Although this experience was a long time ago, it’s the service experience that has stuck with me most this past year. Last summer, I worked with a program, the GO Project, that gives struggling students from low-income families extra academic (and artistic) attention. By having access to private school facilities and experiencing more one-on-one attention in smaller classes, the students are able to catch up, and even excel, in school. I worked as an assistant to the art teacher with three classes, one in kindergarden and two in first grade. Although I had worked in a program similar to this one before, I didn’t really know prior to last summer how to assert my authority as a teenage counselor 0r how to manage a class at all. I learned so much working with the children over the course of the four weeks: how to talk to them, how to balance my role as a friend and as a superior, and how to talk to my superior, the teacher.
On the first day, six-year-old Martin came in with more energy and noise than I ever thought capable from someone his size. He was contrary, he talked back to the teacher, he made fun of the games, and he refused to sit still. But Martin, like most of the kids, would have his days of unexplained, mysterious solemnity. Sometimes the kids would hint at what was bothering them and sometimes their homeroom teacher would tell us; it tended to be a problem at home or earlier that day in class, but we never really knew. Martin could oscillate between eery silence, off-the-wall craziness, and intense anger. Over the weeks, though, I started to see a slight change in him. Instead of asking him to draw an entire forest scene (way to much to ask of him), I would only ask for a bunny and then a frog and then a pond. Because he now had some respect for me, he would obey, and come running to me shouting “Rosieeee!” when he finished. Martin and I became very close over the four weeks and I feel very lucky to have met him. I loved teaching Martin and Theodore (who played tic-tac-toe with himself the whole class and only drew Angry Birds) and Alexander (who, when introducing himself, momentarily thought his name was Lucas) and every student I met, and I hope I have a similar opportunity again.