Two weeks ago, I met a seven-year-old who went out of his way to assure everyone knew he was the "bad" kid. His "gangsta" presentation extended from his behavior to his very demeanor. He had a chip on his shoulder that could be detected a mile away - toys, imaginative play, and artistic creation were so far beneath him. He made it abundantly clear that he wasn't interested. He pushed, shoved, grabbed, and threw things. Within the first hour, the other kids sensed his intentions, and one actually said, "so X is going to be the troublemaker this week." I shut down that sentiment immediately.
When I took him to a quiet space to talk, he said, "you know I am the bad kid, right?" I looked straight at him and said, "I don't believe that for a moment." He was insistent on getting his point across, "yeah, you can even ask my parents." At that statement, I shook my head and said, "No, you may behave badly sometimes, but you are not a bad person."
The first day or two was rough. I continued to call him out on his inappropriate behavior. However, more importantly, I also engaged him in conversation and showed him that I was interested in him as a person and what he had to say. By the second half of day two, he was sitting and playing alongside other kids. By the middle of the first week, he was instigating imaginative play with other kids, who became happily engaged in his imaginary world. By the middle of the second week, after wandering into the art room and watching other kids sew, he asked if he could make a pillow for a friend from football fabric he found. He ran the sewing machine while I guided the material. He then turned it right side out and stuffed the pillow. That kid was so damn proud that he asked to call his mom to tell her.
Friday was his last day with us, and he was visibly saddened - he tried for bravado, saying that he didn't care, it was boring anyway - but in the next breath was asking why he couldn't be with us the last week of Summer Program (it is over full). When his mom came to pick him up, she asked her standard, "how was he today?" And I responded, per usual, "great." I believe she has been trained to expect the worst and was always anticipating a completely different response. I asked, "have you seen a difference at home?" Her eyes lit up, and she said, "yes!" And went on to list all of the changes. Before he got into the car, I told him I would miss him a lot. He wasn't quite ready for a hug, but he did insist that his mom sign him up for all three weeks of the Summer Program next year!
This is just one of many examples from over the past nine years. To some, the transformations seem miraculous. They ask, what is the secret? No, really, what kind of magic do you perform?
In reality it is quite simple. We provide a safe, noncoercive, and flexible environment - where kids immediately feel comfortably at home. Within that, we listen! We look at the whole child, not the behavior. Which means, we delve beyond the external presentation to see the anxious, scared, or hurt child hidden deeply behind the facade of indifference or anger.
We are always real (no sugar coating here)! We model trust and respect and expect kids to follow our lead. No magic tricks - nothing miraculous - just pure compassion and simple kindness. Beyond that, we encourage every child to drop the mask and unleash their authenticity. Because, at the end of the day, we appreciate and celebrate every child for who they really are - underneath their disguise.
Scenes from Week Two of Summer Program.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Summer Program has been an absolute hit! We have had a blast sewing, creating, exploring, and playing! We have one more week of Summer Adventures.
DRC-East News - We discovered at the end of July that the space that has so graciously accommodated us last year is no longer available. Since then we have been searching for a new home. We are in final negotiations with a landlord in Massena to use a building that is perfect for our needs. We should have a lease signed and sealed in the next few days. Therefore, I should be able to reveal the location next week.
It is surprising (or maybe not) how much time I spend trying to convince people that learning is a natural, fun, lifelong practice. What I try to convey is that - we are all constantly adding to our "data banks" every minute of every day. Yes, even in our sleep.
Learning doesn't require a particular place, time, or materials. The only things you really need are curiosity, an open mind, and an environment (community) where you feel safe and accepted.
I had this exact conversation (again) with an eight-year-old during the first week of the DRC Summer Program. He was busily painting a mural on the back of the shed and said something akin to - I am having a great time - do kids that come here for "school" do this kind of stuff? I responded that they do. He asked in all seriousness, "but when do they learn?" I said, "while they play and do cool projects and activities - like you have done this week." And he responded, "but I haven't learned anything this week."
Instead of banging my head up against the tree, I was leaning on, I took a deep breath and said, "you would be surprised how much you have learned this week. Just because you have not done worksheets and listened to a teacher talk at you doesn't mean you didn't gain new information." He shook his head in disbelief and continued painting.
I find this so, so, so incredibly sad. This extremely bright kid doesn't understand that play, exploration, and having fun are the basis for all learning. In his mind, it can only happen in school - where laborious, monotonous "work" is required.
Is it any wonder that many kids come to DRC jaded, unhappy, anxious, and completely unable to believe that the process of learning can (should) be a joyful experience?
Every single little thing you do today will change you in some way. The simple act of breathing guarantees that statement. It may be that you think about something differently, or it could be a mistake you made, and now you know what not to do.
