Israel: Martin Luther Academy
By the time school started, Israel could actually feel the excitement bubbling up inside of him. Valentine, the girl from church who was his age, was going to be in his class, so at least he would know someone, but Mom and Dad assured him that the other kids were going to be really nice, too. Plus, Israel had met his teacher, Mrs. Danzel, at Meet the Teacher Night, and she had been at least as nice as Mrs. Thomason had been. At Meet the Teacher Night, Israel had also met Mrs. Carrasco, the Spanish teacher. He had been so excited to learn Spanish again, just like he had at his old school, that they had spent more time in the Spanish room than they had in Mrs. Daniel’s classroom.
On Israel’s first day of school, Mom and Dad drove him to school. When they got there, instead of parking the car, Dad pulled the car into a long line of cars.
“What’re you doing?” Israel asked, looking out of his window at all the kids climbing out of their cars and walking into the school.
“You’re a big first grader now,” Dad said, “so you can go to your class all by yourself.”
“But,” Israel said. On his first day on kindergarten, Mom and Dad had come in with him and helped him figure out where he sat and where to put his backpack. “I’m scared.”
“Israel, honey, I wish we could come in with you, but Mrs. Danzel asked the parents not to come in, okay? She wants you all to get used to finding your way around her classroom as soon as possible.”
Tears began gathering in Israel’s eyes, so he rubbed his eyes until they came out and he could dry the moisture with his shirt.
“Oh, honey, don’t cry,” Mom said, twisting in her seat so that she could put her hand on his knee. “You’re going to have so much fun.”
Israel shook his head, and just as he was about to tell Mom that he didn’t want to go to school, the car door opened.
“Good morning,” Mrs. Carrasco said cheerfully. “Israel, isn’t it? Happy first day of school.”
Israel nodded slowly and Mrs. Carrasco took his backpack from the car floor. “All right, bud, you can hop on out and head to your classroom now, okay? Do you remember where it is?”
Israel nodded again and looked back at Mom and Dad. Mom blew him a kiss, and Dad smiled. “You can do it, Israel. Have a good day.”
Mrs. Carrasco offered her hand, and Israel took it. She helped him out of the car, and then kept her hand on his shoulder as he waved to Mom and Dad. When they were gone, she handed him his backpack. “All right, there you go, bud. What grade are you in?”
“First,” Israel said quietly.
“Awesome, that means that I’ll see you right before lunch for Spanish class. Does that sound like fun?”
Israel nodded, smiling.
“Good. I’ll see you later, then.”
Israel waved at her and walked into the school. He went up the stairs to where the office and the kindergarten, third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms were, and then he went up another set of stairs to where the first, second, sixth, seventh, and eighth classrooms were. He spotted Mrs. Danzel standing outside her classroom and waved.
“Hello, Israel,” she said, holding her arms out, offering a hug.
Israel hugged her and then stepped back, holding his backpack straps.
“You can head on into the classroom and hang up your backpack, okay? You just have to find the hook with your name on it, just like last week.”
Israel nodded and headed into the classroom. Four of his classmates were already there at their desks, and another two were over by their backpacks.
“Hi,” Valentine said as Israel hung his backpack on his hook.
“Hi,” Israel said softly. He glanced at the girl next to Valentine.
“Hi,” the other girl said. “My name’s Clara.”
“He’s Israel,” Valentine told Clara. “He doesn’t talk a lot, right Israel?”
Israel shrugged, and Valentine and Clara giggled. They walked away, but Israel still heard Valentine say, “He goes to my church. He’s weird.”
Israel stayed by his backpack, his stomach hurting. He pulled out his school box and opened it to look at all of his markers, crayons, and pencils, which made him smile. Then someone bumped into him, and he dropped his school box, all of his supplies spilling onto the floor.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” the boy said, kneeling down and picking up a handful of crayons.
Israel joined him on the floor, grabbing his supplies as they rolled away.
“I saw you on Meet the Teacher Night,” the other boy said. “What’s your name again?”
“Israel. I don’t know your name, either.”
