Angel's monstrosity is the only thing still available for him to draw on.
Any other parts of him; humour, kindness, compassion were long since buried during the struggle to keep going. He's out of bed and dressed — what more do you want? A week ago I had my last lesson with Angel. He's a ferociously talented artist, a fact I've pointed out to him several times over the last two years, which he's responded to with indifference. When asked to choose his subjects for next year, I expected him to put art at the top of his list and was dreading the prospect of another two years of disruption while conceding in my own mind that it might be the only thing that would keep him in school and might even "save him".
So I was surprised to see that he had put it absolutely last, and was even rather hurt, something he no doubt intended. Consequently, I knew that the final lesson of tenth grade would be my last encounter as an art teacher with probably the most naturally talented child in the school. At the end of the lesson, after the usual disruption, obscenities and low-level interference with other kids, he asked me to sign his behaviour sheet. I wrote: "Shouted 'suck my dick' at Deon then threw a pencil at his head.
The fight went out of him, he folded up his sheet, walked to the door and said "OK, miss, have a nice life. I saw him a few days later from an upstairs window. He was standing, watching, as a younger boy, Charlie, was being punched and kicked on the ground by Deon. I saw this while invigilating an exam, so it was impossible even to bang on the window and yell at them to stop. The noiseless background gave it a strange, dreamlike quality, especially as Charlie put up no fight at all and simply curled up on the tarmac and waited for the beating to end.
When it did, Angel approached the boy with his hand outstretched and helped him up as if there should be no hard feelings, like he was saying: "See? It's really not so bad having the crap kicked out of you, is it? I've never been punched, kicked or bitten by anyone, much less by someone who was supposed to care about me. I've never been sexually abused, locked in a cupboard, put out on the street in the dark, in the rain, gone without food, had a cigarette put out on my arm.
Thanks, Angel, for hoping that none of that happens to me. I wish none of it had happened to you. This is the sixth of a series: Brit in the Bronx. She writes under a pseudonym. In short, they begin to matter. During adolescence things like competence, autonomy, mastery, value and worth are often directed towards questions of meaning and purpose. In From Childhood to Adolescence , p. The consciousness of knowing how to make oneself useful, how to help mankind in many ways, fills the soul with noble confidence, almost religious dignity.
Which, for some, would stand to reason that their chances of valorizing as adolescents and young adults were slim. I came to find that despite their nearly universal hard starts in life, these boys were eager to prove their worth. Depending on weather and where a trip took place, we hiked, rock-climbed, canoed, snowshoed or nordic skied with the youth.
So after breakfast was cleaned up and the biting cold of the early morning had broken, we crammed our feet into stiff leather cross-country ski boots for a day of snow travel. It warms my heart still to think of the youth — who might reasonably be described as a menacing gang of scowling delinquents — in a tangled mess of skis, poles and laughter. They loved to ski! And they were on the whole terrible skiers, at least at first. Mind you these were, in general, fit boys.
Most in this particular group were strong, well-coordinated and athletic — qualities they loved to show off playing basketball at the facility after earning enough individual and group privileges to participate in a game of hoops. But with skiing — despite varying degrees of athleticism — the youth were all at about the same ability, which leveled the competitive playing field.
And when combining the necessary exertion of the sport with with crisp, clean air in the deep north woods, the boys were collectively unstoppable.
Don't Help Your Kids With Their Homework
It was adrenaline-fueled joy. And hard. Helpfulness and empathy were often hard to come by, yet while skiing, the youth showed a remarkable capacity for both. The group was expected to remain in eyesight or in special circumstances at least in earshot of one another, and so they had to work together to decide when to start as well as when and where to stop. All of this starting and stopping as a group, and the falls and tangles that ensued, provided lots of helping moments!
What made cross country skiing so meaningful was the countless opportunities for the youth to help and to be helped. A fall on cross-country skis rarely results in an injury thankfully — but often results in significant challenges when trying to stand back up. When skis get twisted around one another while still attached to splayed legs, help getting up is often necessary. And when falls involve two or more skiers in close proximity, tangles get even more extreme!
Striving to save an unreachable student: giving up on Angel
Even the process of putting on and taking off skis often requires assistance. Cross-country skiing benefited greatly from a muted fear factor. Despite the dangers of subzero temperatures and the risk of being in the middle of nowhere during an unrelenting snowfall, the draw to stay and ski together, to help one another get up after falls, and to in general care for one another led these boys to feel safer in this otherwise hostile environment.
