All of the schools we attend as children leave some kind of mark on the types of adults we become later. From grade school to college, the learning environments shape us in meaningful ways. Although it would be impossible to say one place had the most influence on the man I am today, I am continually amazed at the ways my elementary school, Beverly Woods, continues to impact my life now.
Beverly Woods was, and in some respects still is, a classic suburban neighborhood school. My mom would walk me, and later my sister, the half mile home on nice days. The classes were small, but the campus was still crowded enough that we had classes in mobile units as we got older.
Many of the children in the school looked like me — white, from middle-class families — but not all. Notably, race, religion and socioeconomic status didn’t matter to us. At one point, my closest pals from Beverly Woods were an Asian boy, an African-American boy who rode the bus every day from a low-income neighborhood, and a white girl who was Jewish.
Amazingly, the connections and friendships I made there have endured nearly a quarter-century after I first walked through the doors.
Of the 20 other kids in my kindergarten class at Beverly Woods, half are social media connections today. I dated a girl from that class as a freshman in college. Two of my kindergarten buddies became best friends; I was a groomsman in both of their weddings.
I could make a laundry list of connections I cherish today that started at Beverly Woods. Braedon, a first grade deskmate, invited me to join his weekly Bible study when I moved back to Charlotte four years ago. Kathryn, who played on the playground with me in second grade, worked on a major community initiative with me last month. Tom, who came to Beverly Woods in third grade, stayed in touch through three tours of duty in the Middle East.
We learned, too.
My kindergarten class “wrote” a book, which featured a page about each student that we dictated to a parent volunteer who then typed them up. Most of it was about what we wanted to be when we grew up, about our friendships in class, little pieces of our home life. But there are some real lessons in the book, too.
I remember all this because I still have my copy. It sits on my bookshelf, next to Hemingway and Fitzgerald, a survivor of 10 moves and countless trips down memory lane.
There are references to responsibility, productive thinking, and critical reading. Almost everyone mentioned their love for writing. “Your story has to have details,” I said, “and your title is the main idea.” Not terrible advice for a writer, at age five or 30. The things we said about friendship and character, while simply described, were profoundly mature for kindergarteners. “You have to have a good reputation,” my pal Quentin said.
We were lucky, there is no doubt. As an adult, I understand that not every child in Charlotte had the benefit of attending a Beverly Woods, of writing a book with their classmates, of making connections that have endured for more than two decades.
And that realization, especially at Christmas, makes me even more grateful for the little campus on Quail Hollow Road.