Meredith C. Carroll: Time to appreciate the ‘village’ at Aspen Elementary

Meredith C. Carroll
Muck Off

School’s been out for three days and as of press time, I still haven’t strangled my children. I used to wonder who the parents were who counted down the days until their kids’ summer break began (other than my mom, who has openly maintained for decades that the two months I spent at sleepaway camp annually were the happiest times of her year).

Of course, I totally get wanting to be done with morning meltdowns, bedtime blues, tedious lunch and snack preparations, bottomless field-trip permission slip signings, homework, tournaments, recitals, after-school activities, social drama, emotional boo-boos, and the general minutiae and ennui that stand tall among the hallmarks of childhood.

But while the homework may end once the last bell rings, another kind of home work is just beginning — as in, the kids are home for the entire summer and it’s work. What sort of parent relishes the dog days of having to do their paying job plus serving as Chief Punching Bag, Head Entertainer and Executive Chef? (Summertime requires just as many meals as during the school year, but when they eat at home you can’t avoid the complaints unlike when their culinary grievances get sucked into the school lunchroom vortex.) For parents who need to earn a check, June through August is basically a jail sentence, even if actual jail is preferable because the other inmates at the state penitentiary probably won’t beg for popsicles for breakfast, and not even Guantanamo Bay prisoners can be forced to listen to Kidz Bop, right?

I wish I could credit these remarkably easy-breezy first few days of summer 2018 to having evolved into a zen mom for the first time ever. But alas, my renowned impatience remains intact. No, it’s their teachers who my daughters can thank for me not locking them in a closet with only occasional bathroom breaks and a once-daily shuffle around the yard from now until Labor Day.

Not only was Friday the last day of school at Aspen Elementary, but for my older daughter, it also was her final day there: She enters middle school in the fall. I’ve dreaded this moment since before ever giving birth nearly a decade ago. After all, I was once in middle school. I get it. I was it. The good news is the guidance she had at AES over the past five years helped her build a foundation fortified with independence, compassion, benevolence and a mind so intractably clever that I like our chances regardless of the runaway adolescence freight train barreling our way.

Last week my smile exploded when AES kindergarten teacher Tana Rinaldi was named among the recipients of the annual Kellie Schenck Awards (formerly the Distinguished Teacher Awards, it was renamed for the beloved Aspen Middle School teacher who passed away in 2015) that netted 10 recipients each a $10,000 cash prize.

When my daughter entered her class in 2013, it was just weeks after one of Miss Tana’s daughters died in a tragic accident.

“I want to address the elephant in the room,” Miss Tana told parents at Back to School night early that September. “It may not seem to make a lot of sense that I’m here; I certainly could have taken more time off. The fact is that I need these kids now more than ever.”

In the darkest imaginable time, Miss Tana offered no less talent, devotion and affection to each of her students, all of whom she cared for as if they were her own. Our good teacher fortune followed in first grade with Kelly OBranovic, and then again in second grade with Becky Oliver, who our family still holds close as if she entered a one-way door into our lives. Kate Corn, our math teacher this year, persisted in refusing to let my daughter disparage her skills and dismiss the subject outright because she claimed to not understand what she so clearly did.

Fourth-grade teacher Katie Fox emerged as the pied piper who led my daughter with a fierce resolve toward success. Together they effectively navigated a year otherwise marked by booby-traps and other assorted challenges. My kid was finally able to take a deep breath and recognize that she was seen by so many, from the nurses, principals and front office staff to the parent volunteers and specials teachers. Her teachers also introduced her to the larger Aspen community, indoors and out, and helped established a tradition of service, respect, perseverance and empathy. My daughter’s elementary experience was jammed with people integral in nudging her toward recognizing and appreciating her distinctive super powers.

Come hell or our road trip spanning a ridiculous number of miles this summer, I aim to remind myself daily to pay forward my gratitude for the remarkable educators who demonstrated for my daughter what it means to teach and listen. She knows she mattered to them and as she now sits just a bit taller with her heart that much more open for it. I’m motivated to join her in doing some growing of my own over the summer break.

Follow Meredith Carroll on Twitter @MCCarroll. More at


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