Math and Music
Jazz stood at the edge of the steep snow-covered mountain slope. The sunlight reflected off the snow with dazzling brilliance, almost blinding her. She knew it was now or never. She wasn’t sure she could do it, but there were only two things she needed to beat. This was one of them. She adjusted her goggles, hunched over the skis and, with a push that was more determination than courage, began the steep descent. The snow laden trees edging the slope whizzed by faster and faster, and then ahead Jazz saw a sharp twist in the slope. As she leaned her body into the turn her arm started to ache as if it was...being punched!
“Jazz!” whispered Scottie in desperation. “Earth calling Jazz!”
With a start, Jazz opened her eyes. She looked around the room, trying to remember where she was. Yep, it was the same math classroom and the same Mrs. Allen, still droning on.
“Geez, Scottie,” Jazz said under her breath. “You scared me! Couldn’t you just tap me gently when I go into a daze?”
Scottie just laughed quietly. “A daze!” she whispered. “You were out like a light!” Scottie’s eyes twinkled and her red freckles stood out as she tried valiantly to hold in her laughter.
Jazz looked at her friend and started to giggle. “Okay,” she relented, “but who can blame me?”
Jazz had been doing everything she could to keep her eyes open. Now, she pushed her chair back from her desk, and then moved it forward until she was squished between the desk and the chair. She played with her long straight black hair, putting it into a ponytail, then braiding it, and then undoing it. Her eyes kept looking at the door of the classroom, hoping that it would magically open and class would end. She looked around the room. She could see that everyone else in the class was doing the same. When did math class get so boring?!
It had only been a few weeks since the robot competition in January when the STEM Jets had been feeling so good about school. The STEM Jets—Jazz, Scottie, Maddie, Theo, and Esther—had entered a robot competition and really enjoyed working as a team as well as the challenge of doing something completely new. But now Jazz and Scottie were just struggling to stay awake, and it had only been ten minutes since class began. What a way to start a Monday!
Twenty minutes later, Mrs. Allen was still droning on. The rumour in the halls was that she had been with the school since it opened—and Stella Hudson High School was over thirty years old! Originally the school had been called Mountain Street High School, but in 2013 the district council agreed to change the name given that there no longer existed a Mountain Street in their town, and there had never been, never would be, a mountain anywhere close! So the school became Stella Hudson High, named after an astronaut who was on a Soyuz flight in 2012. Captain Hudson still visited the school regularly. She was a hero and mentor for Jazz and her friends.
Mrs. Allen, however, was old—really old! She was tall and thin with pale skin and greying hair that was cut straight and short, like her hairdresser used a bowl for a cutting guide. When the bell rang after fifty minutes of trying to listen to Mrs. Allen, there was a mass exodus out of the room without a glance back at the teacher. Mrs. Allen was used to that, and never looked back when clearing the board.
Once they had escaped math class, Jazz and Scottie leaned against a row of lockers.
“Phew,” groaned Jazz. “That was the worst!”
Scottie moaned in agreement. “What could possibly be important in that class?” she muttered as she twisted a lock of her curly red hair around her finger. Scottie had been Jazz’s best friend since kindergarten, and the two of them were inseparable. They sat together in every class and walked home together after school every day. Scottie hated this math class even more than Jazz did!
They looked down the hallway and spotted Maddie heading their way. Maddie usually looked excited about something, but today she seemed especially so! She was practically pushing students out of her way to get to Jazz and Scottie.
“Best thing ever!” Maddie said, gulping for air as she tried to catch her breath. She had been in art class and had run all the way up the stairs to catch Jazz and Scottie before their next class. “Did you know that Stella Hudson High performs a musical every year?” She paused for effect. “Well, this year, we’re doing Legally Blonde! How cool is that?!”
Maddie had joined the STEM Jets when the girls were competing in a robot competition. They had been looking for a science student with experience in robotics because none of them had any experience at all, but only Maddie had applied. Maddie was the best artist in the school, but not so strong in science. Once she’d explained, however, about her skills in report writing and poster art, it was unanimous that she should be the fifth member of the team. Now she was part of the group and joined the girls on their every Friday night sleepover, taking her turn to host like everyone else.
To emphasize the importance of this news about the musical, Maddie ruffled her hands through her maddeningly curly black hair and stood up straighter. She looked at Jazz, and then at Scottie, and back to Jazz, waiting for the questions to start.
