By LAURA SPAULDING, Writer
When I told my family I was headed to Cidercade to hang out with some former students, they stared back with questioning eyes.
“Cidercade…like the video game bar downtown? Really, mom?”
“But hasn’t it been more than fifteen years since you were in a classroom? How old are these former students now?”
“And didn’t you teach 4th and 5th graders? I don’t remember the names of most of my 4th and 5th-grade teachers, and even if I liked them, I’ve no desire to spend a Friday night playing video games with them.”
My own children have had some fantastic teachers along the way, some even becoming friends, but I understand their confusion and wonder. There is something unique about the bonds that happen in a Joy School classroom, evidenced by more than 30 alum students showing up to Alumni Night last Friday. Every former student who came moved on from The Joy School at least five years ago, and many left more than a decade ago. I wish my children experienced the same connections with former teachers I share with my former students, but I recognize it is part of the magic that happens unique to a Joy School classroom. The investment it takes to really know and understand a child in a way that sets them up for success, both while they are with us and after they leave, creates an enduring bond that rarely happens in a traditional classroom: a bond that changes us, our students, and our entire families.
Friday evening Mr. King and I were reminiscing about getting hired as Joy School teachers together twenty-one years ago. Our tiny classrooms were dark, dank temporary buildings in the backyard of an old white house in the heart of Houston’s Museum district. I was a young idealist ready to save the world, 6-8 kids at a time, and I never could quite shake the feeling I was getting paid to play school. Mr. King, on the other hand, worried for years that he had made the worst decision of his life. He was convinced the paychecks would suddenly stop as everything about this magical school seemed too good to be true and in no way practically sustainable. We laughed at just how sustainable and life-giving working at The Joy School had turned out to be when our reminiscing about the old days was interrupted by the arrival of more of our former students. Evidence that not only has The Joy School survived these last 25 years (managing to pay Mr. King month after month), but true to its mission, The Joy School continues to change innumerable lives year after year after year.
Garret and Ally, two alumni now Joy School employees, bridged the gap between staff and students. Victoria shared the good news she will be heading to Vegas soon with family and friends to celebrate her 30th birthday, and Jasmine showed up with her three gorgeous children in tow. Alex begged me to put away the pictures of our Pippi Longstocking book character party from 20 years ago. And then Sarah showed up with Courtney on facetime, these two having met as middle schoolers in Mr. King’s class, still dear friends despite the time and miles between them. Sarah was in my Language Arts class as a brand-new Joy School 4th grader almost two decades ago, and I will never forget how hard she made me work before letting herself be seen and known. While her words were few, Sarah made bold statements from day one with her solemn scowl, black converse sneakers, black lipstick, and quiet refusals to conform. When she finally started to trust me, I was blown away by the depth of her wonderings and her courage to stand against the crowd. But I was also baffled by the enormous disconnect in her struggles to perform basic academic tasks while filling pages with stunning prose full of metaphor and deep meaning. I remember taking her writing to staff meetings to share with the other teachers and administration. I admit it was a little dark for a fourth grader, but the most shocking part was a fourth grader could write something so sophisticated, creative, and captivating - especially since she was so unwilling to share her thoughts and words in any form before now.
Sarah and I reminisced over a couple of ciders and a game of Galaga. I laughed at how old she is now as we talked about birth stories, Pepcid, housing markets, and interest rates. And then cried about how old I am, realizing she is now older than I was when I was her teacher. I heard about her journey to becoming “the cool mom” of five-year-old Raia and to “killing it” as a Hair Stylist in a small upscale salon here in Houston. I have her contact if anyone needs a new look!
I’m not surprised Sarah is the cool mom, that she is killing it, or that she ended up doing something so artsy and creative with her life. I’m also not surprised to hear how journaling and writing continued to be a way for her to think, process, and express herself for many years after she left The Joy School. But I was pleasantly surprised when, after I got home, Sarah sent me a text message saying she was considering starting to journal again. Keep surprising us, Sarah!
Thank you to all our Alum that made it to Cidercade on Friday to hang out with your old teachers! We are so proud of each of you and thankful for your reminders about why we do what we do. We would love to connect and engage with you soon for those unable to make it this time. Please visit the Alumni website to sign up as part of the TJS Alumni Community. You can reconnect and stay in touch with fellow graduates, grow your professional network, or offer to mentor other graduating students. Visit https://thejoyschoolalumni.com/ for more information and to register.
For more information on joining our Joy School family as a teacher, visit Work at Joy, or if you're interested in enrolling your child with a learning difference, visit our Admission page.