great eagerness I looked forward to my first day of school. When it
finally arrived I was happy and excited as
I walked hand in hand
with my mother towards Public School 53, located between Central and
Wilson Avenues in
the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
mother seemed anxious and fearful as she let go of my hand, hugged me
and watched me enter the
kindergarten classroom. I, on the other
hand felt like a butterfly, ready to spread my wings as the teacher
me to my seat. She then went to reassure my mother who was
still lingering at the open door, and said, “Signora Consoli,
little Rosa will be just fine on her first day of school.” My mother did
not understand the words, but she smiled
and nodded her head as she
walked away. She had
understood the sound of kindness in the teacher’s voice.
turned out I was not fine on my first day of school, nor on many other
days of school. My butterfly wings flapped
down when I realized that
I didn’t understand anything that anyone was saying. I didn’t speak or
English. My parents and relatives and even my aunts, Lena
and Margaret who were learning English at school always
spoke to me
in Italian. School became a struggle for me. Not only did the language
barrier embarrass me but also my
poor health caused me to be absent
from school weeks at a time. Fits of coughing in the classroom often
made it necessary
for me to be sent to the school nurse’s office. At
other times my mother was sent for to take me home.
spite of having missed many school days I achieved my first
promotion—from kindergarten to first grade and then
second and third grade. I was still prone to catching colds, and as the
absences from school continued, I
became discouraged and withdrawn.
My father was a great help to me with my arithmetic homework, but my
knew very little English and were unable to help me with
spelling and reading.
just returned to school after an absence of a few weeks and prayed that
my teacher would not call on me, to read
from my “Reader.” The next
instant I heard my name called, “Rose Consoli, please stand up and read
the next page to the
class.” I stood up and fumbled through the
pages. I didn’t know which page we were on. A classmate seated next to
whispered the page number. I turned to the page and stumbled over
every word in every sentence. I sat down and
put my hands over my
face to cover my tears of frustration. Since it was out of the question
for me to become a
“dropout” from third grade I continued to be
tormented by my struggle to keep pace with my classmates.
my prayers were being answered. My health improved, my absences became
fewer and with the help of my
compassionate teachers I learned the
sounds of the alphabet. I could read! I found it magical and amazing
twenty six letters of the alphabet, arranged and
rearranged in a different order could fill a dictionary with hundreds of
words and fill a library with thousands of books, on thousands of
subjects. My mother and I were delighted when
we discovered that our
neighborhood library was within walking distance. Now I was able to go
home with an armful of
books—and for free!
of my elementary school classes our teacher gave the students an
assignment; to write a composition
titled “My Unforgettable
Experience.” A few days after our teacher, Miss Lewis, had collected the
papers she called out
my name. “Rose Consoli, please stand at my
desk and read your story to the class.”
I was surprised and nervous as I
walked up to her desk. She
smiled at me approvingly and handed me my composition. Feeling shy and
began to read,“The most
unforgettable and exciting experience in my life occurred while I was
traveling with my
parents through Africa. I wandered away by myself
into a jungle. Suddenly I heard the distant beating of drums and
yelling of wild natives. I stood petrified on the spot and listened to
the terrifying sounds come closer and closer.
When I finally picked
up enough courage to turn around I saw a tribe of primitive men with
painted faces and
bodies adorned with feathers and strings of beads,
running toward me. I became frightened and ran straight into a
filled with alligators. I knew I was in double trouble when I saw
natives carrying spears follow me into the river.
While I tried to
decide in which direction I should swim I was suddenly faced by an
alligator approaching me with
its mouth wide open.
On my other side the wild men were
about to pounce on me. Just in the nick of time I stuck
under the water and found myself sitting on the floor beside my bed.
you’re not disappointed that this experience was just a dream, because
if it had not been, where would I be?”
classmates clapped their hands and Miss Lewis had me read my composition
to two other classes.
evening I enjoyed an even more important “Unforgettable Moment.”
It was the proud look on my parents’
smiling faces when they
saw the big A+ I had earned for my composition.