Friday, May 23, 2008

George E. Harris Elementary School



There is something magical that happens when you go back to your old elementary school. You remember what it was like to be a little kid again . . .

I went to George E. Harris from first to fourth grade back in the early 1980's. I loved that school and once a Tiger, always a Tiger! My teachers were amazing and taught me so much. Then I moved away in fourth grade. I still remember my favorite teachers, Mrs. Holman, Mrs. Gonatovich, and Mrs. Brabham. They were the best.

Leaving George E. Harris was a sad time in my life and going back for the first time since 1983 was very special. I was welcomed by the great staff. Jill Moe, the Literacy Specialist is an exceptional person and she had been my main contact there as I set up the visit. It was great to finally meet her. Also, Henry Rodda, the principal, made me feel right at home. Jill and Henry, plus the vice principal, Heather Lenz, and the office staff, Ms. Pina and Mrs. Gutierrez were all great. I met others, but I can't remember their names. The teachers at the school were also very welcoming and I felt so comfortable.

When I arrived in the school office I shared that the school song had been running through my head all day and for weeks before I arrived at the school. Of course, I had to sing the words that I remembered and we had a great laugh. Principal Henry Rodda and Jill Moe were lots of fun.

Jill had already read, The Golden Cord and really liked it. She said some very nice things about the book when she introduced me to the kids. Also, Ms. Pina, who works in the office, read the book and really liked it as well. I was very humbled by their praise and I wish I could have spoken with them longer.

Then it was on to the main event. I spoke to two groups in the same auditorium where I had performed in plays, and listened to countless assemblies. George E. Harris was so great, partially because they gave out lots of awards. I clearly remember getting Good Citizen Awards and correcting the old principals pronunciation of my name.

So, the first assembly was a bunch of younger kids, second and third graders. They were great and I shared my story with them about growing up in Vegas and going to the school where they went now. It was awesome and I got choked up during my speech, barely keeping it together a couple of times. The first speech went so well and I absolutely loved meeting the kids and the staff. It was a very magical moment and those kids got to hear things that no one else on the tour got to hear. The speech was from the heart and I hope I had a lot of impact on the kids. I encouraged them to do the right thing and hopefully they will. I hope they will learn from my experiences and I think going back was a way for me to heal the wounds of my childhood. But I think that being the short kid and getting picked on made me stronger. If all of that hadn't happened, I would not be the person I am today.

The second assembly was fourth and some fifth graders. They were a tougher bunch, but it went pretty well. I was surprised at how many of them didn't seem interested in reading books. In the end, it worked out great though. I connected with the kids and really liked most of them. There's always a few kids that act up, but I made peace with one kid who had been rude during the speech. I felt bad about reacting to his comments, and embarrassing him. In the end, we made up and it was fine. I think we both learned a lesson there. Hopefully, he will learn respect and I learned how to better handle a smart-ass in the crowd.

I also had one surprise, as I ran into the little sister of one of my high school classmates. I met Lorrie Isom, little sister of my high school mates, Robert and Richard Isom. It was so funny to see her at my old school. She was a cute little kid back then, but I still remembered her and she remembered me. Her dad was my teacher at Beatty High School. I guess it really is a small world.

After the assemblies, school got out and I met lots of kids and teachers. It was a lot of fun and I wish I could have stayed longer and hung out. I signed autographs and spoke with the kids and staff. Finally, the principal (Henry), vice principal (Heather), and Jill Moe had to get me going. I had a book signing to attend at 4:00 at the Barnes and Noble across town and it was already 3:30.

They put me in my car and basically said: "Go down that road, very fast!" I wished I could have stayed longer, but I headed for my signing and made it at 4:05. I really loved meeting the staff and the kids. I think the current students of George E. Harris are in such good hands. When I went there years ago, the school was the best in Vegas, and it still is the best public school. They get really high scores in reading, the highest in Vegas, and I'm so proud of all they've accomplished and all they've achieved.

I hope I helped them. I wanted to give back to the school that gave so much to me.

Best wishes and Go Tigers!

Paul Genesse, Author of The Golden Cord

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