Seventh graders write the origin stories for 45 Maxfield Avenue
Seventh grade walked across Gordon today, and read one another origin stories for landmarks throughout the campus.
The assignment built off their summer reading, The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barba Higuera, and each student’s story began with the Spanish phrase habia una vez.
The stories also drew on Mayan, Iroquois and Chinese origin stories they had read.
The students each brought in elements of their own, too, and the lesson leveraged their deep knowledge of Gordon’s outdoors.
These is a campus they have been studying, and making up stories about, for many years.
Ask alumni from the last twenty years: they’ll all have stories for why the woods at the top of the hill are called Elf Village.
Students had been asked to be specific, and they zeroed in: Who planted this bush? Why is this rock where it is?
The answers involved unicorns, Roman gods, princes and peasants and egg-laying shrubs.
Pluto, Jason, and Elohim were name-checked, and plot points from fairy tales and Chamorro legends surfaced.
There were echoes of headlines, too, in the tornados, flood watches, and tales of man-made climate disaster.
The assignment left plenty of room to be silly, and morbid, two common seventh grade instincts.
But for the most part, they were delightfully earnest.
This was their Gordon they were talking about.
They were answering questions that their younger selves had asked themselves.
Why is this stump here?
What are those strange green fruit that grow near the hedges?
Where does the water in the pond come from?
One story even gave the eight-day rotating schedule a prehistoric backstory.
It’s a place they know well, and one they have strong feelings about.
One class had two very different origin stories for the pond, and the students were faced with an ancient choice.
Whose story do they believe? Which one tugs at their heart? Which one makes intuitive sense?
Is the pond made of lovers’ tears, or a giant’s vomit?
And do they really need to choose?
Today, they simply held these sometimes-contradictory stories together.
They filed them alongside the magical tales they’d told themselves when they were young
And the lessons they’d learned on walks with Gordon’s science faculty
And let them expand and enrich their shared experience of a place they love.
Donna Barba Higuera’s novel The Last Cuentista is a science fiction epic primarily in English but with Spanish vocabulary throughout. Gordon’s humanities and Spanish teams included it on the seventh grade summer reading list as part of their ongoing collaboration.
Seventh grade is an intense year for writing. The stories they read today had already gone through two drafts. The act of reading their work aloud foreshadows a year of sharing their own writing that will culminate the Night of Words, where they will each read their own work for an audience of friends and family.