Grade Six

It had been a long time since I stood in front of a class of pubescent pre-teens, probably 12 or 13 years.  The last time I had been to the Fort McKay School to talk to a class with my radio hat on.  I honestly don't remember what the subject was or what the occasion was that took me 45 minutes out of town.  But I do remember how lovely the group was and how exhausted I was at the conclusion.  Yesterday I returned to the classroom with similar results.

I made the offer a couple of weeks ago, to my son's Grade Six teacher at Dr. Clark School, that if he ever needed someone to come in and talk about civic politics that I'd be happy to do so.  He took me up on it and early yesterday afternoon I found myself facing my first group, all strangers with the exception of Katie who I've known since pre-school.

"I have a quiz to start this off," I said.

"Who is (pause for effect) the President of the United States?"

"Obama!" they replied on cue.

"Who is the Vice President of the United States?"

Silence.

"Joe Biden," I said.

"Who was the President before Obama?"

And so it went.  Some knew Bush.  Fewer still remembered Clinton, though they thought the President was Hillary.  Beyond that names like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Lincoln started to pop up.

Despite the fact that hundreds of Americans over the past four years have uniformly answered this question with looks of solitudinous befuddlement, the majority of these students absolutely knew the name of our Prime Minister.

As we made our way from federal to provincial, and finally municipal, the resonant familiarity of Mayor Blake erupted from the class of 30 as I asked them for the leader of our local government.  To many of them she is "Melissa", an indication of her connectivity to the younger generation.

We talked about budgets, representation, and motions.  We talked about the single-use shopping bag bylaw and the Municipal Development Plan.

Running out of ideas, I glanced up at the clock to see that 10 minutes remained in the class.

"Think about this," I started.

"If you could ask for one thing that we don't have in Fort McMurray right now, what would that be?"

I went from student to student, the rule being that everyone had to listen (good luck with that) and you couldn't repeat something that had already been suggested.

The ideas were impressive, from gargantuan shopping malls to downtown paintball emporiums, from petting zoos to amusement parks.

I shared with them that fact that we are asking interesting questions like that every day on the What's the BIG IDEA Wood Buffalo website and that we want their ideas.  The light bulbs turned on, just a little, and a few of them scrawled the website address, www.bigideawoodbuffalo.ca, on the back of the business card I had passed out.

When I think of me in Grade Six it's hard to make a connection to my son and his friends.  That was back in 1979 and the specific memories are few.  We were the kings of the school as we pondered the move to Junior High School at the end of the approaching summer.  I remember feeling older, more important, more like a leader.

Dylan has two more years in Dr. Clark before going to High School, he'll make the jump in Grade Nine!  I think this is a good thing, as the jump to the older school was way too early for me, turning Grade Seven into the worst year of my public school life.  I wouldn't wish that year on my greatest enemy.

I was absolutely pooped by the time the second period was finished.

"How do teachers do this every day?" I thought to myself.

I packed up my things, headed back to the office and the comfort of my regular work.

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