It’s the very first day of the school year, and the rain has been coming down for weeks now. It doesn’t matter. Even with the steady shower of rain people have come for Chalk the Walks. It's lunchtime, and usually people would be eating, relaxing and building up energy for the next half of the day. Instead they're outside, bundled up: raincoats, boots, scarves, bright umbrellas, and all holding chalk.
They’re hunched over as the rain drips down their coats and onto the sidewalk, fingers with chalk moving carefully across the concrete. Arms and chalk sweep across in curves. The chalk stands out brightly in the rain, vibrant pinks, blues, yellows, the messages popping out at you as you walk up to the front door. "Happy 1st Day!" "Good luck! "Bright Days Ahead!" "We love you!"
Even though everyone is damp, people are still smiling and laughing. The kids inside mimic their smiles, slow grins as they walk to class and lunch, heads turned to look out the windows at the chalk as they pass. Some pause, their eyes scanning the messages. Left to right. Up and down. They smile bigger and their eyes crinkle around the corners. They stand a little taller as they walk to class.
Then it's done. The extra chalk is packed away and one by one people get back into their cars and leave. And at the end of the hour, once everyone has packed up and gone, heading back to work, the messages stand bright against the dark of the cement, the chalk smeared a little but still there. By the next school day the chalk is washed away.
A week goes by and school starts for the first graders and kindergartners. It’s sunnier today and again people are out with chalk. This time it’s the students. 4th, 5th, and 6th graders are all out with chalk in their hands and dust on their clothes writing out words of encouragement. My favorite is a girl carefully drawing a flower under her simple message of "welcome." Her eyes are scrunched up and she painstakingly draws every petal.
Their teachers are on the ground also, bent over and smiling and helping the younger students spell out some of the words. A couple of kids stand quietly to the side, chalk in their hands, staring at the empty ground. They see their teacher writing messages and watch her. She stretches out to write a long exclamation point for her note of encouragement and looks behind her at the kids and smile. They smile back and get down on the ground as they begin to write.
And soon the entrance to school is covered with messages, the messages crowding each other out along the sides of the school. It’s worth it to see the kindergartners and first graders stare at the messages and pictures, watching their faces light up. For the next week their faces will light up as they come into school, feeling just a little more confident as they enter school.The writing’s a little shaky, with words misspelled here and there but it doesn’t matter. The care and thought is there.
We need all of Anchorage to support our students and provide these type of thoughtful actions towards our students. It's everyone's responsibility to help students on their path to school. When an event like Chalk the Walks happens, students can see that they have more than parents and teachers supporting them. They have the community.
Two small activities, done in just a couple of hours-- but two hours of work that encourage students as they start the year. It's something different that helps them feel like somebody cares, that somebody believes in them. Where they can think that hey, maybe if an adult thinks they can do it, maybe they can do it. It's just a little bit of encouragement from unexpected sources, where it's not just parents or teachers. It's the community; it's everyone.
And with everyone supporting students, we can get everyone to graduation as well.