Today I had lunch with some sixth graders at Atalaya Elementary School, which is temporarily housed in the old Kaune Elementary School in Santa Fe while Atalaya undergoes construction. I sat at a long table with 7 boys and 7 girls and the boys sat at one end and the girls sat at the other and when I asked them why that is, a few said, “It’s always been this way.” Chicken Teriyaki was on the menu with a salad and watermelon. About half the kids at the table brought their lunch from home.

I asked how many read the newspaper. Four out of 14 raised their hands. I asked the others what would make them read it? “More comics!” one said. Another said, “More time.” One had read my story on last night’s discussion about the Atalaya construction project.

“If I wrote a story about one of your teachers, who should it be?” I asked them. About ten of them yelled out, “Miss Michael.” That’s Jill Michael, who teaches reading and science and is a 14-year teaching veteran. This is her first year with Santa Fe Public Schools. I caught her in the hallway and asked if I could sit in one of her classes, and she said, “Anytime.” I asked her, “How’s it going?” and she said. “I love it.” I could tell she meant it.

I used to not comprehend what I was reading. The school experts pulled all that diagnostic stuff on me and told my mom I couldn’t understand anything and I should be held back. She told them no. She was never a very tough lady, but with those school officials she was. I learned to read well, and I got to love reading, and then I became a writer. So go figure.

Incidentally when I was in sixth grade, at lunch-time we were allowed to draw at the lunch table once we finished eating, and I used to always weird my teachers out by drawing pictures of dinosaurs and huge alligators eating people. And about two months ago at a school board meeting – and I am one of those strange people who likes school board meetings – I got bored for a few minutes, and darned if I didn’t start to doodle and draw a picture of a big alligator with a human arm and hand hanging out of its mouth, and the hand was holding a sign that said, “Help!” And I was sitting two seats away from a lady who was apparently watching me, and I realized she was watching me, so I looked at her kind of sheepishly, and she flashed me an odd smile that suggested she used to draw those kinds of pictures too. Maybe she still does.

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