When Lower School Principal Cami Okubo first arrived at GDS, she didn’t come alone. (Well, yes, she arrived with her husband, Roger, and son, Raiden, but she also arrived in the Lower School Office even less alone than that.) Who was joining her? Two new companions who were as eager as she was to explore and get to know GDS: the Little Hoppers. The two, mango-sized metal plate grasshoppers—with bright mango-like color gradients—apparently waltzed onto campus through the School’s “hopperiffic” playground and, according to the first page of the thick journal that travels with them, right away “understood that this was a special place, a hopeful place where we wanted to meet and learn alongside everyone connected to this school community.”
Each week, the Little Hoppers have traveled to a new Lower School classroom, where they have become part of learning activities, been the focus of free-time creativity, and served as endlessly patient listeners, shoulder-riders, companions, and teammates. [View the video announcement from 4th grade as they prepared to pass on the Hoppers]. Students have learned to care for the Little Hoppers—now known as Hopper and Springer—and tell the story of their GDS experiences through them.
Students have talked through their worries with the Little Hoppers or shared some of their identity with the traveling toys.
“When I miss my mommy, I touch my bracelet,” one student explained to the Little Hoppers. “She has a similar one and when she misses me, she touches hers and then she doesn’t miss me anymore.”
A couple of PK students announced to their classmates that the Little Hoppers enjoy making Transformers. Not surprisingly, the Little Hoppers also appeared to like “playing with animals,” “building a truck,” “playing with the dollhouse,” and “wearing hats.” It sure is wonderful when you meet others who like the things that you like!
In 4th grade, Hoppy and Springer read alongside the students and were silent sounding boards for classroom brainstorming.
“The Little Hopper that I worked with was a really good listener,” a student wrote in the journal. “I wonder why he had so many IDEAS! . . .It was the absolute best part of the day—yep, even better than recess, art, or P.E.!”
In 3rd grade, the Hoppers began joining world language classes—”I took Hoppy to French!”—and played on some of the larger playground structures. In first grade, they taught the power of listening quietly and not always having to speak immediately. They played in the snow over the winter, celebrated the Lunar New Year, learned meditation techniques, played math games, planted seeds, wrote spring poetry, and collected several classes worth of autographs.
The Little Hoppers now travel with an expanded wardrobe of various student-made GDS-branded capes, capsule-shaped shoes, masks (“so they wouldn’t catch COVID”), sunglasses, and an eye patch (because Hoppy lost an eye). Each new journey begins with one class gifting the Hoppers to the next group during a community assembly announcement. Two weeks ago, a kindergarten classroom positively erupted with spontaneous cheering and dancing when the 4th graders announced that they would be delivering the Hoppers to them soon.
Cami introduced the grasshoppers following in the tradition of other great "traveling visitors,” including Magellan T. Bear, the first official teddy bear in space, who flew as the "education specialist" aboard Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-63 mission in February 1995. Of Magellan, the National Air and Space Museum wrote, “The bear's journey was part of an ambitious educational project to stimulate interest in geography, science, and social studies.” Once Magellan T. Bear returned to Earth, the stuffed toy traveled, like the eponymous character in the Flat Stanley book series, to hundreds of locations around the country to encourage children’s engagement with reading, writing, reflection, and the celebration of new experiences as part of learning. By bringing the Hoppers to GDS, Cami’s goal was to have a real, measurable hand in building a caring, collaborative, and thriving Lower School hopper community.
Students’ enthusiastic engagement with the Hoppers is a testament to how well Cami’s aims are being realized. The Hoppers’ travel journal has grown into a scrapbook of sorts full of photographs of students joyfully engaged in activities while the Hoppers observe—or in some cases get taken along for the ride! As much as the little metal statues have made a positive impact on the ways students experience and talk about school, they have also served another important purpose for a new principal. Through the students’ storytelling, via the Little Hoppers, Cami has benefited from the windows into so many classrooms and has made connections with so many new students based upon their mutual admiration for the Hoppers.
“I so love those Little Hoppers—not to mention our students and colleagues who are taking care of them and sharing their stories!” Cami said.