I left St. Agnes Academy after three years because I could no longer survive on only a nine month’s salary, and I hated competing with teens for summer jobs. So, I took a job at Alvin High School teaching English and coaching junior varsity volleyball and track and field. I knew a good deal about volleyball with my history in the sport from my high school days and my three years at Lamar; however, my interest was in academics, so I was eventually released from the athletic contract. This is the home I lived in on Blum Street in Alvin.
I was fortunate, from the get go, that the English Department Chair gave me the freshmen gifted and talented class, which basically gave me carte blanche to diversify the curriculum to accommodate literary projects. I loved it! After reading Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, for instance, we spent two weeks developing a blueprint for a project we presented to the Committee for Dickens on the Strand in Galveston. Our project was accepted, and we spent the next month completing it for showcasing on the night of the Strand.. Essentially, our students in the wood-working classes designed and built a Dickensian vendor’s cart from which we would “peddle” our wares. The artists in the class drew pictures of Pip and Magwitch, two of the main characters in the story, in the upper corner of parchment paper, then rolled the “stationery” up and tied it with a bow. The speech and drama students learned the cockney dialect of Dickens’ time period and created a spiel by which to “hawk” the wares. Finally, the students in home economics, and some drama students, either sewed, or found costumes from the drama teacher, including top hats, for the sellers to wear. All that was left was to purchase the kerosene lanterns to hang from our cart, and we were good t go. All along the way, wood shop teachers, drama and speech teachers, home economics teachers and art teachers advised when their time allowed. It was a fantastic experience and success, not only for our class, but for the whole school. I never wanted to teach any other way again. The will to learn for every single student involved came alive after that.
This is me about that time. Ready to conquer the world because I felt so good about that project. Shortly after Dickens on the Strand, then, I volunteered to sponsor nine junior and senior students from Alvin for the People-to-People Ambassador Program going to Ireland, England, The Netherlands, and France for six weeks over the summer months. I remember being particularly excited to go learn first-hand about the UK, since I expected to specialize in British Literature when I would start my Masters Degree shortly upon my return. I was also excited because my distant cousin, Chaplain and Colonel Sidney Marceaux had told me to go to Chartres and learn about our relative, General Francois Severin Marceau-Desgraviers.
Oh, what i learned on that trip! You want an education? Forget about books. Travel the world. Spend time with the people and their cultures. My home stay family in Ireland was the sweetest. They didn’t have enough meat to, but they insisted I had some. I felt terrible, but I know they would have been hurt had I denied them their generosity. Below is a typical Irish, little girl bringing back peat she dug up from the bogs in the Ring of Kerry, Ireland.
The Irish used peat for fuel to heat their homes and cook. My home stay family in England was more middle class, but still ever so kind. Most of the people in England asked if all Texans owned guns. I laughed at the time. I’d hardly be laughing now. I was Catholic at the time, so I spent a good deal of time going to Mass in the cathedrals in The Netherlands, because I stayed in a quaint, little Inn, so I had more time to myself. What impressed me most about the cathedrals in the town I stayed in in Holland was that they were small and had no pews. You knelt right on the floor.
The highlight of my trip, of course, was when my People-to-People supervisors let me skip the majority of the Paris trip so I could go directly to Chartres, the home of Generral Marceau, whose statue is erected on Rue de Marceau.
As well, villagers took me to meet the Maire (mayor) who invited me to his mairie (office) to see the huge, mural curtain of General Marceau draped behind his desk. I was speechless and every hair on my arms and the nape of my neck stood straight up. I don’t remember when I realized my mouth was agape.
When I finally returned to Paris, I was there in time to visit the Louvre where, again, I saw the General. Then, just walking down the Champs Elysee, i looked up at the right bas relief, and,just as the Maire had said, there, indeed, was a depiction of the funeral of General Francois Severin Marceau when he was slain in Austria.
The Maire also told me George Gordon, Lord Byron immortalized the General in the LVI and LVII Cantos of his narrative poem “Child Harold’s Pilgrimage.” “Wow”, was all I could say.
So, you may be wondering, what does all this have to do with BeakSpeak? Everything, I believe. As Nothing-New Sue would say, it put a fire in my belly to get back home, work my tail off to get that Masters Degree at night, and work at perfecting my language skills by day. I didn’t foresee a children’s book at that time, but I knew I wanted to live up to my full potential, whatever that would include. I jumped in with both feet – there’s Nothing-New Sue again – and, besides teaching during the day, I sponsored and judged UIL and Decathalon events, got involved in the Bay Area Chapter of the Teachers of English, and even learned how to train teachers in the Greater Houston Area Writer’s Project, both creating and teaching strategies for colleagues to prepare students for State composition tests. I was also the English Department Chair by this time. I think, then, I was adequately trained to put in place the techniques I’d learned, and anticipated to further learn, with my new job at Smithson Valley High School just outside of New Braunfels. That’s truly where I honed how I could scale down teaching difficult language skills to children. BeakSpeak’s character’s were just chicks in my head then. I was about to get the real deal soon.
First, though,, there was one more thing I had to do. My sister, Shelly was graduating from high school that May and had always wanted something I’d never been able to give her before now. So I took a certain trunk I had refurbished over to her home in Port Neches.
She opened it to find a real surprise!
A saddle, that came with a horse named Skipper D. She spent a summer learning how to ride at a friend’s home.