Excellence in Elementary Education

As the lesson on Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg moves into mid-morning, the Meadowbrook School fifth graders begin stealing glances at the clock on the wall. It's 10:32 in the morning. Just a few more minutes and they will be choosing their color captains. But for now, there is one final question from their teacher:

"Lee wants Ewell to attack the Union forces on Cemetery Hill. Ewell doesn't do it. What do you think Lee should have said?"

Suddenly the class is full of field generals, barking out orders to the over-cautious Ewell.

No, he wouldn't have said it like that. He was too much of a gentleman.”

TAKE THE HILL!”

I don't think he would be angry. He would have said that there would be another chance the next day.”

I would be angry. They could have won the war.”

The discussion is interrupted by a knock on the door. Looking up, the students realize with a start that it's 10:40. They are fifth graders again, and it's time to elect their leaders for sixth grade.

Mr. Reardon, the Head of School, walks in. As he makes his way toward the SmartBoard, he passes walls covered with grainy photos of Lincoln, Lee and Grant and hand drawn maps of Little Round Top, the peach orchard and other battlefield sites in Gettysburg. All eyes are on him.

Continue Reading

"This is your big day," he begins. "This is the day you select your class leaders."

The fifth graders smile nervously. They know that the two color captains, as they have for more than 75 years, will accept the red and gray "colors" from the graduating sixth graders at the end of the year and then accept the responsibility of representing their class and school at Field Day and other official functions during the following school year. This is important.

"Don't select someone because they're your friend, or because they're a boy or a girl. Pick someone you would be proud to have represent you. Are they respected? How do they treat other kids? Being a good athlete doesn't matter. Character does. Are they articulate?" the Head of School pauses. "Now, who wants to represent the Gray team?"

The names of the Gray candidates who have nominated themselves are written on the SmartBoard and the voting begins. Heads go down on the desks and hands go up in the air. When they lift their heads, there is one name left on the board and a whoop of congratulations fill the air. Even the other gray candidates are clapping.

Voting for the Red captains follows the same process - with one wrinkle. Every fifth grader on the Red team throws his or her hat into the ring. Everybody is putting themselves out on the line.

"That takes courage," says the Head of School.

When it's over, as the winners shyly accept congratulations from their classmates, there is relief in some of the students' eyes. They are secretly glad they didn't win. For now, it was enough to try.

It's 11:10 when the Head of School leaves. Time for the fifth graders to get back to the battlefield, where they left Robert E. Lee standing under the scorching mid-day sun, about to make another momentous decision.