Yellow Brick Road

Ryan Masa

Have you ever heard of a superbloom before?  It is a phenomena where a sea of wildflowers bloom at once in the desert. I find them fascinating, and I have written about them before. So I was excited last Sunday when I was scrolling through the news and read that there may be another one this year. I was reading this before heading off with my daughter to see our K-8 production of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” 

Of course, the play was wonderful. As Director Shannon Patalano shared before the show, the Wizard of Oz is about people on a journey - of discovery, friendship, adventure, adversity, deceit, and hope. Like all great fairytales, it is a story about life, at all ages. By my count, 45 students participated in the production, and it was a perfect way to kick off spring break. 

One of my joys in watching the school play is seeing students on stage amplify, reinforce, or completely transform from who we see in the classroom or who I met years ago when they first entered the school. The stage is truly a magical threshold.

A scene from "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by the K-8 students at Assets School for the Spring Play.

On Monday morning, I asked my daughter what she wanted for breakfast.  She answered, “Do you know why I loved the Wizard of Oz?” Why was this the answer to my breakfast question? Who knows. The parent of any 6-year old knows that you can predict nothing. The play obviously made an impression on her though.

“What?” I asked.

“I liked that the play was about people finding out who they were all along,” she said. 

“That's right…” I said, and then before I could elaborate and give my “dad speech,” she moved on and chose the Cinnamon Toast Crunch that I allowed her to buy “for spring break,” which I know makes no sense but is something I said in the store. 

Who they were all along. 

Stella Adler, the renowned acting teacher who had the likes of Marlon Brando and Robert DeNiro as students, once said that acting is, “the total development of a human being into the most he can be and in as many directions as he can possibly take.” She said something similar later when she told the New York Times, “The teacher has to inspire. The teacher has to agitate…..You cannot teach acting. You can only stimulate what’s there.”  

You can only stimulate what’s there.

I have been fascinated by superblooms ever since I learned about them. Deserts are largely defined by their characteristics of extreme temperatures, dry land, and little vegetation. Many of us imagine them harsh, empty, cracked, and endlessly beige. That is why when their valleys fill with vibrant wildflowers, it is so breathtaking. It is sort of like watching Dorothy open the door in her sepia-toned world of Kansas and walk into the technicolor of Oz. What she sees is so fantastically beautiful that she says, “We must be over the rainbow.” Indeed.



The images of superblooms are gorgeous, but I find superblooms compelling for another reason: They serve as a parable for what is possible under the right conditions. Nature constantly reminds us something fundamental about life….living things bloom with the right support. Superblooms do not occur every year, and when they do, it is because the seeds received just the right temperature, amount of water, and timing. In fact, the wildflower seeds have the ability to go dormant and delay blooming until the conditions are appropriate. Of course, they also need to avoid humans (well-intentioned or not) literally stomping them out.

If there has been one major theme in my writing over many years, it is the role that the Environment (i.e., teachers, curriculum, instruction) plays in a child’s success at school. We know this because we see students transform all the time and the most significant variable was being at Assets. The child is the same great kid he or she was before Assets but now they are blossoming.


In her book, The Gardner and the Carpenter, psychologist Alison Gopnik describes two different parenting relationships with children. I’ll add that I think these roles apply to educators as well. She describes the carpenter as someone who sees their job as shaping the child into a final product that fits the image they had in mind to begin with. These types of individuals assess how well they have done by looking at the “finished product.” She contrasts this, and advocates for, individuals who think about caring for children like tending a garden. It is going to take a lot of hard work, your plans will be thwarted, flowers will come up in different colors, you will need to adapt to different weather, and you need to get comfortable wallowing in manure. Our job as gardeners is to create as fertile soil as we can so a whole ecosystem of different plants can flourish. As Gopnik writes, “Loving children doesn’t give them a destination; it gives them sustenance for their journey.”

Whether it’s the Tinman, wildflower seeds, or our own children, I believe we become who we are meant to be when our environment is truly aligned with and accepting of our needs. Sometimes this is messy. Sometimes our true self lies dormant for a while, but if we give our kids enough sustenance, it is ok that the yellow brick road is winding and there might be Winged Monkeys along the way. 

I extend a major mahalo to Shannon Patalano, the staff who helped with auditions, rehearsals, and backstage, and the parents who helped with costumes, staging, and navigating rehearsal schedules. You all did something extraordinary. You provided the right temperature, the right amount of water, the right soil, the right words, the right nudges, the right amount of safety for a meadow of different wildflowers to explode. You created your own superbloom. Congratulations!