Work, life and service on nonprofit boards have taken over my most recent writing time. I’m overdue in writing about Syliva McMillan (I recall this as the correct spelling).
Mrs. McMillan was the first teacher I encountered who offered time for her students beyond the published class times. There were three or four of us who would arrive early and work on extra lessons.
These lessons ranged from writing, to math, and other interests. This was also the first class where I came to learn that other students were taking her class for a second time. That I knew this about the student indicates this was a different and unjust time.
There was a partition in the southeast corner of the classroom where classmates who were disruptive or otherwise being set aside would sit in isolation for a period of time.
I was always glad I did not reside in the space and I worried about how my classmates felt segregated and apart from the rest of us. It was a different time but it was wrong. I sensed this as a second-grader and I know it now.
It was not Mrs. McMillan’s fault this happened. She was following the norms of the institution. Regardless, this separation causes harm to an eight-year-old human being seeking inclusion.
Mrs. McMillan opened her classroom early to students who go to school early and wanted to work on their areas of interest. I would often read, do math, or help care for a tadpole, frog or turtle we might have in the room. Sometimes we would help clean and organize.
Fifty years later, I have incredibly fond memories associated with those early mornings in her classroom. It was a safe space to explore and push on what was being taught. My sense is Mrs. McMillan saw a need for a few students who would benefit from additional work and challenges. Her support for so many made her a favorite teacher for a lot of my classmates and for me.