Sometimes, when I tell people I work in middle schools, the listener’s face turns to that of someone smelling something bad. As one of my readers told me after my series on middle school students, “The tweens freak me out. I don’t know how you do it.” What can I say? I love the drama of it all.
There is something to be said for the little ones though. I recently had the opportunity to work with a Kindergarten student.* With adolescents, you can have a straight talk, but with a 6 year old, it’s all about the drawings. She was referred because she had a recent loss in her family and I was checking in on her. Unprompted, she began drawing a rainbow and there was a giant pot of gold at the end.
Dr. B: You’ve used so many colors! And what’s that at the end?
Tiny: That’s a pot of gold.
Dr. B: Ooh! What would you do if you had a pot of gold?
Tiny: I would buy an African child.
Dr. B: ??? (moment to recover) Um…tell me more!
Tiny: Well, African children have dirty water and that’s yucky. I’d buy an African child. Dr. B: Oh, so you would buy an African child with your pot of gold?
Tiny: If you act now, you can get your very own African for less than $1 a day!
Dr. B: It sounds like you like to help others!
Tiny: Yeah! And did I tell you that my daddy is in jail and he will get out when I’m 13 years old?
In the midst of her crisis, she still had this inner drive to help others. In a community where most of our kids are “helped” and not the “helpers,” it struck me how powerful and possibly transformative it would be to have such students in helping roles. And then I remembered there is a strong body of research in the field of Service Learning (learning academics through community service) that I used to be involved with as a graduate student. I will have to dust off my old research from when I worked at the Service-Learning Center at UC Berkeley and do a post on this educational pedagogy.** Until I find it, check out this website for an overview of what Service Learning is: Service Learning Clearinghouse
*She was so tiny compared to my gawky adolescent student population. She might have fit in my pocket. I wanted to put her on a shelf next to a doll collection that I don’t have.
**I will spare you the year long project I did that could have been published in the Journal of Duh in which I made the landmark assertion that in order for Service-Learning programs to be successful, one must have administrative support and money.