Good morning! How are y’all this morning?”
Literacy specialist Rikki Chandler greets Carrollton Elementary and Carrollton Upper Elementary students before dawn as they board the school bus. It is dark and students settle into their seats. Some prop their heads against bus windows with the intent to take a quick nap before school. Other than a few low-key conversations, all is quiet except for the rhythmic creaking and hissing sounds the bus makes as it approaches each stop. Chandler enthusiastically repeats the same greeting each time a new crop of students comes on board.
After the last pickup, Chandler turns on the microphone around her neck so all the children can hear her. She talks to the students about feelings and passes out hand-drawn characters expressing different emotions – “little spots,” she calls them, of happiness, sadness, kindness, anger, sorrow, anxiety, love. Little did the students know this lesson in Chandler’s mobile classroom was leading up to a story to punctuate her lesson. The story was about her.
“I am so sorry about yesterday when I woke up late,” she said to the students. Chandler, with daughter Charleigh in tow, usually meets the bus driver, Delores Hudson, each Wednesday morning at 6:10. For the second year, she has dedicated this weekly morning ritual to the same bus, the same day, the same driver, the same students.
This time, she showed up Thursday and wanted to apologize for disrupting the routine. “How do you think I might have felt?” she asked.
One student piped up: “Sad,” she said.
“Yes, I did have a little spot of sadness,” Chandler admitted.
“Sorry,” said another. “Angry,” said a third.
Chandler agreed with all of them. Then she said, “I also had a little spot of anxiety because when I first got up, I was worried and stressed that y’all would be counting on me and I wasn’t there and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do.”
At this point all the kids were engaged and participating. Chandler directed students to hold up the characters representing the different emotions as they reviewed. The last emotion they discussed was kindness, leading up to the book Chandler was about to read as they finished the ride to school. “Each Kindness,” by Jacqueline Woodson, is a story about how Chloe and her classmates won’t play with the new girl, Maya. Every time Maya tries to join Chloe and her friends, they reject her. Eventually, Maya plays alone, and then stops coming to school altogether.
Although clearly a children’s book, the story didn’t end happily ever after. Chloe and her classmates learned a hard lesson about the value of kindness, and the consequences that follow if it’s absent.
Following the reading, Chandler asked her students to share whether they liked the book. Since all were wearing masks, she directed them to either give a thumbs up for enjoy, sideways thumb for OK, and a thumbs down if they didn’t like it. She followed by asking them which parts of the book were their favorites. When it came time for the students to get off the bus and head to class, Chandler further challenged the students:
“When you leave today, I want you to think of a little spot of kindness,” she said. “And I want you to try to do something kind for at least one person. Visualize in your head – right now – how you will do something kind and how it will make you will feel.”
Karen Wild, director of School Improvement for Carrollton City Schools, notes the previous scenario is just one of the ways the district’s literacy specialists program models best practices for teachers in the district.
“The role of our literacy specialists is to focus support through building relationships,” said Wild. “They are also tasked with finding additional ways to show their support of schools through volunteering for duty, serving at after-school events and lending a helping hand wherever needed.
“Ms. Chandler took this challenge to the next level with her innovative support of student academic and emotional needs. She engages with her students on those early morning bus routes, building relationships with them through her carefully-crafted literacy adventures during their ride to school. We are very fortunate to have someone of her caliber with an eager and willing spirit to connect with others.”
Rikki Chandler holds the microphone up to her mask to read “Each Kindness,” a book that reinforced lessons about considering other’s feelings.
Boys on Bus #25 listen intently to literacy specialist Rikki Chadler reading “Each Kindness” on the route to school.
Literacy specialist Rikki Chandler visits with two students on the bus ride to school.
SPECIAL NOTE: AUDIO POSTCARD
This link goes to a five-minute audio postcard capturing parts of the morning bus ride: https://bit.ly/audio-busride