Original writings by Adrienne Nater

Jeff and the Science Books


"Teacher, just how can we learn science without books or anything?"

It was the beginning of the school year and after the first class meeting, Jeff stood at my desk with a worried look.

"Certainly Jeff there are science books, they must be in storage."

How did he know? There were no science books in the book storage area. No anything science.

"But Sister Theresa, how can I teach science without textbook, charts, workbooks?"

"Do your best is all I can say, our parish has no money."

"What if I could find the funds?"

"God be with you. You find the funds then we can talk more about a textbook, and let me remind you it must be one that is on the approved Catholic list."

Here I am, a lay teacher, expected to instruct eight grade students science without resources. So thereíll have to be some way to find the money.

This modest Catholic school was located in the poorest part of the city. The parents mostly farm workers, paying $8.00 a month for their children to learn more than they could in the public schools. Discipline supreme, expectations high, children uniformed, Spanish speaking at home, all doing the hard work of learning. No cafeteria, lunch brought in all sorts of containers, inspected by the sisters as completely eaten before they left the outside lunch area for recess.

"Jeff, you were right, there are no science books or anything else about science for eighth grade. If we had the money Sister says we can buy some. No money, no books, any ideas?

"Iíve got plenty of ideas.

And Jeff did have that great entrepreneurial spirit.

"What is it that you are proposing?"

"What about selling candy at lunch time? We could buy it at the Smart & Final wholesale store, sell it just a little bit over retail, put our money in the bank for interest."

"Bank?"

"Yeh, The Bank down Colonia Road. Weíll go there and open an account together."

"OH, would your mother think this is OK?

"Iíll ask her but I know my Mother itíll be OK.

"And just where have you planned for this sale to go on?

"Oh, thatís so simple; we set up our business at your window during lunch time. You wonít mind having your lunch in the room will you?"

What could I say? I wanted the science materials.

"Iíll get my mom to give me an advance on my allowance, I get the kids to donate change for our start-up money and you wonít mind driving me to the store. Iíll do the shopping. I know what the kids really like and Iíll even ask them what they want just to make sure."

We went to the store, stocked up on the specific items that Jeff had on his shopping list. The next day a noon the store had its grand opening. Business was brisk. Sold out. Jeff had his change tray, coin wrappers and deposit slip.

We had gone to the bank on the way to the store, opened an account, "Guadalupe School Fund for Science Books".

To the store again with enough funds to double their purchase, double their sales with enough to add to the original deposit that opened the account with $5.00.

The Sisters must have known of the activities but did nothing to interfere. Sister JB even sent in her candy order with one of her students. Father Madera could see the store from the rectory window across the yard but that was all for then, just seeing. He was the most beloved priest at the church and in the entire community.

The money added up quickly, all in nickels, dimes and quarters. Jeff would get the deposit ready, slip out to his bike, pedal at top speed to the bank, get back to the classroom and never be seen coming or going by Sister Principal.

I was researching the list of science books on the Catholic school approved list. Sample copies were sent, scanned, presented to Sister Theresa. The one that was selected after a long discussion that included a committee of students was the one that included a unit on the reproductive system. Sister was in fact, distressed by our selection but I pointed out that after all it was on the approved list. An order was placed, the deposit money withdrawn from the account. The books came the kids were delighted. The books were taken home and lovingly, carefully covered to preserve them. Now the teaching of science could begin in earnest.

The store began to prosper even more. Charts were ordered, workbooks came next. Payment made. All in just two months. The store remained open for business with the funds going to other school needs. Jeff was the hero.

He trained another salesperson to relieve him. It was the football season and he was the school star. Lunch time could be his own. He remained the banker until his graduation in June.

We studied the various systems of the human body which especially intrigued the students. When the unit on the circulatory system was taught, one of the fathers who was a butcher brought in a cowís heart for dissection. The kids, after their initial gasps and groans were fascinated and got to really see, touch, be a part of the lessons. Do you know how big a cowís heart is? Really big! What to do with the organ after the unit was over? It couldnít occupy the refrigerator at the rectory forever. How to dispose of it?

Father Madera to the rescue.

I was sitting in my classroom during lunch. The store was closed. The view from the window gave a panoramic view of the open field that bordered the church property. There appeared a gathering of children, all the children at lunch recess were lining up across the driveway at the rectory.

No kidding around, all very solemn. Father Madera appeared in his funeral vestments, a violet dalmatic, then altar boys, Jeff among them, in their regalia, just as in church, holding candles, waving the incense censor, plumes of white smoke drifting up into the still air. Two boys followed carrying a box between them, wrapped in gold paper tied with a wide black ribbon. The entire assembly of children fell behind into a reverential walk. They marched out into the empty grounds. Now I could see six boys standing on either side of a dark mound of earth. Father Madera led the children to the mound. There he conducted a most solemn funeral. Science and religion blended seamlessly.