Character: Build It Here
Roseline Onu teaches second grade at St. Jerome’s Catholic school in El Cerrito, California. My grandson attends this school. On Sunday, January 26, 2014, the school hosted their mid-year Open House. After looking over my grandson’s work, writings, and paintings, and getting his proud commentary on each item, I ventured across the hall to the second grade classroom which he will occupy next year. As I stepped inside, I was immediately greeted by the teacher, Roseline, splendidly dressed in native African style. She grew up in Nigeria and Mali. Her beautiful smile and warm demeanor made me feel welcome. She proudly showed me a video of her class in various settings in daily routines. An older white lady appeared in most every scene. I asked Roseline if she was a child’s grandmother. The smile on her face grew broader as she launched into the story of Florence.
First off, Florence is no one’s grandmother. In fact, she never had any children while married some fifty years. When her husband died about twenty years ago, one of the nuns from the school walked down the block to pay her a visit. The nun asked Florence if she might consider volunteering at the school to gain needed companionship and find joy with the children. Florence said that she would have to think about that. Three months later, the same nun walked down the street again to check on Florence. This time, Florence responded favorably and said that she would like to try out this idea of volunteering in the classroom. She chose the second grade.
For the past twenty years, Florence has maintained a steady presence at the school five days a week. Roseline pointed out the special chair that Florence has at the back of the classroom. I glanced over to see a pretty floral pillow propped against the back. She went on to say that the children regularly flock around Florence who lavishes her love, wisdom and patience upon them without restraint. Roseline told me that there are many times when situations arise in the class and the children will go to Florence for advice or consoling. An image of a loving village matriarch came to my mind. I asked about Florence’s age. Roseline smiled and said that she is ninety-one! For many years, Florence walked up the hill to the school. Roseline said that for the past few years, however, Florence asked if she could meet her halfway. Recently, she asked Roseline if she could pick her up at her house.
I asked if Florence still comes to the school five days a week. Roseline said that she has cut back to four days now so she can go to her hair salon on Fridays and get her hair styled and her nails done. We laughed. Roseline said that Florence always looks so well put together. I thought how the children probably don’t notice it now, but someday when they look back on their time in second grade at St. Jerome School, they will remember that a gracious lady with beautifully coiffed white hair and smooth, colorful nails, sat with them every day, read them stories and cuddled away their second-grade fears.