A Lengthy Reflection of Summer 2016

Oh boy! I have not posted on this blog for various reasons, including work, vacation, etc., but I am back! More importantly, I am writing this entry to reflect on my how I spent my summer, and how I feel now. This post is being made for 3 reasons: 1) I had wanted to write it for awhile, but I needed to collect my thoughts 2) My kind friend told me she’d want to read all about my summer (thanks for the support! xoxo) 3) The topic is too important to not talk about. So, without further ado, here is my blog entry to detail summer break 2016!!!

This summer, I decided to work for a fairly affluent Christian summer day-camp in the mornings and volunteer for my local Boys and Girls Club summer day-camp in the afternoons. During those warm months, the opportunity gap was a 22 minute commute with traffic. It was a stark $200 weekly payment difference per child. It was monitoring the growing lines to drink tepid water from a water fountain after having picked up forgotten Camelbaks on a different playground hours prior. It was communicating in my broken Spanglish after reading glossy Scholastic books to a classroom of soon-to-be kindergarteners. This polarizing routine was painfully, unapologetically real.

My time at both camps revolved around 3 main, invaluable themes to note. Resources, Family, and Potential. 

To start, let’s delve into the resource comparison.  Yeah, sure, we get it – some schools have less than others. But do you really get it, when you’re telling a group of children that they can’t participate in drawing because there aren’t enough chairs for them to sit in the art room? Or when you tell a young girl that she can’t play with the piano for the rest of summer – because it’s broken and our budget just can’t afford to fix it this year. Too many times, I would ponder how this is happening – how, how, how. How could I reprimand a child hours earlier for losing his $50 pocket money, then tell another child that I could not spare him even a quarter for a snack?* Here’s a list of a few more things/incidents that irrevocably challenged my emotional stability, and will probably challenge yours, too.

  1. Raging Waters – One of my amazing coworkers is in charge of planning and executing field trips for the children at the B&G Club, and one of the trips was to Raging Waters. She told me that the lowest price they could offer her was $29 per pupil. She drove to meet with the supervisor, nearly broke down in tears to beg for a better discount, and faced the same answer: $29 per pupil. At the Christian camp, I went on a field trip every Wednesday with each enrolled camper. Field trips ranged from Disneyland to Raging Waters to the Getty Museum to Universal Studios.
  2. Space – Imagine about 20 children sharing 6 basketball courts, an abundance of jelly balls, and a newly built playground set. To my fellow counselors: kind of picturesque, right? Now, imagine about 50 children sharing 1 basketball court and 1 relatively small playground set. Not so picturesque. Physical space matters. Children matter. These two ideas are not mutually exclusive – if I learned anything from my “Physical Activity in the Classroom” class in college, it is that children need to release their energy in an appropriately-sized, safe environment.  It is beyond upsetting how many more kids are more prone to fighting, injuries, and aggression from peers due to confining, physical limitations. If it wasn’t obvious, the Christian camp was the utopian play space listed first.

These are two aspects of the resource problem – but do you get it now? Though I don’t want to question my readers’ integrity, I do not genuinely believe anyone can get it unless one is actively working to end this. We live in an age in which communication across the world can happen with the tap of one finger – why did I have to tell Precious that the piano wasn’t going to be fixed?

Family is important. Probably the most important and impactful part of anyone’s life. About ¼ of my campers at the B&G Club are in foster care. I have met each parent/guardian of my Christian camp’s students. Do you see a recurring pattern here? Here’s a few anecdotes to stir up some more emotions you’d never have thought you had until now:

  1. One of my favorite 6th graders, KT, is quite a gem. She talks like a jaded soul, but mostly because she pretty much is. I asked her, casually one day, what her favorite movie was. She told me she couldn’t decide, but these were her favorite two: Like Mike (2002) and Annie (2014). Why these two? According to 11 year old KT, these two had foster children who were in the similar situations like her, and they helped her imagine what adoption really felt like. Are you kidding me? This girl is 11 years old. Her interests reveal what she is interested in: adoption. This one bit of KT’s story was personally difficult to digest, and even blogging about this is not easy in the slightest way. Most of my students (around KT’s age) at the Christian camp like most Disney movies, but were mostly concerned with their musical.ly videos this summer.
  2. A different day at the B&G Club, I noticed one of my other girls had a few scars on her arm, and I thought that she fell down and needed the first-aid kit. Talkative, sweet, and mature ol’ Cecil, quickly told me they were old, from when she was still living with her mother and father. Concerned, though certain to not be too intrusive, I asked her if she had a place to live now. She lives with her grandmother now, but she was unafraid to let me know how living was for her before. Bruises, cuts, and emotional abuse were not uncommon. This all happened up until 2 years ago, but physical and mental scars are with her forever. For the majority of my students at the Christian camp, pre-paid snack cards were an expectant. The children were allowed to purchase from a snack card, and many came empty-handed, but left with a snack or two (thanks to their parents, who all paid in advance).
  3. In the middle of July, Devin, one of the most aggressive and energetic kids at B&G, was having a rough day. He has ADHD (though my coworkers and I highly doubt that he is on medication) and is the most pugnacious 9 year old around town. I asked him if he was okay when I noticed him absently staring off into space during a soccer activity, his favorite. He said he just felt tired. Tired, ADHD, and 9 years old? This didn’t add up. I asked him what he did over the weekend that exhausted him so much. He was attending his mother’s funeral. She was sick, and passed away. That same week, one of my kindergarteners turned 5 years old. Her mother came to class to throw a mini-party; pizza, juice boxes, cake, and party favors were all included.

