As the principal of a high school that serves newcomer English Language Learners, I track many pieces of students data: progress with English, attendance, participation in clubs and sports, grades, test scores, etc.
Yet sometimes, a seemingly insignificant moment teaches me more about my school than any piece of official data.
Last week, I was walking past the cafeteria while my students were eating lunch. I heard the normal sounds of lunchtime: over 300 students talking loudly, the occasional shriek of laughter or flirtation.
And, the smell of oranges. I stopped for a minute, enjoying the brightness of the scent.
Our students have a passion for oranges. Some kids pile four or five oranges onto their trays, next to their chicken nuggets and fries. There is something communal about the way they eat their oranges together, peeling them methodically, savoring each section, making little towers out of the peels.
The cafeteria staff is supposed to let each student take one piece of fruit, but they let our kids take extra: “They like to eat, so we let them eat.” I’ve been told that even though my school is the smallest of the five schools on our shared campus, our kids eat the most. As newcomer immigrants, our students don’t care whether eating school lunch is cool or not. They just like it.
The only thing our students may love more than oranges are clementines, or “mandarinos” as some students call them in Spanish. Boys cram extra clementines into their pockets and girls stuff them in their purses and backpacks, permeating our hallways with the scent.
As I stood outside of the cafeteria that day, I realized something: I love that our students love oranges.
I also love it when a student gets a high score on an English exam, or graduates against the odds, or learns sportsmanship on a soccer team. I love it when my school has 92% attendance, or when I see 40 kids staying after school to work on a science lab. In all of these moments, I see the greatness of my students.
And, as I stood outside of the cafeteria, I saw another aspect of their greatness: greatness in the sheer pleasure they take in peeling an orange, enjoying the company of their friends.