I've always thought schools should teach kids a little about the good old American work ethic.
I'm not talking about study habits or term papers and all that book learning. Sure, that's hard work and ... and it pays off if you're ever a contestant on Jeopardy!
But I'm talking about dirt-under-the-nails, rock-busting, foot-blistering labor.
"Little Callouses, Big Futures," would be a nice motto for my pilot program. Or maybe, "Build Your Own School - Build Your Own Future."
I sure wish someone had taught me how to handle an acetylene torch in school.
And then I find this class of Pasco County's littlest students way ahead of me. These are hard working kids, young Americans not afraid to work for what they want, even if they're just 3 and 4 years old.
Margie Goodwin's School Readiness Prekindergarten class at Centennial Elementary School, between Dade City and Zephyrhills, set off on its annual walkathon to raise money this past week. The little troupers walk around the big parking lot in front of their school for about an hour, raising money from pledges they collected from parents and relatives.
Goodwin said she got the idea for the walkathon about five years ago and has held it every year since to pay for events that replace field trips.
Remember field trips? Schools used to take students on field trips. I've been on a million of them. I especially remember the one where the French teacher got the school van stuck under a low beam in a parking garage. Now, I'm always careful to watch for low beams when I drive in a parking garage.
I guess you really can learn stuff on field trips.
But then school cupboards ran bare. Field trip budgets were cut. Goodwin gets about $100 a year for craft supplies for her 21 pupils. Like other teachers, Goodwin pays for a lot of stuff on her own. There isn't anything left in the budget for visits to the zoo or museums or the greyhound track.
Well, I think the greyhound track could be educational. Always bet on the dog that just ... never mind. I could be wrong on that.
Not only is there no money for Goodwin's class to go on trips, schools now make the youngest kids wear little safety vests that hook up to metal rings on the school bus seats for safety. I promised I wouldn't call the vests "harnesses," even if that's what they look like to me. Thing is, even with all the money in the world, it's nearly impossible to arrange for a bus with enough "vest" capacity (special metal rings to clip the kids to).
Man, the way we coddle kids these days. Safety vests; helmets when they ride their bikes; no fish (mold spores), gerbils or guinea pigs (dander), or peanut butter (allergies) in the classrooms; seat belts; play dates; inoculations. Jeepers.
When I was 5, they handed us a .22-caliber rifle and the car keys and booted us out of the house until dark. Now, I'm half expecting folks to wrap their kids in foam rubber and paint them neon orange before letting them out to romp around in a gymnasium with padded floors and security cameras.
So that's why I'm so impressed with Margie Goodwin and her marching minions. Nothing wrong with a little hard work.
With enough walking, the kids raised about $1,000 last year. That money paid for visits from a traveling petting zoo and a Lowry Park Zoo outreach program. It also paid for an ice-cream social and a picnic, which the children prepared and shared with their parents.
"It's not always easy," Goodwin said. "They get tired, but we say, "Come on, one more lap. Can we do one more? We've got to earn it.' And they always cheer and say, "Yeah, one more."'
"Some of these kids, they really just need a chance to see what's out there," Goodwin said. "There's so much they just never come in contact with. I just want to give them a chance to reach out. That's why we do it."
Goodwin's classroom instructional assistant, Jan Birchfield, said the children know they're reaping the rewards of their own work. "Each time we do something special, we tell them, "You earned this. This comes from that money that you earned,"' she said. "And they get really excited. They like that feeling."
I hope it's a feeling that stays with them forever.
The Centennial Elementary School Web site is at http://cenes.pasco.k12.fl.us/ homepage/index.html. To contribute to the class field trip fund, write to Margie Goodwin, Centennial Elementary School, 38501 Centennial Road, Dade City, FL 33525.