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A Sixth Grade Girl and Her Six Lessons on God

Michael Kenney - ACE 26, Twin Cities

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On my way to proctor breakfast duty, I think about the four minutes following our morning bell. Soon, at 9:15 a.m., the first bell will ring, giving students four minutes to head from breakfast to homeroom and granting me those same, precious four minutes to print the eighth-grade religion worksheets, send a student to the office for morning announcements, stick an IEP form in a colleague's mailbox, and if all goes according to plan, grab a cup of coffee in stride to class.

26-twin-cities-kenney_1I step into the gym for breakfast duty, and my busy thoughts dissipate when I hear Izzy, a sixth-grade student with Down syndrome, call my name from across the gym. "MR. KENNEY!!" she shouts, bouncing towards me with arms outstretched for a hug and a smile that could have said Christmas arrived two months early. Lesson 1: God, like Izzy, embraces the present.

We get to talking, and as with many interactions, Izzy points to those around her and says, "Look! My friends!" First graders and middle schoolers alike, Izzy considers everyone a friend — a best friend, actually. At one point, she even pauses our conversation to give one adult a sneak-attack hug from behind. After all, they met nearly three days prior. Lesson 2: God, like Izzy, calls each of us into close friendship with Him.

Izzy returns to our conversation and begins playing her favorite trick-the-teacher game. "Look! A giraffe!" She points over my shoulder, her eyes twinkling with mischief, and I go for her fake. "A giraffe?! Where?!" She runs behind me and giggles relentlessly as I wander around asking, "Where is Izzy? She was just here! Where did she go?!" Lesson 3: God, like Izzy, relishes in our search for and discovery of Him.

Once I "find" Izzy, she tells me that she wants to teach me how to dance. You've got your work cut out for you, girly, I think to myself. She begins hopping and pirouetting, pausing after each move so I can mirror her. I think: Did I ever anticipate performing ballet in a gym full of students? Nope. But here we are. Lesson 4: God, like Izzy, calls us outside of ourselves.

"I smile, knowing that tomorrow, even more lessons on God await me."

Following recess, a different sixth-grade girl finds herself in tears. Izzy leads me to the weeping student, who informs me that, because her jean jacket fell in a puddle, she may be too distressed to attend our class that day. I do not track her logic, particularly as I consider how the other students may transform into whirling dervishes if I do not meet them as they file into class. Izzy, however, caresses her classmate's shoulder and hangs onto every word that is recounted about recess, the jacket, and the infamous puddle. Lesson 5: God, like Izzy, is patient and listens, even when our sadness seems maudlin.

A few minutes later, with the whole crew together, I circulate throughout the room and facilitate students as they work. I see that, rather than completing her assignment, Izzy has designed party invitations in a continued effort to buoy her one peer's spirits. Izzy waves me over to have a look and then, beaming, hands the invitation over to her friend. Lesson 6: God, like Izzy, eagerly invites us to celebrate, specifically at the Mass.

The bell rings one final time that afternoon, and I amble down the hallway, conscious of how God's love radiated today through outstretched arms and a sneak-attack hug, through hide-and-go-seek and breakfast ballet, through a puddle of tears and a party invitation, all thanks to a sixth-grade girl named Izzy. I smile, knowing that tomorrow, even more lessons on God await me.


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