So, I ask: What made you think a little bit deeper or gave you a reason to pause today? What made you throw up your hands in frustration? What inspired you to dive deeper into your explorations? And what made you laugh out loud in pure glee?
Those are the memories that are stored to be built upon for later use. Which I must point out is a pretty good definition of "learning."
Scenes from the first week of DRC Summer Program '22
Weekly Creative Meditation
The DRC Summer Program is a hit. The kids had a fantastic time this past week. The last two weeks are completely full - therefore registration is now closed.
Last week, I promised news about our DRC-East program. Unfortunately, we don't quite have all the details sorted out yet. Hopefully, next week I will be able to blast some cool news.
These past several weeks, my heart-racing anxiety has reached a seeming point of no return to (my version of) calm and I feel so completely overwhelmed and exhausted with the details and emotions of life and work that even the simplest tasks seem daunting. Add the stress of exploring and remembering to honor the multiple layers of my newly identified neurodiversity, and you have the perfect storm of self-doubt, recrimination, and feelings of ineptitude.
Amid a particularly rough deluge on Friday night, I remembered the simple tool of affirmation. Write it all down - offer it all to the Universe and give myself respite. Today, I present - in this space - recent notes to myself in hopes that these are helpful for whoever needs to hear them.
My message today: you are where you need to be right now. Celebrate and affirm your personal journey - all the bumps and missteps, as well as the surprises and successes. And you will find, as I have, that those statements of affirmation are destined to become manifestations. Your (our) pure awesomeness is a testament to all of that.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Wow, it has been a whirlwind week. An enormous shout of thanks to Molly McMaster, the owner of Miss Molly's Painting. The DRC Canton facility is looking FRESH and so very fabulous. These are a few photos she took after she finished up the front and south side. Next year she will get to the north side and back.
East Facility update - Last week I mentioned that we would not be able to use the church in North Lawrence. Friday we went to look at another option and it seems like it is the ideal space. Next week I will be able to share details!
Summer Program begins tomorrow in Canton. All three weeks are pretty much full - however, we could accommodate one or two more kids each week if there are families who need us.
Accommodations are something everyone needs in one respect or other throughout their lives. Yes, even all you self-described neurotypical folks. And that is precisely where societal expectations and influences have failed us all. We have been led to believe (falsely) that the only people who require them are, in some way, weird, abnormal, or just plain "broken." (OK, honestly, I happily own the "weird" title and have long before I ever fully understood the levels of my neurodiversity.)
We, as a culture, have developed a coded language for those who differ from the norm. They have IEPs (Individual Learning Plans) and own long lists of diagnoses that have acronyms with every alphabetical combination you can imagine. These act as cues (BIG WARNING SIGNS) for the "normal" folk.
We are, in essence, telling the neurodiverse and disabled that they need to be fixed. They can't (are not allowed to) fit into society - as they are -because they make everyone else uncomfortable.
Therefore, we have programs, such as ABA (that are horribly designed and executed), IEPs with accommodations (that are pure bullsh*t and don't help many), and to top it all off - a population that fully believes that providing assistance is a waste of time and dollars. And anyone who does seek help is a drain on us all.
So instead of committing our resources to mental health and social service providers, we over-fund police departments and watch people who struggle go through an unjust, unabashedly cruel system.
At this point, I realize this has become a much longer post (rant) than originally intended. I don't want to lose the talking point that initially inspired this piece - we all need accommodations at some point in our lives.
I spend my days offering unconditional support to every person I meet. I honestly want them to have whatever they need to progress and thrive. Kindness, empathy, trust, and respect do not cost a dime. I have been asked - "doesn't your generosity get abused - I mean, don't you get burned occasionally?" The answer to that question is - yes, I have - (more than) a few times. Nonetheless, that will not stop me from joyfully continuing the practice of accommodating anyone who requests my help.
"Pull yourself up by the bootstraps" is a euphemism that doesn't account for the long lists of trauma-induced disadvantages that most of us spend our lives unpacking and reconciling. Everyone needs an IEP (or, better yet, an ILP - Individual Life Plan). I have to ask - why wouldn't that be standard practice?
Weekly Creative Meditation
As I alluded to last week - we have encountered a barrier to DRC-East using the church in North Lawrence that makes it hard for us to continue there.
Which means we are "down to the wire" and once again seeking another facility on the East side of St. Lawrence County or even in Western Franklin County - including Brasher, Winthrop, N. Lawrence, Hopkinton, Nicholville, Massena, or Moira. We need a space that is at least 1500 sq. ft. and has a kitchen. Ideally, it is something we can rent with the potential of purchasing. If you are local and have any possible leads - please get in touch. Thank you!
Summer Program - register today! We start next Monday the 15th!
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