I was swimming laps at the Durango Recreation Center when the noise grew to a dull roar – the whole 6th grade class of Bayfield Middle School descended. As I gathered my things, my attention was turned to a lone boy on the high dive. He started and stopped, fretted, prepared, backed up, and advanced. I could see his heart beating out of his chest. This went on for close to 10 minutes. I stayed, not because I needed to watch this scene play out, as I had seen it so many times with my own kids, but because the room was electric with excitement for this boy.
Sixth grade can be the pits. Middle school can be emotionally crippling. I stayed and watched, wet and cold, as 60 other kids stood on the side shivering, lips blue, shouting and clapping and jumping and counting for this one boy. Joseph Calderon, 12, of Bayfield, was determined, but ... not just yet. He climbed back down. I started to go. He ascended again. The crowd roared again. Another 10 minutes peering over the edge, 17 feet down into blue. The hope in every child’s face, the joy in the teachers’ eyes as they watched Joseph do something so scary and hard. No one bragged about their own lack of fear. The group got louder, the chanting began. “Joseph, Joseph, Joseph!” It wasn’t just students now. All patrons of the Rec Center pool were involved. The community love in that room was a Norman Rockwell moment. But Joseph had to back down again.
Susan Nelson, the 6th grade teacher-leader at Bayfield, said they were there as part of a field trip to celebrate the Manners Class these children had just completed. Bayfield has been doing it for 14 years, and judging by that day’s events, I’d say the kids have learned something. Basic skills of civility, kindness, support, sportsmanship and deference lead to genuine feelings of empathy, love and understanding. There were so many heroes in those few minutes at the pool. The teachers who envisioned this class and clearly loved everyone in it; Joseph, for creating a moment that unified his peers; and the kids for behaving in a way their parents would be proud.
Joseph didn’t make it off the high dive this time. No one held it against him. Leave it for another day. He sauntered over to the water slide and barreled down again and again. The water slide is way more fun anyway.