MIKE JAMES: Kids helping kids
You see it on the playground, where kids introduce themselves with a couple of quick questions — How old are you? What school do you go to?
It's almost as if kiddom were a fraternity and those were the passwords.
Kids have a natural affinity for other kids and an innate sympathy that has not yet been drained from them by cold-world realities.
When they learn other kids are in trouble they want to help.
Being fellow kids they have at least one thing in common no matter where they live. And when their schools share the same name, it's like finding out they're long-lost cousins.
The kid-to-kid radar goes on high alert.
That's what happened in December at Ponderosa Elementary School in Catlettsburg.
It also happened at Ponderosa Elementary School in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Ponderosa Elementary in South San Francisco and Ponderosa Elementary in Bend, Oregon — at 11 Ponderosas across the United States, in fact, all of which rushed to the aid of kids at Ponderosa Elementary in Paradise, Calif., which was largely destroyed by a massive wildfire.
The nationwide network of Ponderosa kids brought their nickels and dimes and quarters to school, filled jars with them and sent the money to Paradise to replenish books and supplies lost in the fire.
It was an undertaking that appealed to the sense of solidarity kids have for their peers.
Kids know what kids need and can relate to a fundraiser on the scale of nickels and dimes.
I like to think I know what kids need in a case like this too, because my own school burned to the ground when I was in third grade.
After our first hopes — that school would be out forever — were dashed, my classmates and I adapted immediately to the dingy church basement that was our classroom while a new school was under construction.
We never noticed our desks were scarred and carved with a previous generation’s initials.
Our fingernails made the same spine-curdling screech on the portable blackboard as they did on the big boards on the walls of our now-destroyed school, and chalk made the same marks.
Clapping the erasers together made the same choking clouds of dust and resulted in the same scoldings from our beleaguered teacher.
The school managed to round up some pull-down world maps so we could study geography, and if they showed Austria-Hungary instead of East and West Germany, and the Ottoman Empire rather than Turkey, and if we were promoted to the next grade thinking Thailand was still Siam, we never noticed.
The dank basement classroom was heated in winter by an open-flame heater that hissed and filled the room with the rotten-egg stench of natural gas, but it didn’t bother us much.
We had our teacher and each other and a place to meet protected from the weather and a place to play our recess baseball games.
The Paradise kids have all that in borrowed quarters in a neighboring school district. They have lost much more than my classmates and I, to be sure — many of them lost their own homes to the fire.
But they have one thing we did not have — their new extended Ponderosa family.