“Benjamin. But people mostly call me Ben.”
Israel nodded and put more pencils back into his school box.
“I know you didn’t go to kindergarten with us, but neither did McKenna. She’s a girl in our class, she’s just not here yet.”
“I don’t know her,” Israel said.
“It’s okay,” Ben promised. “Everyone is nice, even Mrs. Danzel. She’s my brother’s favorite teacher, and he’s in fourth grade now.”
Israel smiled and nodded. Ben put the last of Israel’s runaway supplies into his school box and then stood up. “Do you know where you sit?”
Israel grabbed his school box, stood up, and nodded. He hoped that Ben sat next to him, but as they walked over to their seats, Ben went to the right while Israel went to the left. When Israel got to his seat, the name tags next to him read “Owen Ott” and “Avery Manning.” Israel sighed and sat down, leaning his head on his desk.
“Your arm is on my desk,” a voice said, and Israel lifted his head to see a girl with blonde hair and a pink bow.
“Sorry,” Israel said, sitting up.
She squinted at the name tag on his desk. “How do you say your name?”
“Oh, like in the Bible. Israelites.”
Israel nodded. He had always been proud that his name was in the Bible.
Avery sat down in her chair and then pointed across the room to where Ben and another boy were sitting. “That’s my twin brother, Thomas. Do you have a brother or sister?”
Israel shook his head. He had never wished for a sibling in Arizona, where he had so many friends, but while he had been alone in Missouri this summer, he had very much wished for a little brother.
“Lucky,” Avery said. Then she got out of her chair and went to talk to Valentine and Clara.
Israel stayed in his chair and decided to make the contents of his school box look nice once again. When he and Mom had put all of the supplies in, they had done markers, then crayons, then pencils, so Israel started doing that all over again. Partway through, Mrs. Danzel walked into the classroom and said, “Good morning, class.”
Israel and most of his classmates automatically responded, “Good morning, Mrs. Danzel.” It was just like what Mrs. Thomason had done sometimes back in Arizona.
Mrs. Danzel went on to welcome them to the school and say that she hoped they would become a family. Then, she took attendance, and to Israel’s surprise, the handful of kids in the room were the only kids on her list.
“Timothy Arnold,” she said first.
A boy with short, dark hair and freckles raised his hand. “I go by Tim.”
Mrs. Danzel made a note on her clipboard. “Israel Benton.”
Israel raised his hand, and Mrs. Danzel smiled at him.
Then there was Lauren Evans, a girl with curly brown hair, Ben Garfield, Clara Klyne, Avery and Thomas Manning, Owen Ott — the blond boy who had sat down next to Israel without saying a word — Valentine Short, and McKenna Walker, who had curly dirty blonde hair and freckles.
“It’s so nice to finally have you all in one place,” Mrs. Danzel said, putting her clipboard down and picking up some papers. “Now, I’m going to pass out this fun little worksheet that will help you get to know your classmates, okay?”
She passed out the papers quickly, and Israel looked over his. The whole paper was just boxes with a sentence like, “Has been on a boat” with a line under it. Israel wrinkled his nose and looked up at Mrs. Danzel, who then explained that they were supposed to go around the room and find someone to write their name in each box, but only if they had done that thing before.
Israel looked around nervously. He didn’t want to just go ask a bunch of questions when he didn’t know anyone except Valentine. And Ben and Avery, sort of.
“All right, get going,” Mrs. Danzel said cheerfully, and everyone except Israel and Owen got out of their seats immediately.
Israel looked at Owen and took a deep breath. “Have you done any of these?”
“Don’t know,” Owen said, shrugging.
“Well, have you flown on a plane?”
Owen shook his head.
Israel continued reading options to him until Owen finally nodded at, “Has ridden a horse.”
“Will you sign my paper there, then?” Israel asked.
Owen took Israel’s paper, and Israel took Owen’s paper and wrote his name under “Has flown on a plane” and “Has been to another state.”
“Thanks,” Owen said when he gave Israel his paper back.
