We are coming up on our last few weeks working with the kids at UMFS. Every week my classmates and i have been carpooling to the campus and working in their studio, but this week the students got to come to VCU campus and see what it’s like in our environment.
As my classmates and i waited for the students to arrive we were all really excited and came up with a game plan for the tour, since the students would only be with us for a short time. After vehicle mix-ups and a knocked down clearance sign, the students finally arrived.
The students got to see the student commons filled with college students socializing and hanging out at the campus eateries. we showed them the library and dinning hall, which some of them were amazed at how big they were. For most of the students it was their first time visiting VCU, or any college campus in general so it was a great experience for them to get to see what college is like,
Even though it was a chilly day, the students were still very excited. A few of the girls even bombarded me with questions about parties and boys on campus, which I of course didn’t answer, but it was really nice seeing them taking interest and wanting to know what it’s like to be a college student. One student even sparked up a conversation about how she wanted to go to college and was considering VCU.
At the end of our tour we showed them the insight studio which was the most fun for all of them. They took turns sitting in the anchor chairs and taking pictures. Two of the students in particular really got into it and pretended to be anchors. Seeing them interact with each other and have so much fun was the best part for me. Although by this point I have gotten to know them pretty well and their compliance was much better, for some reason a small part of me was expecting that to go out of the window since they weren’t on their own campus. I am so proud of all of the students and how much progress they have made since the first day I met them.
Over the past few weeks the students have been working on packages on the circle of courage, which is a four part program implemented at UMFS that helps guide students through UMFS’s larger program and transition them into the mainstream . The students hadn’t finished shooting their interviews or b-roll so we split into four groups mastery, belonging, generosity, and independence and set off on UMFS’s campus to shoot.
My group’s topic was belonging, which focuses on the students feeling connected and having a sense of being a part of a community in some way. That could be through school, church, a club or anything of that nature. We interviewed a student in the program who talked about how UMFS has helped her feel like she belonged. At school she didn’t feel think she fit in and was more prone to people who were bad influences because they made her feel like she belonged even though they didn’t have her best interest in mind . UMFS taught her how to fit in with more positive people and avoid those bad influences. I was really surprised at how well the interview went. One of the shyer students conducted the interview and she did a really great job asking questions and making herself and the young lady we interviewed comfortable.
After the interview we shot b-roll around the campus. This is when I noticed one of the students in particular really shine. She thoroughly enjoyed working with the camera and coming up with ideas for b-roll. That’s when it clicked to my classmates and I that she was much more productive when we gave her a task and just let her do her own thing from there. I still shadowed her just to show her I was interested in when she was doing, but still gave her free reigns to shoot whatever she wanted. She enjoyed sharing her ideas with me and we even shared a few laughs. It was really nice to see her have personal moments some of my classmates and I. I definitely think we have made a breakthrough with her.
The day out working in the field seemed to be good for every group. We all had fun and mostly positive responses from all of the students. Being outside of the classroom put everyone in a more relaxed mood and enabled us to interact more freely with each other.
The teenage years are some of the hardest, yet most important times of a person’s life developmentally. The decisions someone makes as a teenager can set the script for their entire life. This is when risky behavior like joining gangs, committing crimes, doing drugs and many other behaviors that often carry over to their adult life begins. It’s important to break those patters early and also make sure the child has positive influences.
Big Brother Big Sister of America caters to at risk youth by pairing them with an adult mentor to help influence positive behaviors and high academic achievement. Big Brother Big Sister is ranked as one of the top mentoring programs in the country and has been serving children ages 6-18 for over one hundred years. The program focuses on one-on-one mentoring so every child has their own volunteer “Big” specially chosen for them. Big Brother Big Sister’s goal is the achieve not only higher educational success and lower risky behavior, but they also strive to improve self-confidence which is something I think the video mentoring program at UMFS does a great job of. A big reason for children acting out because of low self-confidence. Once students realize that they have the ability to do anything they put their mind to, they start to want to learn and approach situations with a much more positive attitude.
Big Brother also gives youth role models. They encourage positive behavior and also serve as a great example of where that child could be if they chose to follow the right path. Although our video mentoring class is not a one-on-one program, the mentor to student ratio is high, so students are still able to get personalized attention and help. We have learned which students work best with us and have adjusted accordingly. I think this is really beneficial because this is creating a bond. The students are responding to our positive influence better and wanting to set higher goals for themselves. Some of the students truly do look up to us and I think they are starting to aspire to achieve greater things in life.
Over the past few weeks at UMFS, I’ve learned a lot about how to work with special needs children. This week in particular I noticed how the students are in somewhat of a battle with themselves to make progress and learned ways to try and overcome their struggles. It’s hard to know what to expect as far as the students temperaments and their willingness to participate. This week the class definitely started off shaky. The students did not want to come to class and when they arrived, it was clear they weren’t particularly excited. This made me wonder if it was something I did or what could have gone wrong last class to make them feel this way, but one thing I always have to keep in mind is something that happened to them earlier in the day, could still be affecting them and make them not want to participate in my class. Despite their apprehension, my classmates and I got right to work with them. We split into two groups. One worked on putting together B-roll and the other, my group, worked on reading. The students in my group quickly warmed up to us and this was where the progress began.
