By NELMA M. VINYARD
It's 1998. Looking back into her past, Lita remembers how strange she felt on her first day of kindergarten. Many years ago, her family left the Philippines in late December and had moved to the United States when she was merely five years old. After being in Colorado for only a few weeks, her father announced that Lita would be attending school soon. He told her he had already made arrangements with Columbine Elementary School and that she would begin kindergarten class the following week.
The year is 1985. "Your new school has two classes - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The one you will attend begins at 8:15 and ends at 11:15," Lita's father informs her.
Monday morning, 8:11. Lita, bundled up in her yellow coat and blue winder cap, stands with her father on the sidewalk outside a classroom. Surrounded by her future classmates, Lita waits, her little hand in his. It is freezing and the snow which began falling the day before has not yet stopped. Nearby, a burly man in his early forties, with his thick auburn mustache gently covered with snowflakes, shovels away five inches of snow. In the school yard, children accustomed to several inches of snow a year lie on their backs, swinging their arms and legs, making angel-shaped figures.
|"In the Philippines, she had known everyone in her class even before school had started because they had all lived in the same barrio, or province. Now, Lita realizes how she does not know a single person in this small crowd."
Looking up into a blinding gray and white sky, Lita thinks, "I wonder when the cold white dust will stop falling?"
The bitter cold, a climate different from which she is familiar, stings her uncovered light brown nose. She stops wondering about the "cold white dust" and directs her attention towards the children standing near the kindergarten door. In the Philippines, she had known everyone in her class even before school had started because they had all lived in the same barrio, or province. Now, Lita realizes how she does not know a single person in this small crowd, except for her father, who will be leaving soon to be on time for work. Looking around, she notices some children watching her. A little boy with dark hair and blue eyes curiously stares at her, possibly wondering who she and her father are and where they have come from.
A bell rings and a few seconds later, a short, somewhat stocky, and middle-aged woman, dressed in a long plaid wool skirt and a red unbuttoned sweater over a cotton white blouse, opens the door.
"Lita," her father says in their native tongue, "it is time for me to leave now. This is your new teacher, Mrs. Raine. When I come home tonight, you can tell me all about your day." Then he approaches the woman as Lita listens to them speak in a language she has not yet learned - English.
After a few seconds, her father turns around, stoops down to Lita's height, gives her a hug, stands back up, and leaves. As she watches him walk towards the parking lot, Lita's vision becomes blurred by the sudden emergence of tears in her eyes. After quickly wiping them away, she turns around to face her new teacher. The woman, with a gentle smile on her face, puts Lita's hand in hers and they both walk inside.
In a corner, a bundle of five year olds crowd around removing boots, mittens, coats, and caps. After Lita removes her yellow coat and blue cap, Mrs. Raine gently leads her to a table where other children are already sitting. As Lita sits patiently in a small red plastic chair, she looks up at Mrs. Raine with a reserved, yet somewhat frightened, look on her face.
|"Even after four years of teaching in the semi-multicultural town of Boulder, Colo., Mrs. Raine has not yet taught a student who did not speak a few words of English. She softly asks Lita a question, but Lita, confused, stares blankly back at her."
Even after four years of teaching in the semi-multicultural town of Boulder, Colo., Mrs. Raine has not yet taught a student who did not speak a few words of English. She softly asks Lita a question, but Lita, confused, stares blankly back at her. Mrs. Raine repeats herself, more slowly this time, but is once again met with the same blank and confused look. Feeling a bit challenged, yet awkward, Mrs. Raine walks to a closet and returns with two things in her hands, a drawing and a box of Crayola crayons, and places them in front of Lita.
"We'll handle this first day easily," Mrs. Raine thinks to herself as she walks to the front of the class, preparing to begin a lesson for the other children.
Now in a world of her own, Lita looks down at the objects placed before her. "I know what these are, because I always color at home," she thinks to herself. On the other hand, she is not familiar with the drawing on the paper. It is one of those old photocopied ones with light purple ink. The drawing has three different sized balls piled on top of the other, the top being the smallest and the bottom the largest. The smallest ball seems to have a face smiling at her. As she sits in her red chair, Lita ignores her alien surroundings and focuses all her attention on coloring the drawing. Carefully picking out her favorite colors, Lita feels like the crayons are the only things familiar to her in that strange and foreign room. She colors the largest ball purple, the medium ball blue, and the smallest ball pink.
|Now in a world of her own, Lita looks down at the objects placed before her. "I know what these are, because I always color at home," she thinks to herself.
"This is pretty," Lita thinks to herself. She is very proud of it and cannot wait to go home and show it to her parents. If Marcy, the little girl sitting next to Lita, had been curious enough to take a look at Lita's finished picture, she would have giggled to see a purple, blue, and pink snowman.
Later, Mrs. Raine gives each student - including Lita - a piece of paper covered with large numbers and symbols. "Now what?" Lita thinks. Since math is the "universal language," perhaps her teacher had thought Lita would understand the symbols on the worksheets.
She stares at the numbers and strange symbols.
5 + 4 = ___
3 + 4 = ___
4 + 4 = ___
After a few lonely seconds, she looks up at the other children seated at her table. They seem to know what they are doing, but Lita, unable to speak the language they understand, cannot ask them, "What do I do? Can you help me?"
Instead, she thinks, "If I look at their papers to see what they have done, I will probably understand."
She hopes she will.
A few minutes pass. She decides to look. Gently easing up from the red chair, Lita looks at the papers of the children sitting next to her. All of a sudden, she realizes it is the worst thing she could have done. When they look up and see what she is up to, they quickly cover their papers with their hands, guarding their territory.
Losing the spur of confidence she had, Lita sits back down, feeling alone. And very rejected. Many years later, she realizes they must have thought she was cheating. What they did not know was how desperately she wanted to fit into their group and the new country. After sitting back down in her chair, Lita hopes her teacher will notice her, understand her situation, and possibly hand her another drawing instead.
Mrs. Raine does not notice.