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Sixth-grade flashback is a reminder for career choice


I'm seated in Mrs. Vincent's sixth-grade science class and I'm having a flashback.

I'm at a desk way in the back of the room, behind the kid who asks the really good questions and right next to the kid doodling cartoon characters in his notebook.

I'm 24, so it's OK that I refer to Mrs. Vincent by her first name.

But I don't.

I'm in sixth grade again, and the teacher is lowering the blinds and turning off the lights.

It's time for a filmstrip. The subject: radioactivity.

I'm surrounded by two dozen 12-year-olds. Each seems to know more about gamma, alpha and beta rays than the next.

To me, Gamma Alpha Beta is a sorority, not three science terms.

Watching the filmstrip, I'm reminded why I became a journalist and not a doctor: I stink at science.

Everything about the film brings me back.

The way the frames get stuck in the projector, forcing the teacher to switch them manually.

How the lights go off, and my brain immediately shuts down and my eyelids begin to flicker.

Even the narrator's voice has an eerie familiarity. I swear, it's the same guy who narrated filmstrips when I was in elementary school in Pennsylvania.

Don't they ever update these things?

The film ends, the blinds go up and we all groan as sunlight is reintroduced to our eyes. Mrs. Vincent asks the kids a question about radiation.

A half-dozen hands go up.

Mine doesn't. And not just because I'm a guest in her class.

I have no clue what the answer is.

There's a knock at the door. It's a tall man carrying a cardboard box marked, "Radiation Detection Kit."

The man is Hill County's planner and sanitarian, Clay Vincent. He's also the teacher's husband.

The kids ooh and ahh in wonder as Vincent reaches his hand in the box. I have to admit, I was curious, too.

The yellow, rectangular gadget is a geiger counter, he says. It's used to measure radioactivity.

My first thought: Let's hope there's nothing to measure in this room right now.

But there was.

So, along with the sixth-graders, I find myself standing in line to listen to the radioactivity of a 2-year-old Coleman lantern mantle.

"Whoa, it sounds weird. It's cracking," said sixth-grader Gary Arbuckle.

"It sounds like popcorn," his classmate Josh Blatter chimes in.

Curious again, I take a listen.

"There's a lot of energy in there," Vincent says.

Nothing like some good old-fashioned, hands-on learning.

I return to my desk to gather my things and put on my coat. For some reason, I don't want to leave.

Not because I don't want to get back to work. And not because I'm one of those people who wants to relive his childhood.

No, I want to stay for the simplest of reasons.

I heard they're playing kickball at recess.


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