Miki, Me, and the Multigrade

Miki 2019

Miki Frace’s likeness smiled back at me from today’s paper.  Perhaps she smiled at you, too.  She’s on the front page of the Chinook Observer because she has just retired from the Ocean Beach School District.  (Was there an article about me when I retired?  I don’t think so, but it’s been too many years for my foggy memory to recall.)

I was on the team of teachers who interviewed Miki when she came here in 1986 or ’87. We sat at a big table in my classroom at Ocean Park and, as I remembered, it felt more like a chat among friends than a formal question and answer session.  That’s just the way Miki makes you feel.    And besides, her daughter Dorothy who was at the crawl-and-explore stage of life  — I remember that she was 18 months old; the paper said “seven months” which is probably closer to the truth — and we were all captivated immediately.  Miki got the job and right from the get-go we were friends.

Miki and Dorothy 2013

At first she taught down the hall from me.  She had Kindergarten; I had 1st/2nd/3rd.  We often shared ideas, talked strategies, commiserated when days were difficult.  Her room was full-to-overflowing with projects and ideas and enthusiasm.  “Messy Bessy” she called herself.  “Magic Miki” the rest of us thought.  And never mind that she is my son’s age.  Years had nothing to do with Miki’s life experiences or with her wisdom or with her huge heart.

The following year, some of her graduates came into my room and so we collaborated a little more fully.  We found that if we were writing something — a grant proposal, a curriculum expansion — we could easily begin or end one another’s sentences.  Then, suddenly it seemed, Dorothy was in first grade and in my class and  I remember feeling a bit schitzy for a minute or two.  I needn’t have worried.  Teaching a friend’s child when the friend is Miki turned out to be a non-problem.

Then came the time when my classroom was getting a lot of attention from the school board — especially from Chairman of the Board, Jack Williams. Initially, he came to observe as he did in every classroom.  “But I can’t tell who are the third graders and who are the first graders,” he said.  “That’s the point,” I told him.  “None of us come with a manual that says when we’ll learn what.  What grade you’re in really doesn’t matter.  It’s that you are continually building on the skills you’ve mastered…” said I.  And we talked some more.

“Why don’t all the teachers do this?” Admiral Jack asked.  Why indeed?  When I talked with Miki about it, she said she’d love to teach a “one-two-three.”  And soon she and I were, as she said, “joined at the hip” — taking our cause “on the road” so to speak.  We met with other teachers, other school board members, with our principal, and with our superintendent.  We met with parents and with the greater community.  We talked “multigrade.”  And we created the Ocean Park Multigrade School.

It lasted for about ten years, I think.  Maybe more.  Through it all, Miki and I continued spreading the good word — to other schools and other districts.  We even gave classes to teachers from all over the state.  I don’t think we called it Multigrade 101 but we could have.

Miki and Me – January 2019

When I was moved to Long Beach School, I missed the multigrade and when I retired, I missed the kids and my colleagues.  But I never had to miss Miki.  Our friendship has endured and I think it’s here to stay.  Thank goodness!

 

One Response to “Miki, Me, and the Multigrade”

  1. What a wonderful article (one of a series over the last four days)! Thanks so much, Sydney for your great reportage and your service to our community as a teacher, much less as a beautiful historian/writer! Good Work, Cuz! Love, KK

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