“You’re welcome,” Israel said, a smile sneaking onto his face.
After they finished their worksheet and shared some of the things they learned about their classmates, Mrs. Danzel had everyone get a notebook out of their backpack. Then she told them how to write the date at the top of their notebook, even though Israel already knew how to do that, and then she told them that she was going to give them fifteen minutes to write about what they did over the summer. On the board, she wrote, “This summer I…”
Israel got right to work, writing:
This summer I had to move from Arizona. I love Arizona but I don’t love Missuri. I love Arizona becaus my best friends Ross and Dylan and Meemaw and Papa live there and I like cacti but not the trees here as much. This summer I plaied at the park and red alot of books like the magic tree house and my fathers dragen. My mom wusnt home vary much becaus she has a job but she had no job in Arizona. I did not like my summer vary much.
Israel put his pen down and rubbed his eye. He didn’t actually feel like he was going to cry, but he wanted to. He looked up at Mrs. Danzel and then at Ben, who was bent over his notebook, and then at Owen, who had hardly written a single word.
“You’re supposed to write,” Israel whispered.
“I know,” Owen said, tapping his pencil on his notebook.
“Then why aren’t you?”
Owen shrugged and put his head down on his desk.
After Spanish class, which was super fun, and lunch, which first and second grade shared, first grade had recess. Israel ran out to the playground alongside his classmates, but he was the only one who ran to the swings. As he pumped his legs and swung higher, Israel looked out at the playground to see what his classmates were doing. Ben, Tim, Thomas, and Owen stood out in the grass. Tim held a soccer ball, and they all seemed to be arguing with each other. Valentine, Clara, and Avery climbed on a huge, circular set of monkey bars, and Lauren and McKenna played jumprope next to Mrs. Danzel, who looked like she was watching the boys in the grass argue.
Did no one else like swinging? Israel wondered. Swinging was one of his favorite things ever, and he didn’t see how at least one of his classmates didn’t want to swing.
After a few minutes, Israel watched as Owen stomped away from Tim, Thomas, and Ben. Tim called, “Now our teams aren’t even, idiot!”
Mrs. Danzel called, “Tim Arnold, come here.”
Tim dropped the ball and stomped over to Mrs. Danzel. Meanwhile, Owen came up to the swing that was two away from Israel and sat down. Instead of working to swing higher, Owen just kicked at the ground.
Israel tried to think of something to say, but he couldn’t come up with anything, especially when Owen looked sad and mad, so he just kept swinging.
After school, Israel joined the crowd of kids outside on the sidewalk for parent pick-up. He looked around, seeing people of all different ages. Despite this school have sixth, seventh, and eighth grade — unlike Israel’s old school — there were a lot less kids.
Israel spotted Valentine standing with her brother Andrew and her cousins Rachel, Abe, and Allison. Even though they all went to Israel’s church, he backed up to the brick wall of the school and scooted away from them so that they didn’t see him and try to talk to him.
In his new spot, Israel saw Ben with Thomas and two other boys, one of whom looked a lot like Ben. Israel liked Ben — he was the nicest person he had met all day — but he wasn’t sure about Thomas or the other boys, so he continued watching them from the wall.
Then Ben spotted Israel and waved to him. Israel waved back, took a deep breath, and walked over to Ben.
“Israel’s in me and Thomas’s class,” Ben told the other two boys. One of them was a lot older than Israel, and the one who looked like Ben seemed like a kindergartener.
“Do you like the school?” The older boy asked.
Israel shrugged, making the boy laugh. “Me too. I’m John. Ben’s my little brother.”
“And me,” the boy who looked like Ben protested.
“Oh, yeah, this is Russell,” Ben told Israel. “He’s in kindergarten.”
Israel smiled at Russell, who smiled back and then said, “You’re tall.”
“For a first grader,” John said, measuring from his forehead to Israel’s. John was just barely taller than Israel, and if Israel was remembering right, John was in fourth grade.
“You should play soccer with us at recess,” Ben said, and Thomas nodded. “You’re way taller than Tim, so you could knock him over and maybe someone besides his team would finally win.”
