Earlier this year, I wrote a post about a St. Johnsbury fourth grader who saved his allowance and then made a donation to our school. A Light in the Darkness told the story of Callum, who chose to donate since he “enjoyed learning so much.” It was covered in the Caledonian-Record, as Callum was thoughtful enough to share his savings with other local institutions.
This past Friday, we learned of another generous student. Florie, who is in second grade, donated some of her savings to our school. When she gave it to our Lower School Principal Lydia Cochrane, she shared that she hopes it can be used to get food to students who need it and that her donation spreads love for Valentine’s Day.
I am stunned - again - by the generosity of our students. Our students continue to light the way for us as adults, showing us how to live meaningfully in a world where there are so many claims to what is true and good. It is a gift and a professional privilege to be able to be a part of their educational journey.
There will be skeptics and naysayers who will point to the fact that Callum did it first. They may say that the only reason Florie did it was because she saw someone else do it. I find fault with that reasoning personally, but let’s play that out for a moment. So what? So what if Florie did it only because she saw Callum do it first? What’s wrong with that? In short, nothing.
On my very first day of teaching, in the summer of 1996, the teacher across the hall from me came into my classroom and introduced himself. In the course of the conversation, he said the following, “Come into my classroom anytime. See what I’m doing. Copy it and make it your own.” And I did just that. It shaped my first year of teaching. I improved during that first year, because of the time I spent in someone else’s classroom. John Minor gave me such a gift in that first and critical year of my career.
Perhaps you think learning from others is only limited to education. Last weekend, I spent some time in the Emergency Department of the University of Vermont Medical Center. My Wife hit her head while skiing and needed a CT scan (she is OK). It was a blur at times, but during a quiet moment with one of the nurses, I asked the her what it meant that one of the doctors was a “resident.” The nurse explained that the residents are graduates of medical school. Depending on their specialty and years post-medical school, they can be anywhere from shadowing the attending physician to treating the patients themselves while still consulting with the attending physician.
It’s not OK to cheat. It’s not OK to plagiarize. It’s not OK to take someone else’s original work and not give them credit. And let’s be honest, we all have learned how to be in the world from others. Infants learn to walk from watching those in their homes. Children learn how to ride bikes by seeing others do it. Coaches coach, teachers teach, master electricians mentor aspiring electricians - all do it, in one way or another, by showing what needs to be done.
Whether or not Florie got the idea from Callum is not the point. It does not matter. What matters is that we are cultivating a culture of generosity in the St. Johnsbury School, and from my perspective, it comes during a time in our world when perhaps we need it the most. I hope more students see it. I hope more students do it. I hope that the generosity of our student body is something that becomes a hallmark of what we are doing in the St. Johnsbury School.
Because to teach that lesson, we must be learning from others.
Dr. Brian G. Ricca is superintendent of St. Johnsbury School.