“That’s kind of fun,” said Jazz cautiously.
When Maddie said something was cool, they’d learned it usually meant they also had to do something. Jazz remembered what had happened last week, when Maddie wanted to use a crushed cardboard box they’d found as a toboggan to go down the hill behind her house. No one but Maddie thought it was a good idea, but they’d all had to do it. Looking back, Jazz still couldn’t believe Theo had survived as they’d all piled on top of her at the bottom of the hill when the cardboard box shredded to pieces!
So as Jazz looked at Maddie, she tried to figure out what they might have to do. Jazz could only think of one thing Maddie could possibly want related to a school musical. Audition. And Jazz definitely did not want to audition for a musical! When she was listening to her music and wearing her ear phones, she loved to sing. The louder, the better. But not in front of strangers, and definitely not on stage.
“They’ve asked for volunteers to provide set designs,” said Maddie. “Then they’ll select the design they will use. I can so do this! Legally Blond is my all-time favourite movie, and I love how I can apply my art work to something practical!”
Jazz and Scottie started to relax. It didn’t seem that Maddie needed them after all.
“Maddie,” Scottie exclaimed, “that sounds perfect for you! You would be a great set designer!”
“Thanks,” said Maddie with relief. Trying something new was always easier when you had friends behind you. “I’m going to start looking into it later today. I have a meeting with Ms. Hamlett after school. It turns out that she helped build a couple of sets when she was a student here.”
Jazz and Scottie looked at each other. They adored Ms. Hamlett. “Can we come with you, Maddie?” asked Scottie. “Maybe we can help you…like be your assistants?”
“Sure,” said Maddie. “That’d be great! I guess being a set design assistant beats standing on stage and singing,” she added with a wink at Scottie. They all knew Jazz’s feelings about singing in front of others.
“Joke if you want to,” muttered Jazz. “I don’t see either one of you auditioning for a role!”
Maddie and Scottie laughed. The second bell rang and they sprinted in opposite directions, heading for their next class.
At lunchtime, Jazz and Scottie went straight to the cafeteria.
Ms. Thompson, the school principal, had really wanted a gathering place for students. She believed that only some of the learning happens in the classroom, and that very important skills are developed in open spaces that encouraged conversations and interactions. This cafeteria was one of the best things that she would ever leave for Stella Hudson High.
The cafeteria was large—as big as a school gymnasium. Yet, for its size, it didn’t echo and make you feel like you were eating inside a warehouse. Ms. Thompson had created great spaces within the cafeteria for all kinds of things—team learning, talking, creating, troubleshooting, and even imagining! But most of all, in a time when you were more likely to text your friend sitting next to you rather than start up a conversation, she had created a space for communicating.
All of the tables were round, with rainbow-coloured legs and chairs. Large artwork with bright, vivid colours—many designed and created by the students themselves—hung on any available wall space. The food service area was on the right in a specially designed alcove. Ms. Thompson insisted on healthy eating and the kitchen manager, Mr. Anan, created lunches that rivalled anything you could get in town. Because they both knew that smells and aromas could encourage warmth and friendship, Ms. Thompson made sure that coffee was brewing all day, and at least one loaf of cinnamon raisin bread was taken from the oven each lunch period.
To the left was a cluster of low tables, each encircled by couches and easy chairs. This was the conversation area. A surround electric fireplace stood as a centrepiece in the middle of the seven conversation clusters.
At the back were business-like round tables with rolling chairs. A number of white boards hung on the wall. The artwork between the white boards included inspirational sayings and quotes. After doing well at the robot competition, the quote by Joseph P. Kennedy became Jazz’s favourite saying:
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
This area was designed to encourage students to be creative. It didn’t matter what was being created, all of it was important! Many of the teachers would make their way to this area once or twice a week, sitting down with students to help or advise or just to listen and sometimes to prod.
The rest of the large room contained the cafeteria tables. Theo and Maddie were already there, sitting at one of the middle tables. Just as Jazz and Scottie sat down with them and started taking out their lunches, Esther came in. She wove carefully through the tables, trying not to bang into anyone with her heavy backpack. She had a serious look on her face. She clearly had something important to say. Esther and Theo had met Jazz and Scottie in Grade 5, and the four of them had been inseparable ever since. Since the STEM Jets, Maddie had made five.
