John Blue – Snow at School

Snow at School

The finish line was in sight, right after a nice hill. The snow was pristine, my skis and poles working in perfect unison, and I was about to get my best time ever for the 10-kilometer. There was only one problem. I was in second. I turned it up a notch, my skis and poles digging into the snow, pushing my exhausted body as far as it could go, and a little bit further. The gap between me and the person in first was shrinking. Right ski forward, angle towards the trees on the edge of the path, push, repeat with left ski. Five feet between me and him, four feet, three feet, two, one, we were neck and neck; the finish line was so close…

“Henry!” my mom called, waking me up from my dream. “It’s time for school!”

My response was a groan. I summoned the willpower to get out of bed, tried, failed, tried again and got out. Second try, I thought, looking back at my bed. Not bad.

The next thirty minutes blurred together and after stumbling through my morning routine, there I was, standing in the twenty-five degree weather waiting for the school bus. It came, and I sat down next to my best friend, Jack Harden, the only guy I know who likes cross-country skiing as much as I do.

“Hey Henry,” he said, as said as I sat down on the cracked black leather seats. “How’s your day going?”

“Same as always,” I said. “Horrible.”

Jack just sighed. A year ago he might have argued, but now school was a subject we tried to avoid. Jack was a great student, straight A’s, while I got C’s and D’s, occasionally scrapping a B.

For a little while after that we talked about hockey. I was a New York Rangers fan and he liked the Philadelphia Flyers. I know what you’re thinking. You guys are the biggest winter sports fanatics ever. But you would be too if you lived in upstate New York. After a little while of talking about whom was better, we stopped. I was thinking about the day ahead. The biggest thing in my mind was that it was supposed to snow after school. The second biggest thing was I had my least favorite class, Spanish, first. I could hardly spell in English, yet the school expects me to be able to conjugate Spanish verbs.

Jack and I got out of the school bus to meet the flood of oncoming kids, all headed towards to sets of double doors, which opened and closed under a big sign that read “Jackson Middle School.”

Pretty much all the halls in our school were checkered black and white, and the two halls Jack and I walked down to get to our lockers were no different. We grabbed our stuff and walked into Spanish just before the bell rang. Senora Harret eyed us as we sat down in the back of the green classroom. She checked to see if everyone was there, then paired us all up to do a work sheet about verbs. I got paired with Harry Jones, the shortest kid in our grade and he was pretty mad at me by the end. “When you write, other people are supposed to be able to read it too!” was the last thing he said to me before he finished the sheet by himself. As you can probably imagine, I felt real great after that.

Once the bell rang, Jack and I headed over to Science, where we were learning about lake effect snow. This was the only class I did well in. This was the only time I’d dome well in this class. I don’t really get math, I don’t get grammar, but for some reason I understand those cold winds picking up moisture from Lake Ontario and dumping it on our town in the form of snow. Maybe its because snow was one thing I actually cared about.

“Are you ready for the test today?” I asked him.

“I hope so,” he said.

We got into the room a little early. It was the nicest room I had any of my classes in. While the others had scribbled on desks and an ancient computer, this classroom got new desks this year and when we needed to use the internet we looked stuff up on last years Mac. (Maybe I was doing well because of the nice desks?)

When everyone had settled down, Mr. Radler handed out the test.

The first part was just multiple choice on facts and dates, the stuff I typically do horrible on, but I had studied really hard for this test, and it was about snow. I think I got about three-fourths of them right. Then came the last question, the only one where you wrote the answer.

How does lake effect snow happen?

Something about cold air and warm lake water. I thought. Then I closed my eyes and visualized the cold air blowing across the “warmer” lake water, the wind picking up the moisture and freezing it, then dumping it on the shore as snow. Now the hard part, putting it in words. I struggled with that for the next twenty minutes, trying to make my handwriting legible, not spelling everything wrong. I finished it about two minutes before time was up, and I really hoped Mr. Radler would get what I was trying to say. Still, I finished it with the best feeling about any test I’d ever taken.

Math class brought me back into reality.

The reality being I was still the worst student in our grade.

“I just finished looking at your grades for the quarter,” Mr. Jones said, “and some of you are below satisfactory” He continued, staring at me the whole time. “I suggest you try your hardest.”

“As if I’m not already,” I grumbled. Jack, who was sitting next to me, gave me a warning stare. Then Mr. Jones began talking about turning weird fractions to percents, and I got lost in all the numerators and denominators and cross multiplications. He handed us a sheet to do, and by the end of class I had only finished three-quarters. “Why am I so stupid?” I thought pretty much the entire time. We turned the sheet in and he sighed when he saw mine. But what I saw out the window at lunch instantly cured all my problems.

Snow. Floating down to the ground, sticking to the grass and pavement. Starting to cover it.

Yes! I thought.

“If it keeps on like this, we might not have school tomorrow!” I told Jack. He just nodded and smiled.

I stared out the window for the rest of lunch, and English, where we were (supposed to be) learning about good ending techniques. Five times I was told to stop looking out the window and to focus on what we were doing because that’s more important. But each time Ms. Bentner scolded me I went right back to looking out the window. Because to me, snow was much more important than how to end your story. The fifth time she told me to focus I felt like telling that to her, but there was no point. Instead I went back to looking at the snow.

Finally the bell rang. One more period, social studies, and I would be free. But halfway through social studies something that must have come from my nightmares happened. The best thing, turned into the worst.

Mr. Williams, our principle came in over the P.A. “Due to snow, the roads are unsafe to travel and school has been extended. Your parents have been notified.”


