“Alright, alright, on the count of three, let’s do the Big World Recess cheer together. Ready? One, two, three!”
We throw our arms out to the side, “Big!”
We make a circle above our heads, “World!”
We bring a fist pump down to our knees, “Recess!”
Once we gathered our scouting report, we contacted Coach Touchdown so we could help him save recess for his poor-sport students.
“Second grade,” I say, hands on my hips, sass in my voice, my facial expression simultaneously playful and scolding. “I know you got more in you than that. Let’s stand on up and try again. Your loudest and proudest, here we go.”
They brim with excitement, their faces redden just a bit, they bend over they are screaming so loud. “BIG WORLD RECESS!!!”
“That’s what I’m talking about! Okay, sit down on those pockets,” I instruct as I fade out the music and bring the hype back down. My voice softens, “Eyes and ears back to your teachers. We’ll see YOU tomorrow!”
When I first decided to move to Houston, I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew about Booster, but I did not know there was a team in Houston until a friend suggested I apply. Even though I warned upfront that I would only be in H-Town for the fall, they hired me. This past semester I was a full-time Program Assistant, and it’s hard to believe my time serving this exceptional company has already come to a close. Boosterthon raises funds for elementary schools by sponsoring fun runs, and leading up to the big day, we do whatever it takes to motivate students to get pledges to help their school. Regular challenges include getting pied in the face, water ballooned, silly strung, duct taped to the wall, and slimed.
The Incredible Ike, who has biceps the size of Hulk’s, regularly pumps out hundreds of pushups. Usually these nightly challenges are pretty effective, but Boosterthon stands for so much more than impressive financial results. Our mission is to Change the World, and every day, I saw little examples of the impact we make.
It starts with small acts of kindness like showing teachers how much we appreciate them by sticking encouraging Post-It notes on their boxes.
It’s a GREAT day to have a great day!
You make a difference.
Thank you for all you do.
Keep it up!
You come back three months later for a drop by, and those notes are still there. We affirm teachers as much as we can, but it’s also doing the unexpected – delivering 80 special order Sonic drinks for every teacher and making waffles before school. Teachers are always surprised that we’re actually in there with the batter and griddle turning ‘em out. (I’m just thinking, “As opposed to…?”)
It’s things like our give back program, The Great Shoe Take-Off. For every $30 per lap a class earned in pledges, Booster promised to send a pair of shoes around the world to other people that don’t have them. We have already sent over 22,000 pairs, and we are only halfway through the school year!
The deepest joy comes from the direct interactions we have with students.
Once after a pep rally a few team members began playing with a special-needs student, passing her one of the Booster prizes – a Big Game soccer ball. She was shy at first, but she began to be more comfortable and eventually began smiling. Twenty minutes later, her teacher told us that it was the first time she had ever seen the girl smile.
Among many token sayings, my cheerful teammate Tobe the Tiger always throws the condolence, “So much grace, fam” whenever we mess up. One day I got to pass the reminder along. We’re all about high fives at Booster, but sometimes students really put some painful force behind them. When this happens, I gently reprimand them and remind them not to hit too hard. Once, a teacher happened to witness a particularly strong high five. She really lit into the student back in the classroom and forced him to come back and apologize to me. Oh Gabe. This tough-guy fourth grader was on the brink of tears as he shuffled back into the room. He was deeply remorseful, and I was alarmed. But I reassured him and got to extend a small dose of grace. “Hey, it’s okay buddy! Let it roll off your back. I forgive you, there is grace. Don’t think one more thing of it.”
Everyday during team huddles we celebrate students who got pledges with their families.
One student was super mean-spirited to his classmates. Every time we called his name, he stuck his tongue out or yelled, “IN YOUR FACE!” at his friends. One of his best friends, Jack, saw this happen and wanted to do something about it. Instead of being mean back, he went home and asked his mom to help him get pledges to help his school. He told her, “Mom, I want to be the top student in the school so I can show him how to win with a good attitude.”
Last night he called every friend and family member he could think of, and today his name was called. He was the top student in school! When he heard his name he quietly stood without a single mean glance or rude comment to his classmates. He was just excited to help his team reach their goal and send another pair of shoes overseas to a child in need!
But the biggest prize of all was the smile on his mom’s face when she tracked me down to tell me this story. She saw her son set an example of what it means to Play with Humility and wanted to thank me for changing the world in his life.
Kids are also downright hilarious. After a cutthroat night of pledging, one set of kindergarteners were kicked off the “Top 3 Grades” Bar Graph we show during team huddles.“Kindergarteners, where did you go?!” Mighty Makayla asked.
We both struggled to hold it together through the rest of the huddle.
FaceTimes with Coach Touchdown (e.g. interacting with a scripted recorded video) also cause a lot of confusion. Older students often questioned his “realness.”
“Of COURSE he’s real,” I would say. “We have to FaceTime him because he lives in Atlanta.” Which, you know, is true; I’m sure the Home Office hired some very alive actor this past summer to record our FaceTime reports.
On pep rally days, they also could not fathom how on EARTH my stinky shoe ended up in that small suitcase containing the pledge book. “Jungle Jess, you must be one real prankster!”
Boosterthon was the saving grace of this past fall. It’s the only reason I chose to stay in Houston and stick out those last couple of post-breakup months. The Booster team became my family, and, despite my eagerness to get the heck out of H-Town, I wasn’t ready to leave these fine folks or a job I find so satisfying. They equipped me to be a better servant leader. They valued me as a team member and as a person. They were coworkers, but they were also built in friends and community in a big new city. And alongside them, I got to help change the world.
As I anticipate my transplant across the world and the pursuit of a profession as an educator, I am taking the character plays and world-changer mindset with me. I will Live with Curiosity as I explore as many corners of New Zealand as I can. As I begin student teaching, I will Ride with Confidence by starting small and working my way up to bigger challenges in the classroom. When I become lonely and tired, I will Run with Endurance. Even in the small, everyday things, I want to be a difference maker and a light for Christ. Boosterthon has further prepared me to do so.
My last day Team Houston gave me a frame with everyone’s signature inside an outline of the great state of Texas. Rockstars, I will miss you!