Behind The Scenes of the After-School Pick-Up with Mrs. Heather

Every one once in a while, I find myself explaining the concept of the “walking school pickup” that Mister John’s Music and other after-school programs do across Center City and South Philadelphia. Folks outside of Philadelphia can not wrap their heads around someone going to a local elementary school, gathering a group of kids, and then walking them through the streets of Philadelphia. It must be unique to Philadelphia-like our love of water ice and cheesesteaks.

I often joke that school pickups are the most stressful part of my job. Twice a week, I get eleven elementary-aged kids across Washington Ave. Getting myself across that road is stressful enough, but eleven kids is next level. Have you ever wondered how to get eleven elementary age kids across Washington Ave.? Ah, thanks for asking!

Join me on the journey. We’re waiting at the corner for the light to change. As soon as the light changes to green, I scan the intersection for any cars who haven’t quite hit the brakes, and then look at the cars sitting waiting to cross and maintain eye contact as I step into the street. Once I have blocked the lane, I yell “RUN.” Small children dash across the intersection. I follow the last student across and wave to the driver who has patiently waited. The process continues for every cross walk on our journey-though most are far less stressful! Once across, we return to our usual walking pace. Conversations restart, usually about what we see – cats, fish, cacti, you know, things kids care about. Or what they are doing later. Or what their baby sister was doing last night. Or making fart noises. Get it out of your system before class, kids!

When I meet students for school pickups at the beginning of the school year, I ask them, “What do you think my number one job is?” Parents have told their child I am the piano teacher, so they naturally say “You’re going to teach me how to play piano!!” I jokingly tell them they are unfortunately wrong and then say “My number one job is to keep you safe. Anything else I teach you is a bonus.” Throughout the year, they do need a reminder, as curious kids are tempted by leap-worthy stoops or big sticks that have fallen after a storm. But everytime I ask “What is my number one job?” They immediately say “To keep us safe.”

Each week on our journey, we build a little more connection with each other. We take care of each other. The older kids naturally drift to the back, gently urging the young kids to stay in the middle. Kids wait at the corner while someone needs to tie a shoe and offer a hand after a tumble. The kids have conversations with each other about what they have for snack or what they are doing later. They build resilience walking through rain and ice storms. But each time, we arrive at our destination. In one piece, ready for snacks and music making.