Jenny wound her way through the packs of clustered students in the halls of McNair Elementary, giving cheerful waves and air kisses to her friends, and impassive looks or ugly scowls to the rest. Since most of the teachers no longer came to school—either hiding in the hills or sitting catatonic-like on their sofas—classes had become more of a social affair.
Kids still learned stuff, but of the few dozen classrooms, only 2 were run by adults.
The Principal, Tina Southerland, taught Latin, higher maths, and English lit. She had two students: her son, Edgar, who was only five and spent the entire day scraping dried glue off of his palms, and Tina Jr: a bright girl who wanted to be the principal when she grew up. She was very smart. The smartest girl in school, some thought, but with such little ambition that the ordinarily laudable dream of becoming an elementary school principal had brought laughs of derision from her parents. “You could be a nuclear physicist! The President! You could take over the world if you wanted!” But Tina Jr (whose real name was Patricia, but don’t tell) only wanted the simple things in life: a plaque with her name on the door, and the ability to give other students detention.
Jenny liked Tina Jr. immensely, even if they were sworn enemies.
The other adult-run class was woodshop. It was the most popular class and a time limit of 15 minutes had been placed per session. Jenny had organized it. The proctor—a highschool student named Victor whose little sister had been in Jenny’s class, handed out egg timers which the students hung around their necks. When the timer went off, you had to leave and get back in line. No one abused the system because Victor promised that any student seen tampering with his or her egg timer would be “forced to suffer a fate worse than Calculus.” No one knew what Calculus was, but the way Victor said it made everyone shudder.
The other reason no one tampered with the egg timer was because students weren’t allowed to participate in the projects and fifteen minutes is a long time to just sit there and watch. The teacher, a former kickball coach and Geography teacher, sat at the front making all sorts of contraptions. A better mouse trap, a potato gun, birdhouses designed to hold full grown turkeys. No one knew why he did it, but he worked with such fevered urgency that everyone felt the need to watch him. He didn’t mind the students, and would occasionally ask for things: a wrench, a hammer, a hello-kitty lunch box. Only on the rarest of rarest days were students allowed to hold things, to test things, to offer suggestions on improving the balance of his autonomous dog walker. There was a rumor that one weekend he even led a parade of second graders into the cafeteria and laughed as they dodged giant heads of cabbage hurled from the arms of his spinning contraption, but Jenny was sure it was a myth. Second graders couldn’t dodge anything.