January 15, 2016
By Ekta R. Garg
Before Christmas break Nine began working on a new project for school. Each student in her class chose an animal and had to do research on the animal in preparation for writing a report. In the middle of December I took Nine to the library to find books on the Atlantic spotted dolphin. We scoured the animal books in the children’s section and then went upstairs to the adult nonfiction books, running our fingers over the various spines in the tall stacks until we found books on whales, dolphins, and other sea creatures. In the days before vacation Nine spent some time making notes on index cards in each of ten categories during school hours and for a little bit of time at home.
Christmas break came and went. The girls enjoyed a perpetual pajama party, spending their days watching movies, drinking hot chocolate, and tackling the occasional workbook page. They stayed up much later than their usual bedtime and woke up later than school hours.
In short, they thoroughly enjoyed their time off.
Last week when school started again, Nine began stressing about her dolphin project. She came home every day worrying about making notes, poring over websites online, searching for information to fit three notecards for each of her categories. By this time she’d extracted all of the information she could out of the books we’d checked out, and she told me she didn’t need them anymore. I dutifully returned them to the library and gave her my permission to search on the web.
On Thursday of last week when I went to say good night to Nine at bedtime, her stress had reached its peak.
“I didn’t finish my notecards,” she said, her voice modulating in the dark with something close to panic. “And they’re due tomorrow.”
She’d mentioned more than once during the week that the cards were due on Friday, and my own irritation at her teacher began to mount. Why would the teacher ask the kids to complete such a big project in such a short amount of time? They’d only gone back to school last Tuesday, and she wanted them to finish all of their research by Friday?
“It’s okay,” I said to Nine. I smoothed her hair even though I couldn’t see her. “Just go to school tomorrow and explain to Ms. M. that you worked as hard as you could but you couldn’t finish your notecards. I’m sure she’ll understand.”
“But I bet other people have finished them,” she said. “And we had all Christmas break to do it.”
My heart rate increased. “What?”
“We had all Christmas break to do the notecards.”
She’d stumped me with that one, I have to admit. “Then why didn’t you do them?”
“I’m sorry,” she whined, “I forgot.”
I thought of all that free time we had during break, two full weeks of leisure and no stress, no worries. She could have finished all of her research in those two weeks. Even though it’s been about 14 years since I last worked on an academic assignment, that old rush of academic adrenalin came back. My mind sped with options, possibilities, excuses even. In the end, though, I knew there really was only one thing we could do.
“Well, you’re going to have to talk to Ms. M. and see what she has to say about it,” I said. “Just explain to her what happened, and you’ll just have to take the consequences. Sometimes when you’re honest and upfront with your teachers, they may let you have more time. But even if they don’t, the best thing you can do when you make a mistake is to own up to it and try to fix it as soon as possible.”
I told her to give her brain a break and just let it go for the night. There wasn’t anything more we could do that evening, I explained, so she would just have to deal with it the next day.
After school last Friday Nine skipped to the car and declared with glee that only three out of the 24 kids in her class had finished their research, so the entire class would get extra time to work on their notecards. Her relief flowed from the backseat where she sat to the front. I have to admit, I felt pretty relieved myself.
Earlier this week Nine finished her notecards and began writing the paper that would represent the culmination of her project. She had her own flash drive that she’d used for other school projects, but on Tuesday she came home and announced that she’d lost the flash drive. She didn’t know how she’d keep writing the paper she’d started in school that day, she said.
“But I bookmarked it on the Chromebook,” she said, “so I can go back and work on it tomorrow.”
Chromebook. That made me think of something.
“Did you save it to Google Drive?” I asked.
I spent a couple of minutes explaining the concept of servers and clouds, and then I asked her whether she had to use an email address to log into the Chromebook.
“What do you mean?”
“You know, where for your username you use something-something at something—”
“Yes!” she said.
“Okay,” I said, not wanting to raise her hopes because I didn’t know if my idea would work, “there might be a way to get to your paper at home. But,” I went on, trying to tamp down the excitement on her face, “it might not work either. And if it doesn’t, you’re just going to have to work on it the best you can.”
“Okay,” she said, visibly cheered by the prospect of trying to access her work remotely.
We got home, and the kids went through their after-school routine of putting their backpacks away, washing their hands, and (for Nine, who wears a uniform) changing clothes. After their snacks I called Nine to the computer.
I found Google drive and she ran to her backpack to fish out a little card with her username and password. She put the information into the right spots on the Google Drive page, and within minutes we were staring at the Google Docs version of her paper. Her face lit up.
“You’re very lucky,” I told her. “When I was a kid, there was no way this was possible.”
She went to her backpack yet again for her notecards and since that day has spent her free time at home working on her paper. Once again a deadline looms, but she feels much better about it. And, truthfully, so do I.
In truth, I’m glad she got the chance to sweat it out a little bit. She needed the reminder to keep track of her assignments. But I’m also glad she got a grace period to finish it. After all, she is only nine years old and she takes her work to heart as it is. In academics, as in life, she needs concrete examples to show her how to balance her challenges. This is a great lesson and a reminder all rolled into one.