Officer Tom


The best time of my whole week was at the very end of the day today, Friday, when everyone at school is tired and ready for the weekend including me! I offered to visit the ESL classroom and teach the new students some social skills.

Some of our new students from the Congo have lived in refugee camps their whole lives. A couple have never had a formalized educational experience. So, everything from riding the bus to sitting on the carpet is new to them, not to mention a whole new language, rules, and cultural norms. It’s amazing and the teachers have a tough job.

Our goal for today with this new-comers’ group was to start learning some empathy and an understanding of feelings so that they would start to think about how their actions impact other people and begin to see how friendly words and actions can help solve problems. To do this with a group of children who don’t speak English takes some creativity, but I’ve done friendship clubs before with English-Learners. It just takes some visuals, role-playing and today a puppet to assist. And today, in this case, a funny, helpful Cuban boy whom I’ve known from past friendship groups that he was actually in when he first moved here also assisted! We were the minority as the rest of the crew speaks Swahili.

So, I start with practicing “my name is..” and saying hi. A beach ball always makes this process more fun. Next, I bring out my other friend, my Melissa and Doug puppet fondly named Officer Tom. Wow- the reaction was priceless! There were oohs and awwws, giant smiles, laughter, and even some fear. Actually, it was the whole range of emotions! I really don’t think they had ever seen a puppet before!


One fifth grade boy who was giggling nervously refused to give Officer Tom high-five! He wasn’t sure about him, and probably me for that matter! I would love to know what was going though their minds when some crazy white lady whips out some stuffed little man in a police suit!….I so wish I had a picture of their faces.

Then, we moved onto to identifying feelings from these large back and white photos of children’s faces. There’s the happy girl, the scared boy, the surprised girl, the sad boy, and the mad boy. We practiced the saying the word, then saying ‘I feel__”,  and then acting out the emotion. Again, words don’t do justice to how cute and enthusiastic they were as we acted out all the feelings. Many things in life are just universal! We shared some good laughs.

Finally, I had my little Cuban friend (on the safety patrol, I should add…such an outstanding kid) do some role-playing with me. We hadn’t rehearsed any  this. He had no idea I was even coming in. And, I really had no formal plan.

I showed them more of these old black and white pictures kids in different scenarios and various emotions. We acted out two versions of the picture and the kids told us the ‘bad choices’ and the ‘good choices’, thumbs up and thumbs down. Fighting and tugging over the one bike is a ‘bad choice'(- yes, good). And taking turns, like my friend and I acted out, is the ‘good choice’ (good, yes. that’s right).

A couple volunteers came up to say,’ are you ok?’ and pat me on the back when I hurt my leg as shown in the picture. They really pick up on things so much quickly than I ever could. Maybe it was because we were having fun and doing, not just watching and hearing.

Actions speak louder than words.

We were cracking up (or maybe they were actually laughing at me but that’s ok)! The laughter was infectious. As the time together ended, I told one of the ESL teachers that I didn’t know if they even learned anything but I know we sure had fun together!

Officer Tom gave them a wave and high-five as they left, and my fifth grade friend didn’t reach out his hand but didn’t duck either. Can’t wait to go back with Officer Tom and learn some more together. While it’s obviously challenging to them to learn so many new words, it’s also a fun challenge to me to not rely soley on words to communicate and teach.

Thank you, Officer Tom, for again saving the day!


(the above is not them but aren’t they cute too!? I just had to add some bright smiles since that’s what made my day).

#myalterego #crazywhitelady #beinghuman #laughterismedicine




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