I had an amazing evening last Thursday. It was a school PTA fundraiser which I had helped organize and the first of its kind for the school. A sophisticated evening in a classy bar, with a silent auction etc. And because it was the first of its kind, I was nervous. I really really wanted it to be a success or I was going to have to skip town under a cloud rather than leave on the crest of wave.
Well that part went very well I think. The party was buzzing, loads of fun and we seem to have made quite a bit of money. And then the speeches began. And I got a going away present and a wonderfully over the top thank you speech by my good friend Loretta. And I made a speech too! Which I think may even have been bordering on passionately political but hey, I'd had wine, a cocktail and I was up for it!
Anyway. My going away present - I have been given the most incredible treasure. A photobook filled with pictures of our time here at school and with friends, and with messages from parents, children, staff at school. Amazing messages of love and gratitude.
So here's my message of gratitude to the community of Leonard R Flynn Elementary School.
Some of you know that just over 4 years ago, I lost my sister to cancer. She died shortly after I moved from London to our Welsh valley in the Brecon Beacons, and so I found myself trying to make a new life for myself in unfamiliar surroundings, and in a deep state of shock and anguish. Over the next two years, in that beautiful landscape and amongst friendly and kind people, I got back on my feet.
Wales allowed me to feel that life could be worth living. San Francisco and the community of Flynn Elementary have put the spring back in my step.
Thank you for being so welcoming. For allowing me to help in pretty much whatever way seemed to be needed. Thank you for providing me and my family with so many friends. Thank you for reigniting a passion for social justice and equality. Thank you for teaching my children about Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King, and Ruby Bridges, and Harriet Tubman, and fairness, and kindness, and understanding. The diversity of your community meant that we were able to be ourselves and feel at home. It has been an extraordinary experience for our family and one that will last all our lifetimes.
Public education in America and particularly in California is in crisis. It is underfunded, underloved. Middle class families routinely leave the city for safer environments in the suburbs or leave the system for private and parochial schools. There are ongoing budget cuts that result in shortages of basic materials, regular layoffs of staff, instability in the school system, fewer days in the school year.
But there are also dedicated staff trying to make things work for the children in their care. I have seen our Principal pick up a sobbing Kindergartner not yet settled in school and so gently comfort him. I have watched dedicated talented teachers instill a love of reading and learning in children from a huge range of cultures and backgrounds. I have seen the school social worker help bereaved children manage crises in their lives. I have seen parents spending time helping teachers, working with children, raising money for important (frankly essential) programs and equipment. It has been a privilege to spend time in this school and see it transforming.
I think I may have gone a bit political again. But I think the main reason I spent so much time at this lovely warm welcoming school is because I couldn't do anything else. There wasn't anything else which seemed as worthwhile a use of my time.
So thank you, Flynn!