Throughout the past week, I’ve been having one-on-one chats with each of the kids at Safe Place. I ask them a series of questions about how school is going, what they need the most help with, and whether or not they have any suggestions for the program. I’m planning on doing this at least twice per semester. These sessions are not only a fun way for me to intentionally get to know the kids--they also give me useful ideas for continuing to mold the program to their educational needs and provide me with plenty of funny stories. Most of the time, when I get to the question about suggestions for the program, I get answers like, “We should have fruit snacks every day!” and “We need more candy!” But occasionally, something unexpected pops up. Last week, I was chatting with one of the first graders. Apparently, school is going “SO well” for her, and she’s learning “SO MANY things every day.” When I asked if she had any suggestions for the program, she smiled and said, “Ab-so-lute-ly no-thing,” shaking her head back and forth to emphasize each syllable. I asked her to think about it some more: “Is there anything that would make Safe Place better for you?” She thought for a moment, swiveling around in her chair, and then said, “I know! You should put up some BIG BLUE lights that are ALWAYS on. Even when nobody’s here.” Where did that come from?
A by product of these one-on-ones has been students coming back to my office to chat whenever they feel like it. On Monday, one of the 4th graders came into my office and sat down in a chair. “What’s up?” I asked. “Nothing,” she said. “Don’t you have any homework?” I asked. “I finished it,” she said. “Can you go find a book to read with your tutor?” I asked. “No, I just want to chat with you,” she told me. I asked her how her day at school had been and she launched into a dramatic story about how she’d been sent to the principle for hitting a boy because he’d made fun of her and throwing a chair down the stairs. I suspected that she might have been embellishing a bit, but I believed most of the story. She’s an energetic kid with a strong sense of justice. I started giving her some well-meaning advice. I told her that she had a lot of energy, which was a good thing, but she should try to focus it in more positive directions. I suggested that she try ignoring people when they make fun of her, or telling them why they hurt her feelings instead of hitting them. She let me keep going for a while longer and then burst out laughing and said, “I made all of that up!” I threw up my hands and said, “I want to hear about your life, but I want to know how you’re actually doing. It’s hard for me to trust you if you’re just going to make up stories.” I asked her what had really happened at school. She spent about ten minutes going over every tiny detail of each of her classes. From now on, I’m going to ask more questions before believing her dramatic stories. But I think she got the message.
Monday and Tuesday of this week were buzzing with energy. I’m not sure where it was coming from. It might have been due to the short week--schools are closed for teacher conferences Wednesday through Friday. Monday was a constant stream of the kids being reminded not to run in the building or sit on the tables. I had to speak with a handful of students and tutors as various snafus came up, from students misunderstanding tutors, to minor hair pulling incidents. On Tuesday, many of the kids came without homework. I told them they needed to come up with a project to work on, and suggested they choose a topic to make an educational video about. They wanted to research how Pringles are made. With help from the tutors, they spent the entire program looking up facts, writing a script, and filming the first episode of what they’re calling “The Food History Network: Kids Edition.” Stay tuned--maybe some episodes will show up on the website. Even in the midst of the wildness of the past few days, the program continues to meet the basic criteria for success: homework gets done (mostly) and no one gets hurt.
Thank you, as always, for your continuing support of this wonderful program.