The fifth-graders in the “rough” part of the city have been waiting for this all year: the dash to the rock on the hill and back. This is their chance to make their mark, to be legends before moving on to middle school.
The gym teacher dramatically announces the all-time record and waves the flag. Dozens of feet pound across the field and up the hill, they reach for the rock, and they’re back already.
"We have a new record!" announces the gym teacher, and congratulates the new champion, who seems proud but stunned.
The other kids move on to tug-of-war, but the champion stays behind, talking to a friend. “I knew I could do it,” he says, in awe of his own power. “I had a feeling I could do it, but I wasn’t sure I really could.”
"A frog!" someone calls out, and all the kids gather around to see.
A teacher on the scene has them all sit down in a circle and pass the frog around. Tug-of-war can wait.
"Does anyone know what frogs are called when they’re born?" she asks. The frog is passed from one set of little hands to the next, the kids beaming in delight and a little squeamishness.
"Tadpoles!" someone calls.
"That’s right," she says. "Watch how it breathes. Right now it’s breathing in air, you can see how its throat expands. But it can also breathe underwater. Because it can breathe both in air and water, it’s called an amphibian."
Even the few kids afraid to hold the frog are grinning ear-to-ear. But eventually tug-of-war calls, and we release the frog to the woods. The teacher guides them to their next activity, but I spend the rest of my afternoon chasing kids back from frog-hunting in the woods. It’s a beautiful day.