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Amazing Stephanie 4/20/2004

Since we first arrived here in Fort Yukon, we have eagerly desired to be as much a part of the community as possible, and to that end we have done what we can to meet people and be involved in the life of the village. As we have come to see the great need for adult leadership and involvement in the lives of the children here, that is where our focus been. Of course Stephanie is better at this than I am, and since she is actually in the school and sees kids all day, she also has more opportunity to get to know them than I do. I thought you'd all like to know a couple of examples of the great job she's doing. These are just a few of the many I could have included.

Stephanie and I were visiting the Baptist Church here in Fort Yukon one evening during their 'revival' week. There were a couple young girls- I would say 8 or so years old- sitting in the pew in front of us. They were, as seems to always be the case here, totally unsupervised. I don't know if their parents were sitting somewhere behind us or if the children were dropped off and their parents somewhere else. The two girls, one in particular, were being loud, squirmy, and generally disruptive during the singing of hymns. At a moment when anyone else would have either ignored them or harshly corrected them, Stephanie gently caught the attention of the instigator, showed her the page of the hymnal, and followed the words with her finger as we sang them so that the child could keep up. An amazing thing happened: the child immediately stopped being disruptive and became engaged. She sang along with a child's voice, off key and with gusto. As I watched Steph with this girl it occurred to me how beautiful the scene was. Stephanie was managing to do several things at once: First, she stilled the distracting and disruptive child without harshly correcting her (which probably wouldn't have worked). Second, she was literally teaching the child to read as the child knew the song by memory and could now see the words drift by under Steph's finger while the child sang them out loud. That was more exposure to print than the child receives on most days. And third, she was allowing the child to be engaged in worship as part of the group, rather than simply playing while church went on around her. It was great. Unfortunately, after several songs like this, the pastor's wife must have thought the child was being a burden to Steph, and (with good intention, I'm sure) came and pulled the girl away and dragged her back to stand silently and unengaged by the pastor's wife.

Stephanie has been a big hit with the kids at her school. They gravitate towards her. I know this is the case when kids show up at our door unannounced and for no reason. They just come over. One evening, two girls came over to visit Steph. She, ever the hospitable, poured a large bowl of tortilla chips and salsa (a true luxury here) for the girls to snack on. After the bowl was drained, Steph entertained them by playing board games for over an hour. She pulled out all her nail polish tools, and they all polished their nails, giggling all the while. She talked to them about school and about home, and what they wanted to do when they were through with school. They asked for more tortilla chips, and Steph refilled the bowl. She made them homemade hot chocolate. They arrived at seven and didn't leave until 10PM! After they finally left, Steph sheepishly came to me and said, "wow, they stayed a long time," because she knows I like still, quiet evenings at home. But I told her I thought it was great. I told her that the two bowls of chips and mugs of hot chocolate were very likely all the dinner that were having that night. And I told her that an adult had given 100% of her attention to these girls for three straight hours, and when was the last time that had happened? Maybe never. Maybe won't happen again for a long time. It was good to have them over, and good to see Stephanie love on them for a while.

Stephanie has also volunteered to take over the cheerleading team at the school. She walked in to a disaster at first. The previous teacher in charge of this group was a lesson in chaos and impropriety. She showed up to work every day with hickeys all down her neck, has four children from four fathers, and allowed the cheerleaders to run wild- cursing at them as they cursed at her. And they did. And her daughter was one of the cheerleaders. When Steph took over, she made it clear that things would be different. Half of the girls quit, which was disheartening to Steph. Then, when the was pushed, she kicked one girl off the team (who happened to be the daughter of the previous teacher), another couple girls quit in protest. This all happened in about a week. Then, with only four girls left, Steph started to do what she does best: she spent time with them, she loved them, she shared her creative ideas and activities with them, and people began to notice. The core group she has left are doing great things. They have raised money to pay off the negative account they previously had and are raising more to buy uniforms (they didn't previously have any). They've put on two dances, and they are planning a trip to Anchorage. Those other girls who quit are now dying to re join, but Steph is being firm. She has raised the bar tremendously, and the girls have responded. Other parents and people in the community are also noticing and TWO people called our house last night to tell Stephanie that she is doing a great job and that they hope she comes back next year. Let me tell you folks, THIS IS UNHEARD OF. Tension between the school and the community is notorious and ongoing, and she is managing to bridge the gap. People here think I'm great because I'm with Stephanie and they think she's the best.

One Saturday, Steph and I were out for a walk. We we walking down a wooded trail and had to walk single file rather than side by side. It was a perfect blue sky day in a snow covered world, and Stephanie was walking in front of me. We were both in a great mood and as she walked she exuded happiness. She kicked at the snow, she snapped off a branch and whipped it around, she whipped at other branches to make their burden of snow fall to the ground, she shook the small tree limbs to make the snow piled high in their branches fall to the ground and giggled as it landed on her. She was acting like a kid.
I chuckled and she turned around embarrassed to see I was watching her and laughing at her. She asked me, "What?"
I said, "Nothing. It's just a pleasure to watch you walk through life."
"Why, because I do stuff?" she asked.
"Because your so happy," I said.

Posted on Tuesday, April 20, 2004 at 04:32PM by Registered CommenterBrian Rozell | CommentsPost a Comment

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