When I had to mentally guess if my B&G kids were getting picked up by this foster parent or that guardian, I felt sick. I felt mentally, physically, and emotionally sick when I realized how many other kids are in foster care or are left without parents to support them. These kids live only a freeway entrance and left turn away from me. When I thought of my supportive parents in attendance to my high school graduation, I wanted to cry. I still cannot sufficiently articulate how I feel about these very sensitive stories and realities, but I hope that blogging about them will ease this pain I will never forget.

Potential is something I see in each of my students, regardless of class, opportunity, etc. I also think that every good teacher must see this in his/her classrooms. Seeing potential in others is what distinguishes a teacher from a textbook – they both teach you, but one also believes in you. The best question I could ever ask my campers/students/kids is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question shatters ceilings, allows for imagination, and sets goals for children who need something to believe in. Here are the responses:

  1. Roshon (age: 6, African American boy): President of the United States to 1) put the bad guys in one place and away from everyone else 2) build bigger playgrounds 3) make everything free!
  2. Monique (age: 13, African American girl): A lawyer who actually makes sure that those who are guilty are guilty, and those who are innocent, are innocent.*
  3. KT (age: 11, Caucasian girl): A zookeeper who keeps both the animals and the humans safe and cared for. (remember KT? I love KT.)
  4. Stephanie (age: 5, Asian American): A teacher because it seems fun!
  5. Steven (age: 14, Latino/Caucasian mix): An Olympic gymnast [sidenote: this guy might actually be in the Olympics – he makes a 2-3 hour commute to train for several hours a day].
  6. Michael (age: 18, Asian American): A pastor [sidenote #2: this is a very religious Christian camp].

How We Can Do Better

    1. Lead by example – Raging Waters, I’m talking to you. Give children the opportunities that cater to the elitist class – you may never know if that child becomes the engineer that re-designs your ride, finds a new method to most effectively conserve your nasty water in a sustainable manner, etc. Fun fact: Disneyland, the happiest place on earth, is a proud sponsor of the B&G Club.*
    2. Call for advocacy – Take political action and address resource issues. We can create more space, we can find more chairs and pencils and working pianos, we can do so much more. We can and we will, together.
    3. Support our non-profit workers, teachers, and the people who take care of your child when you’re not – Whether this be emotionally or financially, my coworkers at both camps work tirelessly. I am constantly impressed and amazed by the tenacity my B&G coworkers have. Did you know that the SAME woman who organizes the field trips ALSO holds weekly “Glee club” days for boys and girls alike to express themselves through music, dance, and song? Incredible. She’s not a superwoman (despite what you and I may think); she confided in me several times about going back to school for her Master’s, and the financial burdening weight that comes along with it. Also, let’s not forget about my cooperating teacher at the Christian camp – this woman epitomizes what an effective teacher truly is.*
    4. Be proactive – If you have any kind of skill or talent, ranging from tutoring abilities to the ability to play piano or coach a sport, do it. Try to do it with a commitment to service for others. You won’t believe how much non-profits depend on help from the community. If you can play piano, there are about 10 other kids who can’t – help them learn and share your passion with others. (Even if piano is not your passion, maybe you know how to coach soccer/played club soccer as a child – either way, use what you know!)

Well, this was my summer. I learned a lot, cried a few times, and had the most unforgettable experience thanks to a 22 minute commute.* I witnessed and was a part of this perpetual reality that continues to unfairly and unproportionally promise limitless possibilities, with an ostensibly equalizing system that proves to be insufficient. I am hopeful for the future, but it is not, in any means, going to be easy. Thanks for reading this long blog, and I hope solving the opportunity gap has become a priority for you, as it has for me. 

*As a volunteer, I was not allowed give money to any of the children, at both camps. I think this is a general rule of thumb for every summer camp, school, etc.
*A great number of my campers at B&G were able to visit the magical land of Disney this summer for only $35. For many, this was their first time. PS. They loved it.
*see my still non-existent article on Effective Teachers.
*The distance from these camps really was several miles, one freeway exit, and a few turns.
**The names of the students in this blog have been changed due to respect of privacy.
**If you are a fellow educator, non-profit worker, or feel strongly about this issue, please talk about it! This is not an easy subject to talk about, but there is a community out there (on this blog, haha party of 1 AKA me) willing to listen. This blog serves its purpose for me, but it is also an open forum for ideas about education, children, life, etc.
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