The YMCA After-School Program (ASP) caters to over 70 children in kindergarten to fifth grade from all the Island schools. The program provides a place for kids to come play, get homework done, socialize with peers, and participate in a variety of activities ranging from swimming and yoga to cooking classes and art. And every month they work on a fun interactive learning project. This month’s theme is “Presidents and the United States.”
On Monday the 12th, before the latest nor’easter arrived, lead teacher at the Y Tara Dinkel gathered 30 cooperative, talkative, and surprisingly attentive kids when they had just finished their regular school day. The young students were wondering what we were doing in their after-school program. I explained I was a writer and Gabrielle a photographer for The MV Times, and we wanted to write about what they were working on with the “Presidents of the United States.”
This piqued their interest and they began to chat amongst themselves, until Ms. Dinkel got their attention with the rallying cry “One two,” and with that the students responded in unison, “Eyes on me, one two, eyes on you.”
“So kids, what would you do if you were president of the United States?” I asked.
Cameron, an eager boy, wiggled in his seat and said he’d check his attack army. Whereupon Nate took it one step further and said he would attack Spain. Suppressed laughter came from the teachers. Apparently Nate was taking revenge for the Spanish warships off our coast that he learned about in a previous history lesson — or something like that.
“What would you do with Air Force One, the president’s private plane?”
Little hands shot in the air. James would travel to Hawaii and watch TV all day. Roland would go to Italy for the beaches, and maybe meet the leader there. A warm, loving kindergartener named Genevieve said she would go on Air Force One to visit her grandparents. Payton T wanted to head straight to Disneyland and meet with Mickey Mouse, and that idea sparked an outbreak of discussion about whom to meet or avoid, and what was real and what was fantasy. Being the president on Air Force One was real, but meeting Mickey Mouse was pushing it for some kids, a little over the top.
Ms. Dinkel refocused the kids, “one two,” and as if by magic the kids were back on task and said, “Eyes on you, one two, eyes on me.”
Turning the questions from the kids’ presidential life to our current president, the kids were surprisingly unanimous. Cameron didn’t like him. He spoke so clearly others sat up, turned and looked at him, some giggled, then Lucy said she didn’t like him either, and very quickly the kids’ hands shot up in the air, and it was established none of them liked him.
“Why?” I asked, “what did he do that makes you not like him?”
“He can’t even get a hole in one,” said Nate.
So who’s your favorite president?
“Abe Lincoln,” said Ruby; “Obama,” said Kaya, which was echoed by a chorus from the back of the room. “Anyone but Trump,” said Emmanuel, and with that, Robert said, “Trump has noodles for brains.”
Moving along swiftly, we asked if they were to be elected the president of Martha’s Vineyard, what would they do to help the Island?
Emmanuel said yes, he would be president of Martha’s Vineyard, only after he “talked to his lawyer.” If Xander were to be a politician on the Island, he would make the stores cheaper. Emmanuel said he would make sure there was no homework all across the Island. Nate said he would make everything under $50. Cameron countered the homework rule and decided to give everyone 8,000 pieces of homework a night. Grant said he would make people kinder and get rid of racism.
The girls were quieter at one of the round tables, and once given the space and spotlight, they outlined what they would do as president of Martha’s Vineyard. Ruby decided she would make a law: No jumping off the bridge. And Lucy countered her by making a law to build more bridges to jump off. Hannah asked what was a politician anyway, and Genevieve, our peacemaker, wanted everyone to go back to school to learn what is the right thing to do.
While the girls were talking, the boys were thinking, and then a gem emerged. Grant (the kid who would eradicate racism) decided he would like to be a local congressman. I gave him a positive nod before Robert’s hand shot up and he said he would send cannons to other countries, to which someone shouted we should all, by law, have pizza for breakfast,
and with that the group broke out in discussion over pizza.
As the afternoon drew to a close, Ruby put the final touches on our interview by declaring that as president of the Vineyard, she would order more horses for the carousel at the Flying Horses in Oak Bluffs. It was more a request than a statement, and we all thought about it before going home to hunker down for the snowy day.