Exploring Words Summer Camp has come to an end and with it, my time here in San Francisco. Friday was graduation and it was delightful. It was a sunny day, everyone brought food for a potluck, and general goodness was in the air. I wasn’t bugging kids to write about aliens or telling them not to throw things at their tutors. Instead, we all got to sit back and watch our students get their hard won certificates of achievement and take adorable pictures. In addition to their shiny certificates, all the students received new backpacks filled with books, binders, and hand sanitizer. Erm, all the essentials?
Additionally, they got copies of the book they’d made over the last six weeks. We’d collected all the students’ writing and transcribed it. We then had them choose their favorite pieces and edit them before printing and binding them into a book for the kids to take home. They’re really great books, and all the kids were excited to see their work honored in that way.
Though I’ve been mired in the day-to-day of wrangling seventy or so children into writing, I’ve also been thinking of bigger questions that pertain to 826 Valencia and my involvement here. One of the best parts of my time here was seeing how guest teachers function in the classroom and attempting to learn by osmosis.
There was such a wealth of experience and knowledge in the room at any given moment during Exploring Words, in large part because of the volunteer teachers and tutors the program drew. We had a guest who was a Teach for America teacher, and he brought admirable tenacity to Exploring Words. We had a teacher who’d taught in both Canada and London, and she had some amazing insights on how school systems differ from country to country. Luis Rodriguez, an LA based author and community organizer, came and spoke to our oldest students about his experience with youth in gangs. During breaks, volunteer tutors would discuss different pedagogical philosophies and applications. One of my biggest tasks here was to synthesize all of these resources and make them consistent for the kids by being there everyday.
Though I’ve learned a lot during my time at Haverford, it has sometimes been difficult for me to contextualize the work I do in the project of broader society (whatever that is, exactly…). My time at 826 Valencia has made me feel like a part of the “real world,” working with and for the values we espouse back at school. For instance, I know this sounds obvious, but one of the most important things I’ve learned here is how to talk to kids. Because of the program coordinators and guest teachers, I learned how to dialogue when things seem chaotic and overwhelming. Kids appreciate when you give them agency, when you allow them to make their own decisions because you believe they can make good ones.
I think that’s a lesson that can be appreciated in any situation, and it has to do with the necessity that we, as members of a community, respect everyone, all the time. It was nice to find an organization that values this idea outside of Haverford, and now I have an answer to the criticism that the Honor Code doesn’t really work outside of the HaverBubble. The tenants of trust, concern, and respect are relevant and important to other communities, and through working at 826 Valencia I feel I am part of a network of individuals and organizations that recognize how imperative these values are, exactly.