A few weeks back I was helping out at the Friday night football game when three kids on bicycles caught my eye. They were riding errantly and at high speed. They were close to the entrance to Terremere Field, where several pedestrians were crossing, including those whose physical conditions limited their mobility. My safety-first radar pinged the way it does for school administrators after 12 years on the job.
As I approached the bicyclists, greeting them and introducing myself, I could see their body language shift. They were girding up for a confrontation. They’d been in this situation before. There was only one thing the old guy with the walkie-talkie could possibly want from them in this moment.
I had admired that one of the riders was able to circle the fire loop near our practice field entirely on his back wheel. A pretty cool trick. “Can you all do that?“ I asked.
“No, just him,” responded another rider.
“Can you do that whenever you want? “I asked the young man directly.
“I guess.” He replied.
“That looks hard,” I said, “how long would I need to practice to be able to do that?”
His countenance changed. He drew himself closer to the group, looked me over earnestly, and predicted with confidence that it would take me about a year. When I asked if that’s how long it has taken him, he said, “Yeah.”
I was flattered. Also impressed. He had set a goal for himself, challenging but attainable, and dedicated himself to making it happen. “I bet you fell down a lot before you finally mastered riding this way.” I said.
All three laughed. “Yeah.”
I asked if the other two riders were close to mastered the skill. They shrugged. “I’m working on it,“ said one, “I’ve almost got it.“
His friend jibed, “it’s taking him a long time.” And all three laughed.
At this point I explained that this section of campus, great for the kind of trick riding they were doing, was also experiencing heavy foot traffic for the football game taking place inside the stadium. I told him I was worried about them riding fast and taking risks around so many people.
I admitted I was probably being overly cautious, but explained that’s my job. “I just don’t want to see anyone’s grandma get knocked over.” They nodded, smiled, and said they were going to head across the street to get something to eat. I told them it was great talking to them and wished them well.
“Alright then, Mr. Priest.”
I walked back to the stadium gate thinking about our school mission. About work ethic, dedication, creativity, and a love of learning. I thought about the boxes in which our system and educational “experts” might try and place these young men based on whatever deficits we might identify using the standardized measures of the moment. I thought about the next challenging but attainable goal they sets for themselves, and the lessons they’ve learned over the last year about sticking with something and picking yourself up off the ground when you fall. I hope my interaction reinforced whatever lessons those were. I have great hope for these three young people.
Have a great week!