The Final Bow

Tonight was the Final Bow performance for my son’s high school choir.  This is the highlight of the year.  It is where the seniors get solo’s and get to show off their seasoned talent.  This is our sports event, our playoffs, our final round.  Harmony is the name of the game here and on our team, everyone can participate.  And just like sports, we have some that are naturally more talented than others, some that have worked really hard to gain access to their talent and others who have the attitude of commitment and continue to rise to the challenge, knowing that they may never be as good as some of their teammates but still they show up, they sing, and they support their team.

Did you know that one of the top fears that people have is getting up and speaking (or singing) in front of people?  Some list put this fear as the number one fear.  But most will have this fear listed in the top five.  That is major.  It takes guts to get up and speak or sing in front of people.  Allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and subject to praise or criticism, it could go either way, is a very courageous act to do.  Add the fact that these kids are teenagers, which places another layer of apprehension.

I talk from experience.  I too was a choir student.  I joined my concert choir freshman year and perfected my choir voice for four years.  I was at ease while standing on stage with my comrades as we sang our choir songs; but singing alone gave me great stage fright.  During my senior year I sang a duet with a friend to help ease my fears.  We sang Snow Bird.  Even with her by my side, I still got nervous.  It started off good but by mid song my throat slowly closed up which made it almost impossible to release a solid note.

And like me, I saw tonight those students who reminded me of myself, singing duets to help ease their fears.  Some who were nervous but faced their fear and sang a solo on stage as their fellow choir members cheered them on from the crowd.  Some who are learning to trust themselves and their talent so they held back a little.  Then, there were the others, like my son, who appear confident, the ones who command the stage with a gracefulness, some bold and dazzling like they were born on the stage, some humble and secure with a pureness that flows effortlessly.  And then there are the special needs students who add the special touch to this high school choir.

I’ve seen many special needs kids on stage over the years, some with Down syndrome, some in wheelchairs, and some with physical or learning disabilities-even some with hearing impediments.  I love that our high school is not only diverse in ethnicity and culture but also in abilities.  I especially love how our district and the choir teacher, Ms. Wright embraces all these differences.  And as much as I love watching my son on stage, I never tire of seeing these kids perform.

This year, there was one choir student that stood out among them all.  And the rest of the choir kids didn’t seem to mind sharing the spotlight.  They all love to see him shine.  His name is Zuri.

I remember Zuri from middle school.  He went to a different middle school then my son but once a year the middle school choirs would join with the high school choir kids for a combined concert.  It was a treat to see the high school students performing.  What a difference a few more years makes.  Seeing how the students had matured into their own style and expressing their unique talents gave us parents a sneak peak of what our kids might be doing in their near future.  What parent doesn’t want to see their child performing?  On a stage, on a field, academically, athletically, or creatively, we hope that our child will find his niche and show off his or her unique skill and talent.  I am sure Zuri’s mom felt the same.

I met Zuri’s mom and his younger brother by chance at our local CiCi’s Buffet one evening.  I recognized Zuri from the concert and had this urge to tell her how Zuri stood out to me from that concert.  Not because he is special needs but because he allows his spirit to shine.  His bright smile, his infectious presence and his child-like ways makes one feel as if they are staring into the face of God.  He appears to have no stage freight, nor is he fearful to sing, in fact, he seems to not fear anything.

Tonight I was overcome with emotion as I watched Zuri sing Say Something on stage among his choir classmates, including my son Jaren.  Zuri is front and center.  He claps his hands and has memorized the song.  I know this because I am pretty good at reading lips and I could see his lips were moving to match the words.  I can’t help but think how blessed his family is and how special his mother is.  She looks at him with possibilities and supports his achievements and she has done an amazing job.  She makes parenting look easy.

Zuri smiles and brings this song to life with his hand gestures; I think some of it was sign language.

