It was a Small Town on Wheels.

In the past, I have had pets. Even the smallest has come forth with a large personality. For example, a fish has as much personality as a dog. Because of its confinement, it’s harder to discover.

But if you get to know your fish, you will find that it (or they, since “fish” is also plural) does things that show its likes and dislikes. It keeps itself entertained in specific ways, attacks (or nibbles) its food with specific force, and even mellows as it ages.

I had the privilege of chaperoning a field trip with the private school this week. I rode the bus with two teachers (one who drove the bus) and 12 kids. By the time the day-long trip was over, I had discovered the strong personalities in each one of those kids.

I would imagine strong personalities abound at every school. But on a larger bus with more kids, I spend so much time wildly searching and counting the kids that there isn’t much time to get to know them.

We started our trip with all 12 kids crowded in a cluster at the door. They had to be forced back to get on, and all of them piled on top of one another to get in. The talking never stopped, and no one wasn’t talking. There were iPods and phones blasting music the entire time, an occasional shriek that – for the first hour – I thought was a teenaged girl. It turned out to be a boy named Victor, whose random and unnecessary shrieks somehow usually made the rest of the group laugh. (These shrieks did not have that effect on me.)

While I got to know the various kids, I realized something that had never been the case on a public school field trip – even though it was a field trip. On this trip, with these kids, every, single kid was smiling.

There were no fights – although there were disagreements. The kids genuinely like each other and even after short squabbles, they settle back into niceties. They are kind to one another. They share their lunches. Their make sure everyone has a spot where they can see. They take care of one another.

I watched Dylan break up his brownie bar – something he thoroughly enjoys – and give two pieces away, just so his friends could try it. Actually, lunchtime – where I sat with the students and observed like a jungle cameraman – was the most enlightening time.

This was not a public school cafeteria. All the kids shared – food, ideas, photos, jokes. At one point, a girl told a boy to bring over another chair so someone else could fit at the table. I thought to myself, YOU get the darn chair. He’s eating! But the boy never thought twice about doing it. He jumped up, got the chair, made a space, and showed the other boy where to sit.

I think what startled me most was the genuine generosity of heart.

It was really like traveling with a small village. I was constantly reminded of the word “village” while being in that group. Everyone knew everyone else. They treated each other with respect. I thought of Little House on the Prairie and couldn’t help but see the way everyone worked together.

It was just a field trip. But to me, it was a small town on wheels.

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