It is always a pleasure for me to visit First Teacher classes. All the more so when they are located in neighborhoods where I rarely go. Getting to participate in the last class is an especially festive event because there is a little graduation presentation and I get to bring the cake.

First Teacher parent classes consist of six lessons designed to empower parents of pre-schoolers with information, children’s books and materials to create opportunities at home for intellectual growth and playful exploration.

First Teacher classes are located in underserved communities where parents don’t have many resources. The classes are bi-lingual and some participants speak no English so making the commitment to attend the classes can be leap of faith for some of them. At the first class, the children tend to be timid and tentative and their parents are quiet and wary. Six weeks later, the last class is very different kind of situation. Individual moms, dads, and grandmothers have transformed into a lively, friendly group and everyone is talking excitedly about the new ways they and their children are playing at home. Often the parents plan potluck suppers for the end of Lesson Six and there is much gaiety and love in the room. So I was especially happy driving to Chaparral recently to bring the graduation cake and join the fun.

When I arrived class was in session. Parents were sharing ideas and practicing read aloud skills. Nearby, the children were happily engaged in their own creative projects drawing and writing. One child caught my eye, sitting at the end of a table clutching a woman’s purse and ignoring the activities going on around him. This is unusual behavior for the last class because, by then, the children have overcome their shyness and thoroughly enjoy their time together. This child’s posture suggested that he was on the alert. Although he stared off into space, he seemed vigilant and very tired. After a while, he was cajoled into drawing with a marker and he relaxed a little.

My attention turned to other things. Eventually, I got back to him, his paper now filled with an intricate pattern of looping spirals. We talked for a while about his picture but I didn’t understand much of what he said. He seemed to be describing how he created an optical illusion with the overlapping loops. When I commented that the design reminded me of chain link fence, he looked at me with a sense of relief as if I finally understood something about his picture.

The evening progressed through lessons and onto supper and I completely lost track of my new little friend. During clean up at the end of the evening one the teachers filled me in, “He is worried about his grandfather who is sick. I hope you don’t mind, I gave him the left over cake to take to home to his grandfather. He misses his parents. His father was picked up by the Border Patrol while working in Hobbs and is in jail. His mother is working long hours and has sent him to live with his grandparents.” She sighed and we both reflected on that small boy’s heavy load. We watched as he walked out the door. “He told me”, she continued, “‘I’m okay. I’m an American citizen.’”