At the end of the evening, Ms. Wright begins to call each senior’s name.  She skips over Zuri’s name purposefully.  She leaves him for last.  As she calls his name, the choir cheers.  Zuri steps down from the choir stands, walks over to Ms. Wright and they hug.  Then as Zuri walks back, he pauses mid-stage and turns to look out into the audience.  We stand applauding.  Zuri raises both arms, cheering, and beaming from ear to ear.  As he steps back onto the bleachers and returns to his spot, he is overcome with emotions.  His head drops and he begins to cry.  His comrades all gather close to him.

Tears of joy begin to flow.

I can’t help but think how proud his mother must be.

Confidence

I wish I knew how much of our confidence we are inherently born with and how much we gain from our environment.  And I’ve wondered what can promote or decrease the level of confidence we have.

Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. 

Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confidence

I love the 2006 Academy Award winner for Best Animated Feature film, Happy Feet.  Many insightful aspects and metaphors stood out in this movie but there is one thing that stands out among the rest; Mumble’s confidence.  Even though he appeared to be different, he doesn’t allow his differences to hinder his confidence.  When others criticized his dancing feet and pointed out his lack of vocal skills to his parents he remains sure of himself.  When his parents began to question whether or not their son was “normal”, Mumble quickly dispels their doubts and reassures them that he is okay and nothing is wrong.

Can you imagine being different from everyone else, not fitting in to the perfect mold that has been carved out by your environment or maybe your family.  Being told that you are not normal because you appear to be different or that your skills do not match the criterion that has been established by the leaders.  Seems kind of crazy, doesn’t it?  But to some extent, this happens every day.

I’m not a big fan of the term “Gifted and Talented (GT)”.  I think the title given to students at such a young age (as early as first grade) is misleading.  It gives the impression that only some are bestowed the honor of gifts and talents, as if they are the chosen few.

We are all born with spiritual gifts and talents.

Several of my son’s  friends were selected to go into the GT classroom after Kindergarten.  My son, however, was not.  And that was fine; except when the kids and even the parents would announce often about their GT status.  Example: “My son’s GT classroom, her GT teacher, the GT students,” instead of, “my child’s first grade class, his teacher, her classmates, the students.”  And this was during casual conversations where no distinction was needed at that particular time.

I don’t have an issue with students who are educationally advanced being placed in a separate advanced placement classroom and classifying them as academically advanced, which in my opinion is a more accurate assessment.  Students who are able to process information on a faster level should be free to advance among their like-minded peers.  But when other kids are made to feel as though they’re not gifted and talented or their gifts and talents do not matter as much as some of the others, that is when I take issue.

Jaren often talked about his friends in the GT classroom with decency and respect.  He never appeared to be jealous.  If anything, it made him work harder on his academics.

I remained neutral at home, refraining from any positive or negative remarks about the GT classroom.  I wanted Jaren to be happy and secure in his classroom environment.  I knew he was gifted and talented.  I didn’t need his elementary school to define that for me or my son.

When Jaren was in the fourth grade, he took the initiative to ask his counselor if he could take the GT assessment tests.  Previously, either the staff or the parents of students made these request.  I had known about Jaren’s desire to be in the GT classroom so this was not big surprise to me.  His counselor sent home some paperwork for me to read and authorize.  I signed the form and spoke with Jaren’s counselor.  I explained to her that this was Jaren’s idea.  However, I also assured her that I was supporting my son’s choice.

I prepared Jaren as much as I could.  I knew this was important to him.  But I also knew that there were two possible scenarios that could happen.  I wondered if my son was prepared for either.  We prayed about it and I reminded my son to do his best.

Jaren had to take three GT academic tests.  He was required to pass with a specified grade percentage on at least two of the three tests.  Jaren’s counselor called me and said Jaren qualified on one of the three tests and also came very close on a second test, missing by only a few points.  I let Jaren know how very proud of him I was for trying his best.  Mostly, I was proud of him for having the confidence to ignore the boundaries that had been previously established and seeking a goal that mattered most to him.

That’s self-confidence!

