It was a crisp cold fall day. At 8:40 a.m., I waited in front of the school on morning bus duty. Eduardo, one of the 5th grade safety patrols, walked down the sidewalk with his clipboard and stopwatch, ready to note the bus arrival times. He stopped in front of me, smiled, and pulled his neon green safety patrol belt out of his jacket. “Look!”
My eyes locked on the gold-colored safety patrol badge on his belt. I was instantly transported back in time 40 years to a high-ceilinged gritty green elementary classroom in Indianapolis, and the memory of my younger brother Mark.
The announcement came over the ceiling PA system on Friday afternoon:
“The gold badge will be worn next week by (long pause) Mark Reasoner.”
Applause from the classrooms and glances my way—he was my brother after all, and he had won it again. In our large K-8 elementary school, two boys (girls were not allowed to be patrols) earned the gold badge every week. They had to show exemplary behavior and responsibility on their patrol posts. To those of us not privileged or male enough to be patrols, it was a big mystery, sort of like a lodge membership.
When Eduardo shyly asked me the next day why I was so impressed by his gold badge, I told him about the memory of my “little brother” and what an honor earning the gold badge had been for him. Eduardo asked, “Did you ever earn the gold badge?”
I tried hard to keep the scorn out of my voice as I said, “Girls were not allowed to be patrols.” I could see the puzzlement in his face — and the questions: You were young? Teachers have brothers? Girls couldn’t be patrols?
I observed Eduardo’s quiet pride as he showed the badge to other teachers, and I took pride in his joy and his shy pleasure. Eduardo came to our school in the 1st grade, fresh from Mexico and didn’t speak or understand one word of English. He is now in the 5th grade gifted/talented classroom, the patrol captain, a trombone player, a star Lab Lunch participant and one of the most responsible and friendly children in this school.
Later, I asked my brother Mark what the gold badge meant to him as a child. Now 53 and living in Florida, Mark works in the computer software field doing training as a national consultant. An avid bicyclist, he racks up miles and miles every week on the flat roads of northern Florida. He had much to say about the feelings that earning the gold badge still engender in him. He wrote:
Your student Eduardo indeed has reason to be proud. Back in the day, those on the school safety patrol were special. We had extra responsibility and with it went extra privileges. We got to leave school early and had a valid excuse for being a few minutes late. It was great.
The coolest part was that the principal announced your name over the PA on Friday afternoon with the end-of-the-week announcements. You got to go to the principal’s office, get a handshake and the badge, and then walk out early with your patrol colleagues to your corner post feeling “oh so important.” It was the one time you really enjoyed being called to the principal’s office.
I think I had the badge for about 40% of my time on the safety patrol. I can even remember a few times when I forgot to turn it back on Friday morning and ran to the office on Friday afternoon before the announcements, only to be told “Don’t worry. You got it again.” One teacher told me they were going to retire the badge when I went to high school.
Congratulate Eduardo for me. Safety patrols are vastly under-rated on the scale of cool in schools.
To me, Eduardo is the personification of the immigration questions facing my local area and our nation today. He and his family live in a small apartment, and he and his sister qualify for free lunch. But his family cares deeply about his education and his behavior, and they support him in all that he does in school.
I don’t know if they are here in the U.S. legally, and I really don’t care. He is a very intelligent young man who has a bright future, and who has all of the characteristics and values that pundits describe as “American.” He is honest, hardworking, kind, thrifty, and goal-driven. He deserves to get a good education, and he will make a huge contribution to this country.
Many legislators in my town, my commonwealth, and the U.S. Congress are determined to stop the immigration of people who are not fluent in English. But I see this as a people issue—an issue about the individual hard-working families and children who are trying to make better lives. We cannot afford to put barriers in the way of children whose parents have made the choice to come here, even though they may have not come through regular channels.
Just as our country realized years ago that slavery was morally wrong, and much later, that women deserved equal voting rights and representation (and the opportunity to serve on safety patrol), we must recognize and value and encourage full participation and biculturalism by our newest residents. We can’t afford to lose the contributions and the potential of other Eduardos.