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We’ve survived the opening of school. Met our kids, issued lockers, given out homework. There was a lot of nervous energy, but things ran smoothly, and I had done enough planning over the past couple of weeks to actually feel a semblance of control. At this time of transition and fresh starts, I couldn’t help but notice some other memorable beginnings this week.

First day of first grade for my almost 6-year old. A mental snapshot of him I’ll always cherish: tousled hair, kakhi shorts, a dark green polo shirt (in kindergarten they didn’t have to wear the school uniform), and cool socks covered with soccer balls. When did he shed his toddler’s body and become the willowy milk-guzzler standing in front of me?

First time I couldn’t shield him from death. Lying next to Jack in bed the other night after stories, he announced in a matter of fact tone, “The Croc Hunter’s dead, you know. A stingray barb went into his heart.” I did know, since the popular conservationist’s freakish demise had been plastered all over the media for two days. But I had desperately been trying to prevent my son from finding out, assuming the news would crush him. Turns out, he saw it while watching TV with the babysitter. It also turns out that I was wrong: I couldn’t prevent him from hearing, and he could handle it. “He did a lot of risky stuff, Dad,” he consoled me.

First week for my new-to-TJ colleagues. My rookie IBET team did great. On the very first day, we managed to “flex” our schedules to get all the biology, English and tech kids together in the cafeteria for getting-to-know-you skits. During one, a boy pulled off a decent imitation of the tech teacher after only having had his class for half an hour. On other fronts, we shot around emails to keep the ball rolling on our Occoquan Bay water quality project. A bit shell-shocked by Friday, the biology teacher observed, “These kids are something. I just taught in two days what it took me a semester to do last year.” Welcome to TJ, Jennie.

First steps on the canoe project. The grant-funded plan to build a Native American dugout with traditional stone tools has been a highly abstract proposal up to this point. Two things happened that made it seem real: we got an email from our partner at the Alexandria Seaport Foundation saying he’d obtained a log and was having it delivered to Mount Vernon; and I brought in my well-worn canoe backpack, jammed with tarps, ropes and stove, to do a hands-on lesson with kids. The first bit of news surprised us. We had planned a trip with kids to see the standing tree, maybe learn about how it would be taken down and transported. Expedience trumped verisimilitude. But we do have a log.

The “magic backpack” lesson, however, was a hit. Kids acted like cultural anthropologists of the future as they sketched items from a recently discovered cache. “Describe, analyze, and infer” were our watchwords in pondering the materials, design and function of familiar and unfamiliar artifacts.

First time with my TA (this year). A sort of home room that lasts all four years, “teacher advisory” is a place for sharing news of the school and the world, playing games of touch football against other TAs, and other more or less organized forms of hanging out. All the kids in my group were in my IBET last year; together, we’re sophomores now. While we were talking about what sort of service project we want to do this year, I realized how well I knew these kids already, and imagined how these relationships might deepen over the next three years. It was a good reminder, amidst the dizzying flow of the first week, that some things are constant. Like the reason I go to work everyday.

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