The Opal 2 (children ages 7 - 9 years) classroom has been working on a project in collaboration with the City of Portland's office of sustainability and planning. They have designed a neighborhood for the future of Portland that would be sustainable and caring. In fact, because of their work with Opal School students, the crafters of the Portland Plan (the City's road map for what might be possible in the next 25 years) revised their language to include the word, "caring". Opal students wonder, "How could the adults have forgotten that?"
This past Monday morning, Mayor Sam Adams himself arrived to cut the ribbon, officially opening the Neighborhood "exhibit" to share with the school community.
Questions from Mayor Adams included: How was it to work together to make these pieces and decisions? What did you learn from having to collaborate and use consensus? How do you know when the neighborhood is working the way you want it to? What do you expect your city to be like in 25 years?
The students and adults in Opal 2 noticed a shift as the Mayor spent time with the students. The visit began as an inquisitive, friendly show and tell and moved towards an encounter with deepening interest and curiosity on the part of the adults from the Mayor's office and the Mayor himself. The Mayor recognized the profound level of thinking the children had done together and he began to really listen. The children said that their nervous tummies quickly became more comfortable with the Mayor's easy going and kind manner. He told them to call him "Sam" and they feel pretty special now to be on a first name basis with the Mayor! The visit ended with lots of laughter, joy, autographs and knowledge that the Mayor and the students had both been touched and changed by what they had experienced and shared together.
In the end, Mayor Adams commented to another adult, "Wow. These kids are really smart." That is a confusion typical of adults who don't regularly have the opportunity to interact with children who are used to being asked to think and share and think again within a community of learners. No, Mayor Adams. These kids aren't especially or uniquely "smart". All kids are smart. But rarely are they asked to be.