Thursday, December 19, 2013

Alternative Spring Break- Wheeling, West Virginia

Fun fact: I spent a week sleeping on a classroom floor.

Anyways, a few things you should know: I am a Junior at Emmanuel College studying Mathematics and Secondary Education. I am a homebody; I go to school 50 minutes away from home and I have only been outside of New England for 'vacations' to Wisconsin, Disney, & Washington DC. Going away is a huge thing for me and when I do it's rare.

Last year I decided to apply for Alternative Spring Break and maybe travel somewhere new. I was able to spend spring break last year in Wheeling, West Virginia, a poverty stricken area just outside the Appalachian Mountains.  Before the trip I had never heard of this area, but during the trip I learned so much that I could go on forever (Mr. Alex and the homeowners, Breakfast at the Catholic Neighborhood Centers, and an experience with other EC students), but one of the biggest take always for me was the importance in creating relationships with others even though I was sleeping on a hard tile floor.

I've known since preschool that I want to be a teacher, but at the start of my sophomore year I was questioning why I want to be a teacher and if it would be more beneficial if I go into an administration, college level position, or something related to education. I have always wanted to be able to help others succeed and how well would I be able to do that for classes of 30 students?  

I was blessed with the opportunity to help at an afternoon program at Laughlin Memorial Chapel. This program had about 60 K-12 students who received homework help and a nutritious dinner, which sadly was the only meal most of these students would receive for the night. 

Some of the children welcomed and gladly engaged with the Emmanuel College ASB participants but other students were not welcoming to new guests. During dinner I sat at the table with such welcoming students, but one of the little girls I sat next to completely ignored me.  Later that night during reflection one of the staff leaders reminded me that- sometimes the people who push you away are the ones that need you the most.

After school homework help
This little girl who ignored me at dinner, ended up needing help with her math homework. I nervously went over to help her. She refused to do her homework and I struggled for 10 minutes trying to convince her to try. I realized that she did not understand what she needed to do for the homework.

Pencil hair-do by
one of the students
The kinesthetic learner (hands-on/tactile learner) part of me kicked in, so I grabbed a handful of markers and the little girl looked at me like I was crazy.  Then I started to model division with the markers and the little girl started to watch. I did a few problems and I asked her to make the next... she did!  I had her do one more division problem using the markers, and then I showed her a way to write down the division using dots on her paper if she did not have markers available. The little girl made her way through the homework.

I told her since we were done that I was going to color and the little girl joined me.  I was shocked that the little girl warmed up to me, but I realized that things take time and if I was her age, I would not have socialized with anyone older.

The Duquesne Incline (Pittsburgh)
How can I incorporate
this into a math problem?
On the second day we helped the students with homework and I first helped an 11-year-old girl who was sitting alone, she was shy at first because she was ‘bad at school’ and that everyone hates her.  I told her that sometimes school is tough, but trying is the most important thing.  She eventually told me that she loved babysitting. I could relate to this, my interest in education came from babysitting and helping the kids I was watching with homework.  I explained to her as you get older and continue to babysit you have to help with homework and if you never learned it, how can you help?  This caught her attention and I told her just keep trying your best and always ask for help.

The last day working with the students was pretty tough because we knew we had to leave, but incredible anyways.  The little girl that ignored me originally ended up coming over and asking me how to spell Massachusetts!  This was a huge turn-around, at first I was nervous making endless small talk and asking questions, now the students were asking me questions!

I went on ASB to do community service, which I thought was physical labor such as planting gardens, construction projects, and preparing food.  Little did I know that I would return to Boston realizing that community service goes beyond the physical labor, but it also is about making positive connections with others.  At the end of the trip I realized how lucky I was to be able to spend time in Wheeling because they may not have been welcoming at first, but I realized how important it is to make that connection with others. Also, it did not matter that these were not huge interactions, it was the small personal moments that before this trip I would just forget about. 

One of the most important things I realized was that even if I get overwhelmed, stressed out, that I need to take a moment and look at the small things and re-adjust my vision on how blessed I really am.  I have always wanted to be a teacher, but at the beginning of my stressful sophomore year I was having doubts if I should go into an administration role at a school or be a teacher for classes of 30+ students.  Luckily, I had the opportunity to go on ASB to be reminded about how much I love communicating and teaching others.

I learned and realized so much from participating in ASB that I could go on forever about the experience. It really put my life back into perspective. Maybe I will blog about those different experiences over this Winter Break!

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