Odd you might say, that her classroom has no number. Instead, you follow the winding halls of the top floor of the Wilson Abbey to a mysterious door tucked away in a corner. And if you dare open it, you’ll discover a gateway that transports students to the outer edges of their imagination—one that Harry Potter’s train track 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station couldn’t reach.
It’s the magical classroom of Miss Anastasia Bird, the colorful science teacher at Uptown Christian School.
As she sat in her ermine trimmed robe while holding her quill pen during our Dirty Job interview, my eyes explored her classroom. It wasn’t anything like the science room at my high school (mine was a boring beige except for things soaked in formaldehyde, including various frog parts that I squirreled away to throw at classmates during geometry). Instead it’s a colorful collage of everything curious: a piano, shiny microscopes, fascinating fossils, a contraption made of toilet paper tubes.
Oh yes, her classroom has one more thing.
Rats. Eee gads!
Anastasia is a rodent whisperer. Yes, a rodent whisperer, talking with critters with beady red eyes and rubbery tails. And believe me when I say they are not as cute as the mice from Cinderella, Stuart Little, or even Anastasia’s tattoo of Reepicheep (the fearless mouse of Narnia that’s on her arm). Instead, the rats remind me of the ones on the city of Chicago’s most wanted list.
“They’re like puppies!” Anastasia laughed.
“They’re like RATS!” I shrieked.
If the walls could talk, they’d share hilarious stories about the twenty students who venture into her learning lab every day, all told with Anastasia’s slight Welsh accent.
“I want students to know that learning is about creativity.”
She went on to explain how the word school is from the Latin word skhole meaning leisure. “School is the fun stuff. Students have to know it’s fun.”
Anastasia feels making music is no different than the experimentation that happens in her classroom. She, along with other band members of JPUSA’s new band, Common Fox Weeping, mix little vials of sound together. Glenn Willis will start with a rhythm, Eric Clayton will add a riff, Kenneth Maese will bring in the bass. Some combinations are explosive and fun, others fizzle, some simply stink.
Anastasia loves to perform at the Cornerstone shelters because the women love to sing along.
“Music exists to bring healing both in the Bible and in Uptown. It puts you in touch with yourself that nothing else can touch.”
But that isn’t Anastasia’s magic.