When my Dad had his first open heart surgery in January 2002, we were told that every hour he was “under” would translate into one month of recovery time. We found this timetable to be especially true after his second surgery, five years later, which lasted for an unbearable ten hours.
I have found this analogy can also be related directly to the period of adjustment kids, who have left the traditional system, because of unhappiness, anxiety, and disenchantment, will need to settle in and take on the challenge of rediscovering their interests and passions and to design their own education. In general, I have discovered it takes one month for every year they have been in school. And, as with everything else in life, every student's experience will be completely different.
This process is not unique to a few, it is, in fact, unilateral and completely natural. As I mentioned in a previous post about mentoring, the reactions run the gamut from the happy little hamster who has so many ideas and projects in the pipeline, that he completes few, to the student who to the outside world appears to be completely unaffected, but has, in fact, been significantly changed.
In this post I will, however, be focusing on the kids who many adults would classify as just “plain lazy”, when they haven't taken the time to understand the underlying rational for the blasé behavior.
We have a twelve year old who exemplifies this conduct; he appears ambivalent, bored, complacent, and unmotivated to the casual observer. I, however, have a completely different perspective on this amazingly kind, empathetic, thoughtful, sweetly shy, hesitant kid, because he allows me the privilege of exploring and discovering the real person he keeps buried and hidden behind that facade of indifference.
I am very pleased to have learned, for example, that he loves the outdoors and nature. He has an abundance of physical energy; he literally runs everywhere. He adores gaming and he delights in playfully teasing his grandma. This kid has a tender heart of gold and will do anything to help someone out.
When we first met, he and I wrote a learning plan that covered all the subjects, based on what he said he wanted to do; however, as time went on, I discovered that he was not truly interested in any of those projects or themes. He had simply regurgitated the list of classes he knew from previous experience. This behavior, too, is not unique; students will automatically revert to the known quantity when they are suddenly faced with a whole wide world of options to choose from.
After a few weeks of very little productivity or engagement, we sat down together for another mentoring session. He said he was going to focus on the items we had listed for social studies in his plan. He then spent about ½ hour looking up 16th century artists on the internet, never again to revisit the subject.
He drifted for another couple of weeks, spending his time hanging out and playing with the other kids.
Several weeks ago, two other students decided to hand sew small pillows using scrap fabric; I purchased a bag of fiberfill to stuff them. Another student excitedly cut out the bear pillow pattern that was printed on the plastic bag and sewed the first bear pillow on the sewing machine. The pattern has now been adapted and changed several times and we now have a bevy of bear pillows relaxing in our “chill space”.
Meanwhile, the sewing craze has become contagious. Nearly every student has taken on different sewing projects, including this particular 12 year old. He completed and stuffed a rectangular pillow in one afternoon and presented it to his aunt when she came to pick him up.
During our next mentoring session, I asked him to choose one thing that he would focus on and be engaged with at DRC; he told me that he wanted to sew. I also asked him if he would consider giving math class an honest try each day. He agreed.
Two of our grandmas heard about all the sewing excitement and volunteered to come in and teach a sewing/quilting class to whoever was interested. They brought in tons of fabric scraps, their sewing machines, tools and other craft supplies and then spent a couple hours showing the kids how to cut, piece, and sew together squares that can be used to make pillows or larger projects such as quilts.
Our twelve year old, however, did not participate in this class, despite having said that he wanted to learn how to sew. Later that day, after everyone else had left, he asked me to help him make another pillow. He and I worked on piecing and sewing that pillow for a couple of hours, in fits and starts, over several days. He finished sewing it, stuffing it, and hand sewing the opening using the blind stitch, that I taught him (with one of the biggest needles I have ever seen).
No, he is not lazy or unmotivated, he is so plainly overwhelmed and seriously afraid of screwing up and making mistakes.
A few days later, he was working on another task and asked me to do it for him, I said, “no, you can do it yourself; it is your project.” He started whining that he couldn't do it. I then told him, “I will never yell at you for trying something and making a mistake, however, I may get upset with you for whining and complaining!” He looked at me for a minute to see if I was joking and then put the project down without another word.
This amazing kid simply needs time to breath and the occasion to reject a proposal or suggestion. That alone could be the most powerful tool we have at DRC; allowing --- no --- actually giving kids the chance to refuse, anything (or everything), is giving them another opportunity, albeit negatively, to take control of their education. To witness those personal struggles while trusting that everything will naturally resolve is, quite possibly, the hardest thing we do.
I, however, have every confidence that with time (most probably months) and support, he will persevere and figure out exactly what he is passionate about. When he does, beware, because he will astound you with his understanding and compassion for others who are struggling to find their place in the world.
Third Thursday Info Session – December 17th, 12-2
If you know of anyone who may be interested in joining this amazing community of learners, please pass on this opportunity.
After School Program - Begins January 4th.
Check it out and sign up today!
You can continue to support DRC through AmazonSmile, iGive, our funding appeal, and the Blackbird DRC Dessert.
A SLU student is saving refundable bottles and cans from her house, for DRC. We also have an envelope at Bessette's on Rte 11 outside of the Village. Please save your refundables for us and we will return them for you. As the thirteen year old reminded us upon returning to the center with 0.95, “every cent counts!”
We will be on break from December 17th - January 4th. Maria will be in and out during the Holiday Break. If you would like to make an appointment, please get in touch through email, phone (244-3034), FB, text, etc...