As a teacher and a mom, I am amazed when my sons come home in the last few weeks of school with a brand new project assigned by their teachers. Often, these projects require working with a classmate outside school hours.
We have only 12 days remaining in the school year, state assessment testing begins tomorrow, spring sports are in full bloom (practices, games, tournaments), academic clubs are wrapping up with end-of-the-year parties, and my 16-year-old is knee deep in scrap lumber, power tools, spray paint, and bird seed.
With 12 school days remaining, his environmental science teacher assigned a project that requires my son and his teacher-assigned partner (who does not live in our neighborhood and whom I have yet to meet) to gather materials and work for several hours after school. The project also requires parent oversight and the use of an electric jigsaw.
When I arrived home from the Student Council pizza party and end-of-the-year PTSA meeting yesterday at 8:30 PM, I was stunned to find my husband and son working in the backyard in the glow of the porch light. A long extension cord connected the table saw to the outlet, sawdust was flying, and my husband was measuring plywood while my son consulted the detailed blueprint that he and his (apparently) invisible partner created during class that day.
"What's going on?" I asked.
"We're building a bird fraternity house," my husband explained.
"It's an assignment and a contest," my son said enthusiastically. "The winners get to choose a surprise for the whole class, and the teacher is going to buy it. We're trying to decide between pizza and donuts."
"I have an idea," I suggested. "Let's just go ahead and buy pizza and donuts for the whole class and scale this project down a little."
"No way!" my son said. "We've researched colors that attract birds, and we're making a two-story bird fraternity house. Do you know the Greek letters for BRD?"
"Beta, Rho, Delta?"
"I'll double check," he said.
"Maybe your partner could double check," I suggested.
"He's doing other work," my son assured me. I could not imagine what other work the partner could possibly be doing. Were the partner's parents involved in any way? Were they at home assembling tiny bird-sized furniture? I doubted it.
My son handed me the blueprint...a two story bird mansion, with tiny American flags depicted in the drawing, a roof-top garden for the birds' enjoyment, and a replaceable birdseed ring hanging from a dowel rod.
"Impressive," I said...and hours away from completion, I thought.
"It's gonna win...hands down," my son exclaimed. "Some other team brought in a plastic bottle with a string wrapped around it, and birdseed stuck all over it. Can you believe that?"
I couldn't help wondering if those kids had parents who, like me, were also teachers...teachers who did not assign a large-scale group project when summer break was practically around the corner...teachers who had to drive two different carpools three nights a week and finalize grades and organize academic awards and invite parents to end-of-year conferences and take inventory of classroom materials. Was it wrong of me to wish, for just a fraction of a second, that my self-motivated, over-achieving son would settle for turning in a plastic bottle covered with birdseed?
With a little sigh, I banished the thought.
We would help my son complete the ultimate end-of-the-year bird mansion/fraternity house. We'd accomplished similar feats before...the end-of-the-year eighth grade music video (which required green screen technology), the end-of-the-year food truck marketing project (which included 200 homemade meatballs), and the end-of-the-year social studies soundtrack (which featured songs about desertification).
"The winning birdhouse is going to go out back, behind the high school," my son said, still trying to convince me of the validity of the project.
"Well, in that case," I said, "keep up the good work!" Party on, birds, party on.