Friday, September 25, 2009

Uniforms, Introductions, and Rewards

It’s been an incredible week. Every single kid in our “overage” class showed up, each day, in full uniform. It may not seem like a big deal, but for me it’s clearly a huge gesture of respect and determination from this group. It’s a sign that I succeeded in breaking through to these kids on a personal level, that I tapped into their sense of hope and got them to buy-in to Open Heart-Open Mind’s program. On some level, I ignited their desire to change their lives.

Jose in particular blew me away. He’s not turning a new leaf – he’s just being his true self - a young gentleman, a strong leader, a determined and hardworking person. I knew last year this was his real nature, and that all the angry behavior and blowing off school were effects of his stress. I’d be lying though if I said I didn’t worry that he’d still end up in jail, despite the counseling. Luckily his arrest this summer sparked him to do some serious reflection on his life, and now he’s determined to graduate from middle school.

Its clear to me he’s not going to let anything get in the way of reaching this goal. He’s already emerged as a class leader, keeping the other kids in check. He even spoke to a few on his own that were showing disrespect, telling them that they need to take the class seriously or they will ruin this opportunity for everyone else. Jose also took it upon himself to walk right up to our new interns who were sitting in the school cafeteria during lunch. He stretched out his hand, looked them in the eyes, and introduced himself, following up with “Pleasure to meet you”. Amazing. I’ve never seen him or any other student I’ve worked with behave this way.

I can’t put into words how rewarding, and nerve-wracking this is. Now that I’ve got Jose and the other students to buy-in, I need to deliver. I need the steps I’ve laid out for them to graduate from middle school to actually work and I’ve got to keep them engaged even when they stumble, face hurdles, and feel the sting of disappointments.

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