They’d all seen her before but this was the first time they would call her by name. Sitting tall with her back straight, she seemed poised and ready. A younger but practically identical version of her sat to her right.
“This is the letter ‘J’,” I tell the class, using a pencil to accentuate her long and slender trunk. “Can everyone make the sound of the letter ‘J’? Juh… Juh… Juh…”
A chorus of juh’s circulate the classroom.
The letter J continues to reveal to us all of her closest friends: Jungle. Joke. Jump. Jenny. Josue. Jelly. Friends that would be Nowhere without Her.
After we count nearly 36 comrades of the ever so popular Letter J, the Little Ones scurry back to their seats and practice drawing portraits of our New Friend. Happy are they to be tracing her trunk and filling in her curves with Gold & Silver Glitter Paint.
Every time I introduce a new member of the alphabet family to my preschool class it feels as if they are another step closer to unearthing a treasure they have no idea they are scavenging for. They might not know it yet, rightfully consumed with their dolls and action figures for now, but one day letters and the ability to use them correctly could be the greatest gift that they have ever received. One Day, 26 Precious Letters Could Open Many Doors For Them.
Some days a child goes home not knowing a ‘J’ from a ‘K’ because they spent their day fixed on a double T word: Tattle Tailing. Some Days They Chatter. Some Days They Look Away. And on these days, where the attention spans fly out the window quicker than the holiday season, I am tempted to put down the pointer and fire up a lecture, “You don’t know it now, but these letters are important. So Important. They will be the base of your education. The key to opening up a world where you can get lost in a classic novel. The key to having a voice in this world that is articulate, powerful and purposeful.” They are only four, they will get it eventually. I can only pray that someday they will look back and realize they were not merely painting the letter ‘J’ with a palette of glittered golds and silvers. They were painting a future for themselves. They were learning to paint this world better. Paint this World, Not Only to Look Like a Better Place but to Be a Better Place.
It’s hard to say where these Little Ones will go as they grow up or how they will learn. I am often forced to wonder if they will be inclined to stay in a Classroom as this Borough gets harder on them. I feel as though I could plop down a younger version of myself into this Bronx Preschool and she would adore the sandbox and the Mr. Potato Heads with all the other children but I cannot help but think that the Little Me would still be holding something tight in her hands. Something given to her that was not guaranteed to all of her Preschool Pals or to millions of other children scattered across the continents.
You see, Once Upon A Time Someone gave a Little Girl with Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu a Chance. Over and Over again, she received a Chance. And she didn’t know it at the time but a Chance was a pretty big thing. A Pretty Rare Thing.
A chance to color code her outfits to her highlighters. A chance to pull out a tiny piece of plastic from her jumper and, with it, pick out any library book of her choosing. A chance to turn Alphabet soup into sacred stew. A chance to play construction worker for a good two hours until her “Encyclopedia Fort” was built at long last. And there she would sit as the Little Hand of the clock lapped the Bigger Hand several hundred times. Never Looking Up. Soaking Up the World and Everything in It, in Perfect Alphabetical Order.
The Little Girl with the Chance grew taller and swapped her Cowboy Boots for Platform Sandals. Her Tutu for a Tankini. But still, she held the Chance to fall in love with Rhett Butler several times before she ever even glanced at the boy with the locker next to hers. She had the chance to plaster her walls with the Editor’s Letters from the pages of Seventeen Magazine and draft up dreams of one day working there. Of one day having a Career.
And still the Little Girl Grew, and she was given even more chances. A chance to write her personal statement in a College Application and walk through a door into Higher Education. A chance to Brood over Fine Literature with her Fellow English Majors.
And then there came a time when she held tight to the word “Young” but swapped out the “Girl” for a more suitable title, Woman. And once again, she recognized the Glory in a pair of Cowboy Boots and a Blue Tutu. So Vintage.
She moved to the City of her Dreams and Walked into the United Nations only to find herself fixated on learning of the Little Girls who were not always given the same Chance. Over and Over again, she Uncovered these Chance-Less Girls. Sudan. Indonesia. El Salvador.
They are virtually everywhere. A Population of Beautiful Girls Without Grammar Lessons. Children who Deserve to Meet All the Luscious Letters and to Hear all of their Sounds. To Have all the Words Bow & Curtsy Before Them at the Front of a Classroom and then Grant Permission for the Children to Use Them. To Fill Blanks in Stories. Plots. Conversations. Notebooks. Silences.
I don’t think I ever looked down, opened up my palms and noticed the Chances I have been given all of my life until this year when I was asked to write a letter to my 10-year-old self about why I wanted to join the organization, instead of a cover letter. It was the Best Letter I was ever asked to write. Only then did I realize that My Chance is a Beautiful, Beautiful Thing. Not to be ashamed of, not to be belittled or discarded. But to be treasured and used. I can use what I have been given to pass forward chances to the future of this world. Children. To promote something I believe can fix a lot of brokenness in this world. Education.
Because of that letter, I am now wrapped up in a glorious .org that I would like to introduce all of you to. She’s the First is a media campaign dedicated to giving Girls the Opportunity and the Chance to be the First in their Family to receive an Education. I am lucky and excited to be a new researcher for this organization, linked up with schools and girls’ sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia. I recently became a researcher for the organization and I am excited to be linked up with schools and girls’ sponsorships in both Africa and Indonesia.
Here’s to Sweet Syllables. Here’s to More Dreams Upon Chalkboards for 2011. Here’s to More Chances for Little Girls to put on their Blue Tutus and Cowboy Boots and Run to Greet the Alphabet.