blast from the past (kindergarten edition)

Recently, I read an article that talks about the impact of Kindergarten on future years, which inspired me to document my own personal experience. Some researchers conducted an education experiment that examined the life paths of almost 12,000 children, who are now around 30 years old. They estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year (present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers). This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.

Over the past few months, I've been getting back in touch with as many people as I can from from our Kindergarten class. This process has also made me wonder how much of ourselves are embedded in others, as well as how different or similar our 6 year old selves are from who we are today.

I was especially curious, as early years hold a disproportional impact on your life. To name a few things, our relationship with anxiety happens in the second trimester of our mother's pregnancy, and attachment styles in relationships form between 0-2 years of age. But we only really begin forming memories at age 4. I wanted to understand more about my own subconscious history, yet I couldn't remember much from Kindergarten. Can we still change parts of our personality and identity that we cannot even access through memory?

We had to have spent a significant portion of our lives in the actual classroom at such a young age. Some back of the envelope calculations below:

On average, we are 6 years old by the time we finish Kindergarten. Given that children of that age should sleep 9 to 12 hours per 24 hours, let's assume the midway point. (24 hours in a day - 10.5 sleeping hours = 13.5 awake hours) / 24 hours = 56.25% of the day that we are awake * 8,760 hours in a year * 6 years = 29,565 waking hours in 6 years of life.

Now to calculate how much of that was spent in a classroom. Although my school had half days, for the sake of this analysis, I'm going to assume the typical 7 hour days. 7 hours a day * 5 days a week = 35 hours a week * 36 weeks in a Kindergarten term = 1,260 hours. 1,260 classroom hours / 29,565 waking hours = 4.3% of our waking life was spent in a Kindergarten setting.

To give you an idea of how this could compare to today's metrics — assuming 8 hours of sleep a night, there are 5,824 waking hours in a year. Converting that to my age = 139,776 hours * 4.3% (from above) = 6,010 hours. Given the average person works 228 days out of a year, this infers the time you spent with your Kindergarten class is roughly equivalent to spending 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, with a coworker for ~3.3 years straight.

Which is to say a lot. In order to paint a more colorful picture of the environment that I grew up in, I went for the next best option other than my own memory: second-hand accounts. So I started my quest (which proved initially difficult since these were pre-Facebook times, and I moved to a different city during elementary school). My mom miraculously found a yearbook photo of my Kindergarten class, which directed the majority of my outreach. Additionally, I emailed my old elementary school to get my Kindergarten teacher's contact information. I remember the childlike curiosity and excitement bubbling up in me as I pressed send. That same day, I received an enlivened reply back. The following week, my Kindergarten teacher and I scheduled to reconnect over a call. After our first meeting in two decades, we talked for an hour straight on FaceTime and are now Facebook friends.

It turns out that she is now retired and is even still continuing to express her love for teaching and children through volunteering, active mentoring, and substituting. Over the course of her teaching, she kept in touch with 100+ students! Our conversation and reminiscing resurfaced many childhood memories that I had once forgotten: Earth day activities, the creations of mini time capsules, the little red puppet Zero the Hero who taught us numbers, and my personal favorite: watching the caterpillar's life cycle evolution. While we talked, I felt the awe of witnessing and understanding metamorphosis from a different level: of both myself in real-time and of caterpillars from that memory. It was as if I were transported back to my 6 year old self, again watching those 5 beautiful butterflies, newly hatched from chrysalises, flit upwards into the blue sky as we released them into the wild. Though many things have changed, in that regard, I feel that the essence - being in a state of wonder and curiosity about the world - in that child and my much older self today, have remained constant.

So far, I've reached out to / caught up with 12 people out of a class of 16 other students. It's fascinating to see how relationships (acquaintances, friends, lovers, enemies) loop in and out of different stages in our timelines. Our Kindergarten class has branched out from that one convergence point into various different life trajectories, with potential for future convergence points -- the origin of that point holding possibly larger underlying and unrecognized impact than others. In fact even while I'm typing this, I realize, everyone I'm friends with, who could stumble upon this post, also has had at least that initial introductory point, whether it was brief or lasting. For those I haven't see in a while, maybe one day we will meet again. Until then, take care and stay healthy.

See you some time in some country?