Road Rules

Teaching the carny set is no sideshow act

Circus teachers also show a flair for improvisation. Little O. is the rare teacher who can shimmy back and forth from an astute discussion on why Zach, not Taylor, is the cutest Hanson to how measuring the mast stay (a rigging that supports a circus tent from within) will eventually yield the Pythagorean theorem. "I'm the goddess of the school," she jokes. "I've even learned to juggle and spin plates." Over the past 16 months, Little O. has mastered how to set up and break down her portable classroom. "I have a carny tool kit," she says. This involves running cables for electricity, hooking up water hoses to create indoor plumbing, and screwing wood boards across shelves to keep books and supplies from spilling out.

Outside the red trailer, someone is whistling Blondie's "Call Me" and hitting all the high notes with appropriate angst. Inside, when Eric Schafer, a lanky 14-year-old, pushes back his folding chair to jiggle awake numb legs, his knees smack into the table. He rolls his eyes when Little O. asks, "Where else would you get to do this?," and Susan Tiso laughs because where else, indeed?

One of six articles in our Education Supplement.

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