I could have cried after I heard that. Instead of going home and having a snowball fight, I was stuck here, being tortured by teachers who said things that made no sense. I mean, I know and love it when school gets canceled, but extended? There aren’t even books about that. And it didn’t help I was probably the stupidest kid in the grade. I didn’t pay attention for the rest of social studies. No one in our class did. I would be surprised if a single student at Jackson Middle School were paying attention. All of them, like me, were having thier own private temper tantrums. Once social studies was over we took an English test we were supposed to have the next day. Ms. Bentner came in after I did; she was coming from a meeting with Mr. Smith, the teacher who teaches the dyslexic kids. When I got the test, I told myself, I’m going to do well. But when I sat down and looked at it, it didn’t make sense. Not like it’s written in code doesn’t make sense, I felt like I was close, but not quite there. So I looked at the second. Same deal. Really? I thought. Didn’t I study for this? I looked out the window, and the snow was starting to stop. This will be the only time I’m happy about snow stopping. Eventually I came up with answers I was 50/50 on, but they were the best I could do. I handed my test in and Ms. Bentner Looked at my test, then me, puzzled. She looked like she was contemplating an answer, one that she thought was right, but was scared to speak up about.

“Um, Ms. Bentner?”  I asked hesitantly.

“What?” she mumbled, then said, “Oh, sorry, I was just thinking something but it’s probably nothing.” Then she told us that we were going to spend the rest of the time we were here working on our stories. There was the sound of papers rustling, and I asked Jack if he could edit mine. He said yes, so while he was reading mine, I read his. I was blown away. It was great. Mine however, not so much.

“Uh, Henry, all your n’s are u’s”

I leaned back in my chair, put my hands on over my face and said, “Gosh, why am I such an idiot?”

Unfortunately, this attracted the attention of Ms. Bentner.

“Henry, is there something wrong?”

“No, nothing except for the that all my n’s are u’s”

Then she got that same, “I’m not sure this is right look”, but this time it changed into an, “I am confident in this answer” look and said “Henry could you see me first thing tomorrow in room 1250 instead of Math. I’ll talk to Mr. Jones.” Then she walked away. Jack and I looked at each other then went back to work on our stories.

About an hour later, Mr. Williams came in over the P.A. “The roads are now safe for travel. Have a nice afternoon.” We all cheered and got out of there as fast as we could.

“That was really weird” Jack said in the hall. “You haven’t done anything bad, have you?

“Of course not!” I replied. “Unless you count bad grades.”

We rode on the bus in silence, each of us wondering why I was seeing Ms. Bentner the next morning. I got home and told my parents what happened. They too were confused about it. But, like parents are supposed to do, they told me not to worry about it and to brush my teeth. I woke up the next morning bleary eyed, but I bright and ready for school by breakfast. I wanted to know what Ms. Bentner was going to tell me. Jack and I spent the bus ride trading theories, each worse and more unlikely than the one before it. I might be a bad student, but I’m not a bad kid. Never sent to the principles office and never gotten a call home, so this worried me. It didn’t make sense that see could tell I was doing something wrong just by looking at my English test, but there was no other reason she would have me skip class to talk to her. Unless it had to do with my bad grades. It was no secret that I got the worst grades in English and Spanish in our grade. What if I was being held back a grade?  It made sense. she looks at my English test, can’t believe how bad it is, considers it as a possibility but doesn’t think I’m quite that bad. Then she sees that I switch up my u’s and n’s, and decides that that that’s what she is going to have to do. I told Jack my idea, but he dismissed it immediately.

“You don’t get held back with three C’s on your report card,” He advised.

But I was still nervous and I wanted to know if my suspicion was true. And there was only one way to find out.

The hall seemed darker than it usually did, the walls closer, the doors smaller. I stood in front of room 1250. I couldn’t think of a time I had been more nervous, but that wasn’t surprising, because I could barely even think. All my thoughts were swirling around, staying in my head only for a second. Don’t do it, just go to math class. Get it over with, open the door now. Give yourself some time, then open the door. Why am I even here? I took a deep breath, and then knocked on the door.

“Come in.”

I walked into the room. Ms. Bentner was there, and so was Mr. Smith.

Ms. Bentner was the first one to talk. “Hi Henry. Please take a seat, you know Mr. Smith, right?”

I nodded and said hi.

“Well, you see Matt, this wouldn’t have even happened if we hadn’t have had that extra period. Since I had just come from seeing Mr. Smith, I was thinking about ways to tell if kids have dyslexia. One of the big ones is not doing well in English, and we all know you struggle with that. Also, a classic is messing up your u’s and n’s. And I’m going to guess that you had trouble with your left and right as a kid.”

I nodded, thinking of when I had so much trouble with that, never understanding the “the hand that makes the L is your left had” thing.

Then Mr. Smith picked up. “ She came to me after school, and I too didn’t think these things together were coincidences, so I asked if I could see you report cards. When I saw them they fit in perfectly with Ms. Bentners theory.”

By this point I was confused, so I asked, “What is your theory?”

Ms. Bentner took this question. “Henry, we think you have dyslexia.”

Well that was a shocker, and the last thing I would have expected. I don’t think I even would have expected it. If I had told Jack that or he had told me, it would have been immediately shot down, or laughed at. But I had dyslexia. And I wasn’t being held back. That explained why I was the last person in kindergarten to learn how to read. It was a relief of my shoulders. I wasn’t an idiot. There was a reason I couldn’t spell. But still, what did that mean for me?

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, dyslexia is a learning…” she began, but I cut her off.

“I know what dyslexia is, but what does it mean for me?”

“Well,” Mr. Smith began, “you would start to take your English classes with me instead of Ms. Bentner. They’re a seven other kids in my class. You probably have classes with them already. All having dyslexia means is you’ll have to work a bit harder than the other kids to be at their level.”

I nodded, and Ms. Bentner told me to go see if I could catch the last half of Math class. Maybe other people would have a different reaction, but as I walked out that door, I was smiling.  


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