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.
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