JourneyAsheville:  It’s not your father’s fifth grade any more

Janet Hurley, author and inspiration

Times sure have changed. When I was in Mr. Pauley’s fifth-grade class, we were mainly interested in afternoon recess to avenge the loss of our softball game during morning recess. The school play was the big topic of the year, and we struggled with learning who the president’s were.

For the record, Kennedy was president while I was up to bat at the sandlot games.

The other day, I got an email from Janet Hurley inviting me to come to Isaac Dickson Elementary School to be interviewed by one of her students, a young lady named Mabel. The topic of the interview was to be homelessness, and Mabel wase creating a presentation from the interview; she plans to present it on June 2 at the TedX youth event in the auditorium.

Figuring it was be something different to do, I agreed. I mean, how hard would it be to answer a kid’s questions about a topic that I know so well — homelessness. Was I in for a surprise.

I met Janet at the door of the school. After chatting a few minutes about the project, she led me to the classroom where I would be interviewed, and she introduced me to Mabel. Settling into a kid-size chair at a kid-size table, Mabel told me what generated her interest in homelessness.

There had been a fire at an apartment complex in which she had lived. Several families had been forced out of their apartments because of smoke and water damage and had nowhere else to go. This got her to thinking about the broader topic of people finding out that sometimes bad things happen to good people and they lose their shelter.

Staring me in the eyes, she asked, “What can we do to end Homelessness in Asheville?” POW. This young lady cuts right to the chase — in the 5th grade and she’s asking questions that many adults don’t have the cajones or desire to ask. I figured out immediately that this little lady had given the topic some thought and wasn’t going to be put off lightly by a grizzled ol’ vet with some tried-and-true answers.

After an hour of getting peppered by questions, I was ready to head outside for a smoke and to hunt down a cup of coffee. Janet joined me outside, and while I smoked one we chatted. She shared more about the program that was coming up.

Besides homelessness, some of the topics the kids picked to work on were autism, the impact on wildlife and the environment caused by throwing trash out the window, poverty in Haiti and a better school-lunch menu.

And Ms. Libby Kyles’ fifth-grade class was partnered with Janet’s to create the Writing to Change the World Project. The project focuses on global issues, using writing as a vehicle to show support, protest, persuade, explain and entertain — five things that many adults don’t seem to have the ability to do.

Even the website,, was researched, created and written by the fifth-grade students.

Yep, times have changed. Except that part about wanting better school lunches.


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

4 thoughts on “JourneyAsheville:  It’s not your father’s fifth grade any more

  1. Bjorn

    It’s definitely an admirable & noble fight the damndest thing is, Politicians keep concocting circumstances that create conditions that trigger homelessness. As far as entirely eradicating homelessness, until politicians stop punishing the poor & rewarding the wealthy there’s no remedy in sight, but we can damn sure try.

    ps, nice running into you Saturday! :)

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.