When Jaren was in the fifth grade, he, along with a few other students in his classroom competed in the Spelling Bee contest.  Previously, the contest was reserved for the GT students only.  But Jaren’s fifth grade teacher requested that her students be eligible to compete.  That year, the two top winners came from this non-GT fifth-grade class with Jaren taken second place!  I was honored that his teacher believed in her students so much so that she wanted to break the tradition that had been previously set out.  She wanted all the students to have an opportunity to excel and show their skills and talents.

Confidence is having the courage to make a request and feeling like you already know the answer is going to be yes.  It’s walking on a stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people and feeling as though your presence will inspire those listening.  It’s having the assurance to rally your team to great success.  And maybe, it’s believing no matter who you are in this world, you matter.

The Gift of Reading

"To be successful at reading comprehensio...

“To be successful at reading comprehension, students need to …” (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

You may be surprised to learn this, but I did not read my first book all the way through until I was nineteen years of age. Can you believe it? Part of this reason was because I was a very slow reader mostly due to my comprehension deficit. As a result, I got bored with the story and I got lost in the descriptions.

I realized much later that my slow comprehension was a result of my hearing ability or inability. I always scored very low in both reading and comprehension academically. I often had to re-read a paragraph and had trouble retaining or processing information. At first, I didn’t understand the correlation between reading and comprehension. I mean, when I read, I wasn’t listening to anyone; I was using my eyes to receive the information.

The problem is when a child is born with a hearing impairment or loses part of their hearing at a young age, their brain functions differently than a person whose has normal hearing. Unlike persons with normal hearing who receive and process information simultaneously, a child who is hard of hearing needs to focus first on receiving all the information needed. Then they process the information. It’s a two part technique; gather information, then analyze information. That’s not to say that everyone with a hearing impairment has the same level of comprehension or learning abilities or disabilities. Truth is, there are different levels of comprehension and some who are hard of hearing may be better at simultaneously processing information than others. But for me, it was more difficult and affected most of my academic studies.

At nineteen years old, my grandmother handed me a book. She said, “I think you will like this.” I told her that I wasn’t a very good reader and that I had never finished a book yet. But… I did agree to take the book home.

As I began to read a few pages, I became hooked into the story and the characters. Part of what interested me was the fact that this book was based on a true story. The author told of a story about two adolescent friends who got transported to concentration camps, then got separated by the horror of the holocaust, and then found each other many years later in America. It was truly a story of love and triumph, destiny and fate, strength and perseverance. I remember how happy I was when I read the last page. Not only because of this great story of two ordinary people overcoming enormous obstacles against all odds but because I finished my first book. I was thrilled that I accomplished something. To some, this may seem menial, but for me this was a huge achievement.

Sadly, to this day, I cannot remember the title of that first book. However, what I do remember is this. It was a small paperback with a picture of two hands and a long stem red rose on a black book cover background. My grandmother, who was born Germany, knew I liked roses and was hoping that would draw me into this story.

This book helped me discover what interested me, the genre I liked. Apparently, I liked true stories, autobiographies, memoirs, self-help and historical type books. Once I knew what I liked to read, I began to fill my brain with information. The more I read, the better I got. Reading and comprehending became much easier.

I’m thankful to the author who wrote this inspiring story. What a wonderful skill it is to share a story and have others share in that tale with you. To experience someone else’s life, joys, or pains. In true life, we may not have that opportunity. Reading helps us connect with people around the world. It allows us to walk in another’s shoes for a moment in time and understand more about our fellow human beings (past and present). It may evoke compassion in us to see someone’s heartache or it may bring out the fire in us and help us believe that we, too can accomplish anything in our own life. Or maybe it helps us to appreciate the life we have. Either way, I am grateful to all the writers out there as we continue to participate, giving and receiving, in this circle of storytelling.

Mostly I’m thankful to my grandmother. I would have missed out on so many stories if she had not shared that one little paperback with me. She gave me a perfect gift that day. Not just a gift of the book but the gift of reading, a lifetime of reading.BeFunky_GMOMMMA.jpg