“Is Tim good at soccer?” Israel asked.
Ben and Thomas nodded dramatically. “Owen stopped playing with us today just because he wasn’t on Tim’s team,” Thomas said.
“No, he stopped playing because it was me and Tim against you guys,” Ben said. “He said it just wasn’t fair if we were together.”
“Because Ben’s the fastest.”
“I can run faster than Ben,” Russell bragged.
“Yeah right,” Thomas said, laughing.
Israel looked up to see if John was laughing too, but he was nowhere to be seen.
“Israel Benton,” someone called. Israel looked around, and Ben put his hand on Israel’s shoulder and said, “Mrs.Vogt is calling you. Over there.”
Israel pushed his way through the crowd of kids until he found his car. Dad sat in the front seat alone, and Israel’s heart sank.
“Have a good night,” the teacher said, and Israel climbed into the car.
“How was your first day?” Dad asked when the teacher closed Israel’s door.
“Good,” Israel sighed. “Where’s Mom?”
“Work,” Dad said, and Israel grimaced.
“Hey, we have some ice cream at home. We can celebrate your first day at your new school, how about that?”
Israel wanted to stay mad about Mom not being here with him, but ice cream did sound good, so he smiled and nodded.
Israel’s first week of school went by quickly. He decided that Spanish was his favorite specials class — though library on Fridays came in a close second. He also tried playing soccer with Ben at recess, even though he didn’t know anything about soccer, and Tim was so mean — he called Israel an idiot whenever he didn’t know something or whenever he messed up — that Israel only tried a second time because Ben begged him to. After the second recess spent with Tim, though, nothing could make Israel try to play soccer again. He didn’t even like soccer.
On Friday, everyone in his class decided to play a game called ‘Red Rover,’ which Israel had never heard of.
“You’ve really never heard of it?” Valentine asked, her eyes wide.
Israel shook his head, and Valentine and her friends laughed.
“You can watch us play first and join when you get it,” Ben offered.
“Okay,” Israel agreed. His classmates then chose teams and, to Israel’s surprise, Clara came over and stood off to the side with Israel.
“I hate Red Rover,” Clara explained. “Last year we played it every day and Tim and Grevin — he doesn’t go here anymore — almost killed me. They raised their arms higher so then my neck hit them and I couldn’t breathe for a little bit. And I hit my head on the ground.”
“I don’t think I’m going to like this game,” Israel admitted.
“But you’re a boy,” Clara said in disbelief.
“So all the boys I know like this game. Even my brother, who’s four, has played Red Rover. He played with us last year on the last day of school, ’cause my mom came and picked me up early.”
Israel stuck his hands in his pockets and shrugged. Clara didn’t say anything else to him the whole time, so Israel just watched his classmates play the game, where they chanted, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send someone right over.” Except, instead of “someone” they just said the name of someone on the other team, and then that person ran super fast and tried to break through the other team’s arms. If they couldn’t break through, then they joined the team who called them over. If they did break through, they got to choose someone whose arms they ran through to take back to their own team.
Tim and Ben were the best at the game, and only Owen ever broke through either of their arms. When the game was over — because Valentine was the last one left on her team but couldn’t break through Avery and Thomas’s arms — they decided to start over.
“We get Israel,” Ben called.
“No, we get Israel,” Lauren argued. “You guys won the last game, so we need him.”
“He’s probably not even good,” Tim said, and all of Israel’s classmates looked at Israel.
Israel shoved his hands farther into his pockets and said, “I don’t want to play.” Then he walked away to the swings while they called after him.
“Hey,” Ben said, running over. “We can go easy on you for your first time.”
“I don’t want to play,” Israel repeated.
“It’s super fun though,” Ben promised. “And you’re taller than everyone, so it’ll probably be easy for you.”
“C’mon, come play,” Ben begged.
“No thanks,” Israel murmured.
“Maybe next week?”
Israel shrugged, and when he looked up, Ben was back with the rest of their classmates and Tim and Thomas were staring at Israel, laughing.