“I know you haven’t finished first grade yet. Miss Murphy told me you’ve still got May and part of June to go. But first grade is a really important year, and you learned a lot, right?”
Both Hugo Pacheco, 6, and Jane Flores, 7, nod, then smile. The first-graders are sitting shoulder-to-shoulder on a short blue couch in Principal Mary Ann Murphy’s office at Immaculate Conception School off ninth street in Los Angeles.
Jane has on a grey sweatshirt with big red letters ICS across the front with sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a red-and-white striped skirt. Most of her brown hair is swept to her left side. Hugo is wearing a school polo shirt and gray slacks, and looks pretty scholarly in blue-framed rectangular glasses.
“Vocabulary words,” answers Jane. “‘Sigh’ and ‘glide’ in a story we read. And there were others.” The two put their heads together to whisper. “Oh, no, no! It was the other one. What was the other one?”
“I don’t know,” Hugo shrugs.
“Ancient and the Crustacean —”
“Period,” he finishes.
“Uh-hum. And ‘sigh’ and ‘glide.’”
“Glide and sigh,” he repeats.
Miss Murphy looks up from her busy desk, taking a deep breath, then letting it all out. It makes them giggle.
A magic place
Hugo talks about all the neat science and math he’s discovered — also how in social studies “we get to know about people and places.” Jane mentions lately they’ve been reading about dinosaurs in a chapter book, “The Magic Treehouse.”
“What else?” they are asked.
“Oh, we learned about math, because before,” points out Jane, turning to face Hugo, “we never knew what a minus was. Remember in kindergarten?”
“Yeah, and we’re learning about nickels, dimes, pennies. But we haven’t learned about quarters yet. No, because that’s in May or maybe June. And then we’re going to count all the money. We’re going to find out how much it all comes to.”
Jane makes a semi-disappointed face. She says, “It’s play money,” before adding, “Oh, we also learned about the weather.” This involves a good 10-second consult. “Remember how it said that over 100 was hot? Real hot!”
Hugo nods but has other things on his mind. “I forgot to say in science that after we do an experiment, then we write it in our notebook.”
Jane turns again. “Remember how Miss R. one time brought hot cocoa?”
“And we put in some whipped cream. And then we had to write about what this is not like and what it is like. Then we used gingerbread, too. Remember?”
“Oh, that. I thought you were talking about Halloween.”
“We had like this whole big party,” explains Jane. “And we did activities where you learn. We learned about the silly words of Halloween. Like ‘bats.’ And we got to dress up as our favorite characters. I dressed up as a witch for our school families. He was a vampire.”
“But in March we had the same thing, and I came as Harry Potter,” reports Hugo with a satisfied grin.
Then the dialogue turned to Immaculate Conceptions’ specialty — God.
Hugo says, “We learned about different prayers,” unfolding his arms. “And we learned about him. We learned about the saints and to color Jesus in pictures.”
“We learned, you know, that Jesus is God’s son,” explains Jane. “And we learn that kindness is good and how God is kind. We read stories in this beginner’s Bible about God. My favorite was in the first chapter when God created everything. I liked it when he made Adam and Eve in the garden.”
“I like that, too,” Adam concurs. “And my favorite part of the Bible was when …” But doesn’t finish.
“What story did you like?” reminds Jane.
“Adam and Eve.”
“But we still haven’t finished it. We’re still on the Old Testament.”
Hugo sits up strait before adding, “The next story that we’re reading is ‘Baby in the Basket.’”
Jane is nodding.
Now she straightens up. “I really like it when we learn about things about Jesus and God and Mary and the saints. We have a religion book with a lot of things in it about Jesus. And sometimes we color pictures.”
They agree about Immaculate Conception being a good place to go to first grade.
Why? Well, there’s Miss R. for starters.
“Can I tell you what’s her first name is?” asks Hugo. “Georgia. Georgia Rodriguez.” Looking at each other, they break up.
Jane wants to be a marine biologist, Hugo a scientist. She recalls going to the beach with her brother. They went underwater and saw a jellyfish, baby shark, sea turtle and a sea horse. She wants to learn more about animals in the ocean.
Hugo has a chemistry set at home. A scientist, he explains, does all kinds of neat experiments, pouring chemicals from one jar into another.
Yeah, first grade at Immaculate Conception has been good, but both are looking forward to moving on. “I’m excited about second grade,” says Jane. “Because I want to make my First Communion. But my favorite is third grade. Because in third grade you can learn,” and there’s one final conference, “what’s it called? The times table?”
“But I don’t want to have too, too much homework,” she admits. “Not too much.”
Hugo lights up. “But when you get to eighth grade, you’re going to have lots of homework. And when you get to college, you have so much homework you have to stay up for the whole night kind of, at least until 11.”
Jane remains unfazed. “I’m still excited.”