The students are bent over their desks, and the only sound in the room is pens scratching across paper. Their focus is intense and wonderful to watch. One is so intent upon his work that he presses the pen hard enough to imprint his words onto two pages, like a carbon copy. After we collect their notebooks to store at the end of the day, I notice the mark, and the ghost words on the back page make me smile. After their twenty minutes are up, my supervisor, Lucia, and I ask the students who would like to share. There is a quiet moment, but eventually one volunteers. She begins to read, and at first her words are halting—she is not sure she should have put her hand up. But soon she begins to flow, and I hear pride in her voice. After all, she has just laid a piece of herself out on the grey desk, revealed herself like a child uncurling their hand on a summer night, letting out a firefly into the dark.
I tell her she did a beautiful job, and she smiles back shyly.
We ask what about this activity was difficult for the students.
“I had too many ideas,” one girl says. I can’t stop myself from grinning—what more perfect problem could she have?
Facilitating the summer writing program these students are enrolled in is the bulk of my summer internship, and working with them has been both a delight and an amazement. Rising seniors in Huckleberry’s Wellness Academy, the students were enrolled in the program to work on their personal statements for college, but also just to have the chance to tell their story, something that they don’t often get the opportunity to do. It is a reality that first generation students climb high mountains to reach college, but rarely are they allowed to talk about that. Rarely does anyone ask them about their lives, or what makes them who they are. At its core, our program is about one thing: giving voice. Lucia and I developed the four-week curriculum together, and our students have been kept busy—a mix of readings, daily free writes, lessons and discussions, and outdoor activities. We even had a workshop with a teacher who had trained with YouthSpeaks. Each of our students has a unique voice and experience to share.
When they began sharing their work with me, Lucia and each other, I felt that I discovered new aspects of all of them. I didn’t know that they had such a capacity for poetic language; such a natural tendency towards humor; such simple, heartwrenching honesty. The last two weeks of teaching them have been an amazing experience for me, and I am looking forward to the next two. When I enter our classroom, I feel I am in my element—discussing my passion with students who are happy to learn and incredibly complex, fascinating people. It is an absolute joy.