Meet the principal : Sample Story

Science Night and the Garbage Bag Hug

The Garbage Bag Hug! What a perfect name,” said Marco. He was sitting on the floor inside a garbage bag with only his head sticking out. Harrison Barrett had the hose end of a vacuum cleaner sticking inside the garbage bag and was sucking the air out so pretty soon the bag was hugging Marco like a second skin. Harrison was a Robinson High School science teacher who was volunteering at the Baxter Elementary Science Fair.

“Can you feel that?” shouted Harrison. “Let me know if it’s too tight. That’s what external air pressure feels like.”

“It feels weird, like something’s pushing on my skin, like a really tight wet suit.”

Marco Gleason was a fifth grader at Baxter Elementary. He was a quiet, slim kid with shoulder-length black hair and was a frequent visitor to the principal’s office. He had been at Baxter since kindergarten, but this was the first time he had attended a school’s evening function. Marco had several brothers and sisters so, with them to look after, and his parents both working at night, they had their hands full and never had time to bring Marco to things like this. His teacher, Lynn Vander, understood this and, as she had been trying to get Marco more interested in school, thought the Science Fair might engage him.

“Marco, I don’t live far from where you live,” she had said to him. “Do you think it would be okay with your parents if I came by and picked you up for the Science Fair? I’m picking up another student anyway, so it would be on my way to school.”

Lynn didn’t have plans to pick up anyone else, but if Marco could go, she would find another male student to join them. She felt Marco would be uncomfortable if he was the only student riding in her car. So, plans were made, and Lynn had brought Marco and Jeremy to school that evening. She was delighted to see how much he was enjoying the “Garbage Bag Hug” and the other events of the night.

This was the first year of the Science Fair at Baxter. It began as collaboration between Harrison and me. We had been planning for over a year and were thrilled with the results we were seeing. At least 400 students and parents packed the cafeteria. Harrison had his entire science department supervising activities and the room had been transformed for the event. There were science experiments in the middle of the room and along every wall. Stuffed paper reptiles, mammals and amphibians made by students hung from the ceiling. Laughter and chatter could be heard throughout the room.

Marco went from activity to activity enjoying the multitude of science experiments. All of a sudden, he stopped. His eyes expanded as big as saucers when he saw the huge brown and tan checkered snake. The high school science teachers had brought their own collection of reptiles. One of the teachers, Joe Morris, saw Marco.

“Come on over. Do you want to pet or hold Willy? He won’t bite. He’s very docile and tame.” Joe was holding a large gopher snake. He must have been at least five feet long.

Marco was hesitant. He had never seen a snake before in real life, only in books and on television. He slowly walked up to Joe but kept his distance. He just stared at the snake.

“Go ahead, touch his back. It’s okay. He’s friendly.”

Marco gently ran his fingers along Willy’s smooth, silky back. Willy didn’t seem to notice. Marco stayed there for a long time watching how Joe let the snake move along his arms. As he watched he seemed to grow more comfortable petting the snake. Soon Marco was rubbing Willy’s back and eventually he let the snake wrap itself around his arm.

“See how gentle Willy is? Wrapping himself around your arm is his way of figuring out who you are. Would you like to help put him back in his cage?”

Marco smiled and his eyes lit up. It was unusual to see him show emotion instead of acting blasé and cool. He helped lift the huge snake into the glass terrarium. Willy’s tail end was hanging over the edge of the glass as Marco lifted it up and put it down into its temporary home.

I asked Marco if he was having a good time.

“I didn’t know science could be so much fun,” he announced excitedly, as he raced off to the next activity before the evening ended.

The Science Fair turned out to be a win-win partnership between the high school and the elementary school. The high school science teachers brought their passion about their subject to the elementary students, and it was exciting to watch their enthusiasm as they showed the younger kids how science worked. From petting snakes to learning about air pressure, I saw students all around the room engaged in discovering science and experiencing “Garbage Bag Hugs.”

“A master tells you what he expects of you, a teacher, though, awakens your own expectations”

Patricia Neal

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