Wednesday, January 05, 2022

The "Girl Team" For The Win

Charlotte was one of those kids who had been coming to Woodland Park since before she was born, arriving first in our classroom in utero to drop off and pick up her older brother, then continuing on her own behalf until she was five. If I've ever known a student, it would be Charlotte, and among the many things I know is that she is not conflict averse: she will stand up for herself, and for righteousness in general, like few people I've ever known, whatever their age.

To say she knew her way around the place would be an understatement. When we began making our classroom agreements early in her third and final school year, she took the lead in creating a short, but very workable list, including the vital ones of "No hitting," "No kicking," "No biting," and "No taking things from other people." We would, of course, add to this list in the coming days and weeks, but could in theory function as a community quite well with these dozen or so rules we had created to get started.

The following day, we played with our catapults. The kids fell on them enthusiastically. It was wild at first, although I was proud of how well the kids -- most of whom were just getting to know one another -- figured out how to share the five machines without any input from me. 

Naturally, they quickly began targeting one another with the ping pong balls. I was trying to stay out of the way, observing, and helping to retrieve balls that had gotten under furniture, waiting all the while for a signal from the kids that we needed to consider a new agreement: "No shooting other people with a catapult." It wasn't a problem yet, but I simply assumed that it would become one before too long and we'd soon have to figure out something else to "target," such as the alphabet blocks that I had handy for the purpose. This moment never came, at least not that day.

At one point, a group of four boys allied themselves as a team, "the boy team," leaving Charlotte all alone as "the girl team." She had her back against some shelves, in possession of one catapult, while the boys were arrayed with their catapults in an arc aimed toward her. The boys boasted to me about their potential fire power, talking about "doubles" and "triples." A couple balls were launched Charlotte's way, which she ducked, then grabbed before they bounced back to the boys. I checked in with her. While she didn't seem particularly happy, she also didn't seem upset. There was a determined look on her face. I asked, "Do you like this game?" She made it clear she didn't need me, so I went back to hunting for lost balls.

Moments later, however, she objected loudly, "Hey, no taking things!"

I asked, "Did someone take something? We all agreed: no taking things from other people." I pointed at where the freshly made list of rules hung on the wall and all eyes followed my finger.

That's when a boy complained, "But she has all the balls!" 

That's when I noticed that Charlotte indeed had a large collection of balls between her knees. Reluctantly abiding by our community agreement, the boys returned the one ball they'd snatched from her, this girl who'd figured out a way to even those apparently insurmountable odds. 

I couldn't help observing, "So you guys have all the catapults, and she has all the balls." 

While Charlotte sat upon her stash, the boys, still in their semi-circle, were dumbstruck, feeling, I suppose, how one feels when one has been checkmated. Maybe I should have kiboshed the boy-girl divide earlier. Perhaps I should have been more assertive in getting to the "No shooting each other" discussion. I could have handled it all differently, but at the same time, I really couldn't help but be proud of "the girl team." She had used her knowledge of the rules and her experience as a younger sister to masterfully work things around to a kind of victory that must have been satisfying to her. It sure was to me.

The stand-off lasted for several minutes, with the boys idly flipping their empty catapults while Charlotte stood her ground. A couple of the boys started hunting under furniture for balls, but without luck.

Finally, Archie crossed over to Charlotte and asked as politely as possible, "Could I please have one ball?"

With that Charlotte sat up and pushed the whole pile of balls toward the boys. Game over.


If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy one of my books. To find out more, Click here! 
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