Feiciano was a college student from Florida A&M University who was one of the full-time aides in my public school Pre-K classroom. At the time, I thought he was a very grown up adult, but now that I’m the mom of young men that same age, I see what a fun-loving big kid he was.
The Pre-Kindergarten classroom was located in an inner-city area of Tallahassee and although the school was protected and loved by the neighborhood, the surrounding areas were rough. Crime was high and drug dealers worked in the open.
Most of my students lived in government assisted housing and the classroom was a magical, colorful refuge from the real world. Feliciano gave a reassuring presence with his towering 6’3” frame and was always ready to protect us, but the young man also had the softest heart in the school. The giant kid-man was a teddy bear when it came to the children. On St. Patrick’s Day, we painted pictures of leprechauns and Feliciano allowed the children to paint his beard bright orange. Glowing neon against his dark skin, he was the funniest looking “wee folk” we’d ever seen.
When teaching at other schools, I’d always taught Irish folklore with a fun St. Patrick’s Day activity. Using fool’s gold to bait a small live animal trap in the classroom in the hopes of catching a leprechaun, we’d return to the room later in the day to find a few papers scattered around, the gold stolen, and a plate of shamrock cookies the pesky leprechauns had left behind. “Oh no! We just missed them!” The children would laugh and dance around thinking how the tricky leprechauns had played a joke on us. Some children tried to figure out the real way the cookies mysteriously appeared and would discuss it for weeks.
The year Feliciano helped with the shamrock prank, Oh, Blarney . . . things got out of control. As we ate in the cafeteria, Feliciano slipped back to the room to arrange the leprechaun switcharoo but got carried away with the fun and overdid the naughty pranks. Crumpled papers, tipped over chairs, window blinds pulled askew, blocks and crayons spilled on the tables and the throne of the classroom — the teacher’s rocking chair, fallen on its side.
When we returned, the children froze in the doorway. They surveyed the damage, then burst into tears. Although I had become sensitive to the fact they were living in a very different world, it never occurred to me they would relate pranks from leprechauns to serious home invasions or robberies. Their world included random violence and real destruction. The beautiful classroom was their place of peace and safety, and now, the devious leprechauns had invaded, and they felt violated.
I’ve never felt worse. As I tried to console the bawling children, Feliciano ran around the room with his orange beard saying, “It’s okay — we’ll fix it!” There was inner-city Irish mayhem where two worlds were colliding. Feliciano and I ended up coming clean and telling the truth that we had taken a joke too far, which I guess was a good lesson in honesty and that grown-ups can make mistakes. Then, we ate the cookies which turned our tongues green and we were able to calm the sweet little hearts of those who probably grew up to hate St. Patrick’s Day.
To see or share this story from AL.com, click HERE.