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Yet the helping, collaborative behaviors inherent in this group activity seemed to work against a potentially heightened fight or flight response in the amygdala. Later that morning, with temperatures hovering just below zero and several miles into a 12 mile loop, we came across a national forest cabin. A lone forest ranger was onsite, having arrived an hour or so earlier on a snowmobile. What a sight we must have been, this group of racially diverse, strong-willed, novice skiers, clad in the earthy browns and soft greys of of state-issued outdoor clothing. After introductions, we learned why the ranger was checking on the cabin.
The slightly pitched roof was, indeed, loaded with snow; three feet at least. In truth, there was enough snow accumulation on the ground to safely break any fall. Here was a very real, very timely opportunity to help. And so we did. As with the skiing, we were slow at first, and not very good. When we started, everyone wanted a turn with the one shovel. Early on, the youth inadvertently dumped piles of snow in places where it would need to be moved again… and then again….
Soon enough, skis became tools. Then, a couple of youth found pieces of discarded cedar siding while looking for extra shovels in a nearby shed. These became useful for two people to scrape off layers of snow. It took us most of the afternoon but when they finished, every shingle of the roof was clearly visible. It turned out the Ranger had concerns about snow accumulation on three more national forest cabins. Before the group headed back to our base camp and even as the daylight had begun to fade, Marvin took the lead on working with the Ranger to triangulate locations, approximate distances and make a plan for three more days of volunteer snow removal work.
The Ranger, for his part, met us each day with extra shovels, and supervised our efforts. On the third day the Ranger brought hot cider and a dozen plain donuts. Never has either tasted sweeter. It would be great to continue with happily ever after success stories and charming sound bites about beating the odds. Which raises deep questions about whether any of our impacts ever matter, right?
Despite this leading edge program involving team building, wilderness inquiry and intense conflict resolution training, a combination of risk factors including family instability, addiction and historic trauma suggested most of these youth — these boys — would remain in the system.
Given such long odds, can any person or program truly make a difference? Is it worth it? This awareness comes from within and is not what someone else ascribes you. I think the answer has to be yes. That the power in each experience with the potential to help adolescents valorize has to be worth it — regardless of what comes next.
When we support young people to become aware of their capabilities, assets as well as weaknesses, and coordinate their potentialities, regardless of what someone else ascribes them, we provide for them a simple yet important realization.
- Cyanide Wells (Muller, Marcia).
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That despite flaws and possible futures they can make a positive contribution to the world. And that when they are ready and able, the world is waiting for them to contribute even more. Bandura, A. Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84 2 , Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory.
Prenctice Hall. Donadon, M. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9. Lillard, P. Montessori today: A comprehensive approach to education from birth to adulthood.
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Schocken Books. Montessori, M. From childhood to adolescence: Including Erdkinder and The function of the university. Montessori-Pierson Publishing Company.
Learning, leadership, collaboration, inspiration … these are some of the important reasons why people in nearly all professions gather at annual conferences. In all fields, attending these events yields opportunities for networking and for acquiring new knowledge and resources. Perhaps I am biased okay, I am definitely biased , but the American Montessori Society annual conference is about all of this and so much more. The AMS annual conference is about learning, collaboration, leadership, and inspiration, but it is also about laughter, hugs, smiles, collective joy, and a passion to bring about a better world.
In pursuit of this experience, on March 21 st , four thousand Montessorians, including me, simultaneously descended upon the Marriott Wardman Park hotel and conference center in the heart of Washington, DC. This year marked the third year that I have had the privilege of attending the conference. It was readily apparent that this is a Montessori conference because at peak times, there were groups of people sitting all over the floor — the floor of workshop sessions, the floor of hallways, the floor of the lobby.
Guest authors Judy Mause and Bob Suess have years of experience at the high school and college level helping first generation college students get in college and stay in college. Watson, Before I Go to Sleep. So, we were more than mildly surprised and disappointed when we were contacted by the director of an elite summer program at UC and informed that Aaron was MIA.
He had not confirmed his acceptance to either the summer program or to the university. Since graduation, Aaron had been incommunicado. His family had been evicted, so mail was undeliverable to his former home address. He had never lived in a house with internet service, so had no access to his e-mail account and to university e-mail messages now that he was no longer a CPS student. And his cell phone was out of minutes, so calls could not be made or received. Even worse, there had been no communication over the summer between the university and the high school, where his teacher-mentor could have intervened — if he had been notified.
The telephone call to Gen-1 was sufficient for our staff to swing into action with intrusive advising. Aaron remained in the Gen-1 Program until he graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering. A quality education still has the potential and power to change the trajectory of lives for low-income minority students — and the lives of their descendants. To be called a legacy is a big deal. Regardless of the kitchiness of these types of sentiments, as teachers, we know that we do touch lives — many lives.
But what if our teaching, our work, our life, had literally touched the lives of an exponential number of others? But what does that mean? Read more Marta Donahoe — Living Legacy.