west entrance to the Woodland Park Zoo when we, as a community, decided we needed to upgrade our cubby situation. Wouldn't it be nice, we thought, for the kids to have more than just a small shoebox-sized hole into which to stash their personal belongings, like lockers or something, so that's what we did: we purchased several banks of said items.

The new cubbies were nice, at least nicer than most of the things we have. When I started teaching at Woodland Park nearly two decades ago, our furniture was comprised of an odd assortment of mis-matched tables and chairs, and it still is -- the exact same tables and chairs just under a few more layers of paint. Our art easels are likewise ancient as are are cabinets, cupboards, and shelving. Indeed, these cubbies were the first truly new things we had purchased since I'd started working there, an ethic that not only saves money and space in the landfill, but also contributes to a comfortable lived-in vibe, one that allows both the kids and adults to relax since there is nothing "nice" to potentially mar, mark, or otherwise ruin.

I'll never forget when the parents, the legal owners of our cooperative school, convinced me that we needed a new classroom rug. The one with which we wound up was quite nice, a big step up from the remnants to which I was accustomed. It took me months before I stopped instinctively fretting with each smear of mud or splat of paint. It wasn't until we had a few permanent frays and stains that I was fully able to relax around it. The experience taught me to never underestimate the calming influence of well-used furnishings around the preschool.

These new cubbies were likewise new and unmarked. They had to be both assembled and installed, a project that became an all-hands-on-deck weekend endeavor for the adults in our community. This is one of the best parts of cooperative schools, I think, these regular opportunities to come together without the children to work together on projects. Traditional "social" activities have their place, but there is nothing like bending our backs shoulder-to-shoulder to foster a true sense of community. We labored for the better part of a morning on the project, developing systems, learning about one another's skills, overcoming obstacles. And when we were done, they were beautiful.

Less than a year later we were forced to move and our current location, which had no logical home for these magnificent new cubbies, so we sold them for pennies on the dollar and returned to using the shoebox-sized holes that we continue to use to this day.

But the legacy of those cubbies are still with us in the form of the long cardboard boxes in which their parts had been packed. In the beginning I'd tried to save all of them, but the parents and lack of storage space convinced me to only hang onto a couple. Yesterday, we we were using these boxes that are older than the children for golf ball painting, and every time we use them, I relive their story. It's tempting to think that we wasted both money and time on those cubbies, and of course, in the short-run we did, but standing there yesterday as the kids worked together, backs bent, so to speak, shoulder-to-shoulder, using the physical remains of those cubbies, running those golf balls through paint to create artwork that could only be created by us, I realized that we were still collecting the real dividends all these years later. And I still have a one box left in the storage room, unscarred and unscathed, waiting to add chapters to the story. In some ways, those cubbies were the best thing we ever purchased.

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