When McGowen Elementary opened its doors on August 27, 2007, we were there.
We were a part of many of the “firsts” and “inaugurals” as McGowen formed its identity: family dances, fall carnivals, Mavs Dads events, fundraisers, class parties. We supported many of the initiatives and helped launch some of the programs that are now an integral part of both the school and the community.
We purchased bricks in our children’s honor that would one day line the butterfly garden, a garden that is now flourishing and being cared for by McGowen’s Green Team.
Crisana enjoyed her final last-day-of-school party, a cookout at the front of the school.
She hung out in the classroom for the last time. We made one final walk down the hallways to say goodbye to two very special teachers.
Mrs. Bianchetta, her music teacher, has always been one of Crisana’s biggest cheerleaders. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Crisana loves music and is probably one of the most enthusiastic, involved students in her class. But last year, I experienced something that showed the depth of the love and concern that this very special woman has for my daughter.
Crisana had participated in the annual “McGowen’s Got Talent” talent show. As she has done each year, she chose a piano piece to perform, this time one of her all-time favorite praise songs, “Bless the Lord (10,000 Reasons)”. She practiced for months. She memorized the words and adapted the arrangement to fit in the required time allotment. Unfortunately, issues with the sound equipment caused her performance to be nearly inaudible on the day of the show. And competing against martial arts demonstrations, dance troupes, and singers with hand-held microphones put her at a serious disadvantage.
Sure enough, when the winners were announced a couple days later, Crisana’s name was not called. Bravely, she congratulated her friends who had won, but I could see the quiver in her lip and the tears forming in her eyes. She applauded the others and told them how happy she was for them, but I could see her struggling to hold back the disappointment. And then, all of a sudden, the dam burst. She buried her head in her hands as the tears flowed freely, her shoulders wracked with sobs, her breath drawn in ragged gulps. Quickly, I grabbed her and ushered her into the hallway where I could gather her into the safety and comfort of my arms, stroke her hair, and breathe words of love and affirmation into her deflated spirit.
A moment later, Mrs. Bianchetta was there. She held Crisana’s face between her hands, looked directly into her eyes, and spoke passionately into her soul. “Don’t let this define you. You are far better than an elementary school talent show. You had poise, you had stage presence, you sang from your heart. You sang a song that meant something to you, not a song that would win you popularity points.” I could hear the strain in her voice and see the tears in her own eyes as she encouraged my daughter, over and over, reminding her of her abilities, her strength, her courage. She squeezed Crisana tightly. “I love you, you know that, right?” And then she hugged me. A precious, spontaneous moment I will never forget.
The next day, on the last day of school, Mrs. Bianchetta presented Crisana with a special certificate all her own. Signed by both her and Ms. Caldwell, the art teacher, this certificate proclaimed Crisana to be the “winner” in their book.
Seems to me, they’re the real champions.
Ms. Caldwell, Crisana’s art teacher, is the tandem to Mrs. Bianchetta. A mighty duo of unsung heroes, this teacher is – in my opinion – solely responsible for Crisana’s dream of becoming a famous artist living in Paris. Ms. Caldwell has always seen the potential in Crisana and has taken a special interest in nurturing that potential, despite the fact that other students may actually be more talented. To prove it, this year, she commissioned Crisana to do a painting of her dog.
Just before Christmas, Crisana came home from school especially excited. She breathlessly informed me that Ms. Caldwell was going to give her a canvas so she could paint a picture of her dog. I didn’t think much of this, until a few days later, when Crisana emerged from school with not only a canvas, but a printed full-color photograph and an entire art kit including paints and brushes, all of it a gift from Ms. Caldwell. Over the break, Crisana spent hours diligently working on her painting, practicing techniques of shading and blending to create just the right effects. Considering that my stick figures look more like stop signs, I was unable to be much of a help to her. But with a few suggestions here and there, and a little persistence, she was able to make it just the way she wanted it.
And wouldn’t you know, Ms. Caldwell loved it so much that she left it hanging in the classroom, where she can see it every day.
When the last day of school came, Ms. Caldwell teared up hugging Crisana good bye. “I don’t say this about every child, but I am going to miss you.”
The feeling is mutual.
With those final hugs, those last wishes of “good luck” and “keep in touch”, our time at McGowen was done. We walked out the double doors at the front entrance for the last time. We made our way to the car, crunching along the crispy, drought-weathered lawn that spreads between the school and the street. We paused for a moment to savor the images: the marquee, a favorite first-day photo spot for the past 7 years. The playground, with the shade canopies that Crisana’s Brownie Troop wrote letters to petition for and raised funds to help purchase. The classrooms, filled with special teachers and friends, people who have made lasting impressions on our lives and hearts. It was a bittersweet moment.
With a sigh, and a brush of the eyes, we were off. Headed for summertime fun and the adventure of middle school that awaits us. A Maverick no more, a Panther-to-be. A nod to the past and our eyes set to the future. Who knows what it holds?
Right now, a watermelon nerds slush. It’s happy hour at Sonic.