It’s great to see some of the most introverted students breaking out of their shell and participating in class exercises. One student in particular isn’t comfortable speaking in front of people, but with our encouragement she finally decided to do it and did great. We learned that my not directly looking at her, she didn’t get as uncomfortable and was able to articulate her words much better. At first she was afraid of being criticized, but we were sure to balance every criticism wit compliments and by using that strategy, she became more confident with every read. Reading became less of a chore for her and more of something she enjoyed. She started volunteering and giving other students advice.
Before the class was over, I had the chance to work one on one with a student putting together her b-roll for her story. Their b-roll shooting technique definitely could use some work, but I was once a beginner too with the same issues. While working with her I tried to only make suggestions and not tell her what to do because I still wanted her to be creative and come up with their own ideas. At first, she was so afraid of being wrong that she wanted me to do everything for her, but I encouraged her and made sure even with my help, the project was still be as much hers as possible.
High school can be a tough experience for anyone, so I can only imagine what it’s like to be a student with a disability. For many years, students with disabilities were held to the notion that they were not capable of much and it was very unlikely for them to graduate. Recent media has showed how that view is starting to change.
In a recent article by US News (http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2014/04/28/high-school-graduation-rates-reach-record) seventy-seven percent of student with disabilities in Kansas graduate, compared to the about twenty percent national average. Kansas officials say this is because they integrate students with disabilities in general education courses. The idea is, the higher expectations you hold disabled students to, the better that will do. This is supported by a new worldwide program called Teach For All which trains teachers and coaches on how to teach children with “learning differences.” In an article by Education Week (http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/09/10/03teachforall.h34.html), Rachel Brody, the managing director of Teach For America’s Special Education and Ability Initiative says, “We came to the decision to focus very heavily on high expectations. For every single kid we work with, we’re going to focus on the high expectations for them.” Underestimating a student with disabilities can keep them from reaching their full potential.
Many times, I’ll watch the news and see a feature story of how a disabled student was able to overcome their disability or has done something great. These are great examples of how you never know what someone is capable of doing. One thing I notice in all of the success stories I see of students with disabilities, is a strong support system. It’s amazing what people can accomplish with the motivation of other people. Parents, teachers, coaches and anyone else that focuses on disabled student’s strengths and motivate them to use those strengths to get over their weaknesses can make such a difference in that person’s quality of life. An article in NEA Today (http://neatoday.org/2013/03/28/students-with-physical-challenges-speak-out/) featured a physically disabled boy named Curtis who says his math teacher sophomore year pushed him to get into mainstream classes, and because of this motivation; he was able to do so. He says that children with disabilities need to be pushed and motivated just as much as any other student. Motivation is what helps push us to do things to the best of our ability. Granted, we already had the skills somewhere deep down inside, but we may have never known without the encouragement from others.
When I first entered UMFS Charter School I had so many thoughts racing through my mind as to what I should expect. All I knew was that I signed up for a class called “Video Mentoring” through VCU and that I would be teaching special needs children the basics of shooting, interviewing and editing. My classmates and I had been previously prompted about how the children had all been through some type of traumatic situation and to treat them with a certain delicacy. To be honest I felt uneasy to get to know them because some of the things I had been told. I was so afraid of getting too close and making them uncomfortable. The last thing I wanted was for one of the students to have an episode because I had invaded their personal space. As I waited for their arrival I kept thinking of all these scenarios in my head of how that could happen.
The students came in the room and after our first and somewhat awkward introductions to each other, then we were encouraged to get up and meet and greet with each other. The first interaction my classmates and I had with one of the students didn’t exactly go as smooth as I’m sure we all had hoped. We stepped out of the conference room to introduce ourselves to a girl who had a chocolate allergy and couldn’t be in the room, but due to the lingering smell of the m&m’s and chocolate chip cookies that were set out for us, she passed out. In my mind I just knew that indecent would set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
We returned into the room and formed little circles and made small talk just trying to get a feel for the students we would be working with, keeping the personal space bubble at the forefront of our minds. After just a few minutes of talking I realized these kids were more like me than I could have ever imagined. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much and had such fun conversation. We shared our personal stories about how tough it can be to be a girl sometimes with the tight corset dresses and spanx and we also shared some of our weird food craving like burger doughnuts and fried Oreos. As conversation went on our laughs got louder and our circle around each other formed tighter. Every thought I had about them in my mind before went right out the window and I was able to talk to them just as I would anyone else.
That’s really when it all clicked for me. I realized we are all equal human beings and just because their circumstances are different than mine, doesn’t mean we can’t relate to one another. They had no control over the situations they were either born with or born into, so instead of profiling them before I got to know them, I should have given more of a chance. I realized I was the one that had put up a personal bubble.
My goal for this class was always to help people, but I think at first it was for selfish reasons. I was focused more on how the experience would impact me and mold me to be a better person instead of thinking about how much much my service could do for them. Now I have made a real connection with these kids and genuinely care about them. I want to help them make it to college and get just as far, if not further than me in life.