Friday, August 17, 2012

Persistence: A Summer Learning Story

This week we’re reflecting on the incredible contributions of our 2011-12 AmeriCorps Museum Educators as their service year comes to a close. This story was shared by Sarah Bonawitz about facilitating the Museum's expanded summer enrichment programming – designed to combat summer learning loss in math and reading – for one of the 15 groups of kids the members served this summer.

“Daniel” is one of those kids who knows how to push your buttons – and knows that he knows how to push your buttons.  Sometimes when we arrived at the Highlander Charter School playground, Daniel would say, “Go home!” or “I don’t want you here today!” Other times he wouldn’t say anything at all and just slam the ball he was playing with into the brick wall.  I didn’t take his comments his personally but I don’t deny my sensitivity.

In the classroom, Daniel talked about how boring the activities were but ignored the challenges offered to him.  His negative comments, however, were muttered almost noncommittally and I saw his readiness to show off his smarts and answer a question correctly. As with most of the children in our club, I couldn’t help but think about what was going on in their lives that made it so hard for them to have fun learning together. 

But it pained me to see how much Daniel, smart as a whip, didn’t want to care about learning. It was like watching a crook covering his tracks in the dirt, but Daniel’s “crime” was being enjoyably engaged in our Learning Club activities. When I asked Daniel where he was going to hang the beautiful painting he made with the paintbrush he created out of recycled materials, he said, “In the trash.” 

Our lessons continued, Daniel coasting through the activities with detached engagement.  He was interested, I could tell, but he didn't want to be.  His intelligence seeped like water through the cracks he didn’t realize marked the surface of his façade of not caring.

On Family Night, I was crossing my fingers that one of our Highlander kids would come through the Museum’s doors.  Within 20 minutes, a woman entered with two boys, both of them wearing matching rectangular hipster glasses.  Taking a closer look at the older boy, I saw it was Daniel!  In glasses! 
“Daniel!  You came!” I exclaimed, coming around to the front of the table.  “I didn’t recognize you in your super specs!” 
“Yeah,” he smiled sheepishly. 
“I am so glad that you came, Daniel,” I said – meaning every word. And he gave me a hug.

The following session of club we dissected owl pellets.  It was perhaps the best lesson of the entire summer.  I settled down with Daniel and “Adam,” another member of our club who really struggled with balancing his behavior and enjoyment of learning, and we had so much fun.  Together, they enthusiastically shared their findings.  Daniel would say something and Adam would add another detail.  I would ask a question and they would both give me completely different but completely accurate answers.
“And look,” Daniel said, showing me a skull, “using the [Identification Sheet], I can match the pictures to the bones I find.  See, this owl ate a rodent.”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Because of the teeth.”
“And which is the bottom jaw and the top jaw?” 
“This one is the top and this one is the bottom because it’s smaller.  Here, we can put them back together like this.”
As I watched Daniel investigate and answer questions during the rest of the dissection, I was really happy.  Go Daniel – you’re so smart.  Keep putting things together. 

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