Stephanie Lederman's Learning Story


I moved to Foothill Farms Elementary School my sixth grade year…moving was a part of my life being a military brat in and out of D.O.D. schools. My dad was getting ready to retire, so our family bought a house and planted some roots near Foothill High School, Sacramento, CA. I started mid-year at a public school for a change…Enter Mr. Starkey…towering over us at a mere 6’3″ or so…his wrinkles and gray told me he knew a thing or two about life…so I listened and waited…I was accustomed to silence for the first six months when entering a new school, but that would soon leave me zero friends company over summer break. He could tell I had severe test anxiety, fear of failure, and poor self image, and went to work right away to distract me towards productivity. He had a healthy sarcasm in his discipline of kids, helping us to see personal fouls before they became too problematic. He was an ornithology buff, a hunter, and an infamous cook. His neighboring team mate, Mr. Saunders, had a more scholastic approach and was deep into Astronomy. The last few months of school, the duo spent hours laboring over the tradition of fighting and setting the school board straight; the End-of-the-Year, 6th Grade, 4-day Dillan’s Beach field trip would NOT be dismantled by a bunch of crotchety, old-school, worry-wart, bean-picking, fuss bucket joy killers…the field trip would go on without a hitch. The last six weeks went on like basic training; three weeks with Mr. Starkey, dissecting ducks, going on bird watches on and off campus, and taking the time to shut our friggin’ mouths to listen and recognize beautiful, familiar calls of birds indigenous to the west coast. The Yellow-Bill Magpie was my favorite, with its long, irridescent black tail. Then we would switch to Mr. Saunder’s class for the last three weeks, as he whipped our minds into shape in the knowledge of constellations, star names and meanings, their mythology, and how sailors of the ancient world followed them home after grand adventures. Our own adventure would begin soon after school’s end. Preparations: My dad was a former Pilot for the U.S. Air Force, stationed at McClellan Air Force Base in Citrus Heights, and rarely had the time for a family, sit-down dinner with all his administrative duties, much less serve his country as a parent chaperone, especially for an undisciplined, foul-mouthed, disheveled motley crew of overly-curious sixth graders. However, the lure of future R.O.T.C. recruits persuaded my dad to schedule some needed father-daughter time. He scored my tent mates and I the Army’s finest in outdoor survival gear: heavy-duty ground liners, self-inflatable air mattresses, fur-lined and hooded, full-body sleep sacs, swiss compasses, and utility belts that would make a boy scout sit in the corner of his tent and pout…It rained that first of three nights at beach camp. While everyone was airing out their provisions, we became the envy of tent city. Three days left, filled with hikes, tide pool explorations, bird (and boy) watching, BBQ’s, and warm, 2-minute showers while 6th grade boys clammored up near-by hills to attempt a peak over the 6 foot canvas curtain, shielding our nakedness. Exhillerating. The time would come the last day of the trip that would make every boy there, a man, every girl, a woman. Time to face Blood, Sweat, and Tears…no, the trip was well chaperoned, and there was no time nor thought for any juvenile hanky-panky. I sat down on the plastic, circular disk. Two 6th grade boys helped me firmly affix my motorcycle helmet, the excitement of what was to come would override my displeasure of matted-down hair. Mr. Starkey shouted orders at me over the deafening wind blowing past the helmet’s ear holes. I just hoped I had heard Mr. Starkey correctly…”Hold the handles firmly, do not let go until the guards shout “NOW!” with the bull horns, lean back, tilt head forward to look for the point of no return, and enjoy the ride! You ready? Ready? Throw it up!” the parent volunteers once holding down the white parachute with the words “Blood, Sweat, & Tears,” released the sails to be filled with a Delta breeze, and off I went…must have been going over 60 miles per hour, because it seemed only a few seconds before I was told to let go of the shoot before flying off the tip of a massive sand dune. Whoever invented this ride was a genius…Mr. Starkey and Mr. Saunders were genius when it came to stirring up the interests, imaginations, and dreams of children. They were child advocates, passionate about teaching quality curriculum and making it come to life with real adventures, not the sterile, safe, sure to bore you to death kind that a pattern of budget cuts and sue-happy stakeholders paved out for generations to come. I didn’t care about test scores after that year…though I continued to try my best through bad grades in math. I went into Jr. High with a personal strength I later realized how much I would have to tap into when my parents divorced; drugs, mischief, and sex seemed to be the norm and prevolent everywhere. Those two teachers gave me a clear vision of what childhood should be filled with instead…I have been happily married for over 13 years, have two rough-n-tough girls of my own, and have been teaching a total of 14 years…9 of those years as a 6th grade teacher in Sunny Slope, Arizona. I never got a chance to tell my favorite teachers, Mr. Starkey and Mr. Saunders what their example meant to me, the impression they left on my heart, mind, and soul…my voice was not as strong back then, and I didn’t make myself too known to anyone, least I be pulled into the dangers around me. I came to visit the two at the end of my 7th grade. Mr. Starkey forgot my name (I kidded him about his age) He looked quite sad and defeated when we talked about the infamous trip. He told me that the school board finally found a way to shut down the Dillan’s Beach Tradition for generations thereafter. I heard he retired the very next year. Your labor was not in vain, gentlemen (wherever you are). I’m sure I’m not the only success story from among your daring flock of sand coasting 6th graders 😉