By Dr. Nancy Rajanen, Supt. of ISD #110
One of my holiday movie scenes is hearing Bing Crosby sing, Count Your Blessings in the movie, White Christmas. In his rich baritone voice, Bing Crosby sings, “If you’re worried and you can’t sleep, just count your blessings instead of sheep … and you’ll fall asleep, counting your blessings.” It’s a wonderful melody, a wonderful lyric and a wonderful reminder.
In recent weeks, I experienced a beautiful example of those lyrics in the world of education.
The story began in early fall, when members of our congregation were asked to volunteer to tutor new immigrants or refugees in reading or math. Because my husband and I enjoyed several summers working as volunteer tutors in China and Africa, I decided to sign up.
So, I began to volunteer teach one hour per week at a Lutheran church in the heart of Minneapolis. The students are all refugees, having fled countries that are in the midst of civil war or political unrest.
Most of them have never been able to attend school, and are deeply grateful to attend classes now. They commit incredible time outside of class, practicing their English and learning the complexities of long division, fractions, etc.
I was assigned as a math tutor, working with women age 40–60 years old. I am awed by the desire of the women, who are my age, and who have been denied education their whole lives. They have an eagerness to learn that humbles me. They arrive early, with homework done, and eager to unravel the mysteries of basic math.
Last month, I began teaching a lesson about measurement. The workbooks had various lines, and instructed the students to measure them with a ruler. The students did not know the word “ruler,” so I fished one out of my bag, and began showing them how to use it.
The concept was so foreign to them, and it took a while to explain how you align the end of the line to the end of the ruler. I’m certain that I never thought about the abstract nature of using a ruler until that time.
One of the women is particularly skilled at math, and immediately began to understand that 1/2 equaled 2/4, 4/8, and 8/16.
She began to measure the various lines, trying to understand where an inch ended and the fractions of an inch began. As she started comprehending it, she was just gleeful.
At the end of our hour, I asked her if she wanted to keep the ruler, and practice at home.
She looked at me with eyes wide open, amazed at my offer, and promised solemnly in her broken English, “I take good care. I bring back.” With that, she tucked the ruler into her backpack and carefully zipped it into place.
The following week, she brought it back, gently wrapped in a scarf, and thanked me repeatedly for letting her use the ruler at home. She had practiced dozens of pages of measuring, and showed me every example.
A few days later, I happened to see one of our Waconia elementary classes working with a ruler. The ability to use it, the familiarity of the task, and the availability of paper, pencils, rulers, desks, teachers, books, classrooms, electricity, was something taken for granted by our students.
I was immediately struck by the blessings of our community. I am so grateful that children in our community and throughout America never have to wonder IF they can go to school, IF they will have a teacher, IF they will have materials and equipment. Their opportunities have never been, nor ever will be, limited by the color of their skin, their gender, their nationality, their ability to pay, or their innate ability.
As you and your family reflect on the many blessings of the holiday season, I hope you include the many educational opportunities that are available. I hope that our children continue to be blessed with education that is so natural that they risk taking it for granted.
But, I hope they never do. Let us remind them of the blessings of school. Education is indeed a blessing that pays dividends for life. For that, and for so many other things, I am grateful.
Have a wonderful holiday season!