“Did you hear about the school thief?” Esther blurted out as she plopped down on a chair. “It happened just this morning!”
“We didn’t hear anything about it!” said Theo, leaning closer and waiting for the full news report from Esther.
Esther began rifling through her backpack for her lunch bag. No one had a backpack as big or as full as Esther’s. None of the girls could figure out how she managed to carry it anywhere with her. But if anyone needed anything or had forgotten anything at home, Esther was sure to have a spare somewhere in that deep dark bag.
“Well,” said Esther, holding her lunch bag up gleefully for all to see, and now on a roll with her news. “There was a gym class this morning, and the guys changed and put their clothes, watches, and cell phones in the lockers as usual. When class was over, things were missing from two of the lockers. One cell phone and one watch. The guys are really mad! And Ms. Thompson is fit to be tied! She’s saying she’ll get to the bottom of this. Boy, what a morning!”
Ms. Thompson was well liked by the students at Stella Hudson High, but you didn’t mess with her. She was the biggest supporter of all their activities—sports, music, science—but if you got caught cheating or disrespecting others, watch out! She was not the kind of principal who stayed in her office but, instead, wandered the halls throughout the day. You could usually hear her coming—the squelching of the tires on the floors and the jingling of all the keys she had looped through a ring on the arm of her wheelchair. She wore her blonde hair back in a large ribbon at the bottom of her neck and, according to the STEM Jets, was the most gorgeous teacher in the school. She knew everyone’s name, and usually knew their brothers and sisters as well.
“Oh boy,” said Scottie, her eyes wide. “A real live thief!” Scottie glanced around the cafeteria as if she would spot a shady character sitting at a table looking at a pile of watches and cell phones.
Just as they were going to talk about the likely culprits, they were interrupted by Joey and Sam. Jazz had known Joey forever. He’d somehow always irritated Jazz, with his quirky smile and dishevelled hair. He was like an annoying little brother. But this year, he overtook her in height, and that quirky smile was no longer quirky. It was friendly. Joey and Sam had become big supporters of the STEM Jets during the robot competition, and the STEM Jets became big supporters of their team, the Juggernauts.
Joey and Sam squeezed in, sat down, opened their lunch bags, and then asked if they could join the girls.
“Geez,” mumbled Jazz. “What if we said no?”
Joey and Sam just smiled. Sam looked across at Esther and grinned. They had been out together a couple of times, and Esther was head over heels for him. She blushed.
“Can you believe that math class this morning?” asked Joey, looking at Jazz and Scottie.
“Ugghhhh,” groaned Theo. “Esther and I just came from Mrs. Allen’s class. Have you ever met anyone so grumpy?!”
“She’s grumpy,” said Scottie, with an emphasis on ‘grumpy,’ “because she’s been doing math for a 100 years! Can you imagine us turning out like that?”
Everyone at the table started to snicker. Mrs. Allen was definitely grumpy. And math was one subject they would all rather drop.
“Oh oh,” said Sam with concern in his voice. They followed his gaze across the cafeteria as Danny stomped his way through the students and tables. Danny Lo was a member of the Juggernauts. He’d loved working on the robot since science was his favourite subject, but football was definitely his all time favourite sport. Danny took it seriously and was often in the gym, working out before and after school even when there wasn’t a football practice or game. You wouldn’t want to mess around with him on the field. And now, he had that football look on his face as he headed to their table.
“You aren’t going to believe this!” he practically roared as he landed on a chair beside Theo. “I was robbed in the locker room!”
“Oh boy,” said Scottie. “We just heard about that. What did the thief take?”
“My watch. Thank goodness it wasn’t my cell phone. I left it at home this morning by mistake.” He slumped in his chair.
“How did the thief get into the lockers?” asked Jazz.
“There’s a lock on the hallway door,” Danny said sullenly. “Coach Connors usually locks it after he takes attendance. But the lock was sticking, so Coach wasn’t using it”
“Oh boy,” said Scottie with concern.
After Jazz had given Danny her assurance that the thief would be caught, Joey and Sam changed the subject, chattering about the latest Justice League movie to cheer up Danny. This brought on a lot of eye rolling from the girls. They left the cafeteria for their afternoon classes, promising to meet up with Maddie after school to go see Ms. Hamlett. Theo and Esther had decided to join them as well. Any time with Ms. Hamlett was a good time!