(Yup, the title is a nod to the inspirational T.T.)
This is a seemingly valid question for an educational organization. What exactly does love have to do with learning? In a word - everything! Research, as well as anecdotal evidence shows that when caring, kindness, compassion, giving, receiving, respect, trust (as highlighted in last week’s blog), empathy, and appreciation are not only present, but actively modeled, they serve to tear open the sealed off and scabbed over internal place, in each student, where an innate desire to learn then has the opportunity to take up residence.
At DRC, we don’t need endless studies to tell us that providing an environment filled with affirmation and genuine affection, along with an endless supply of open-ended opportunities for exploration and discovery is required to instigate the natural curiosity needed to unearth deeply buried passion and aspirations. We witness this phenomenon in a myriad of small ways that bring along moments of both euphoria, as well as intense pain, which show up as points of excitement and crisis, in the midst of all the other happenings every single day, and take an enormous amount of energy to manage.
Even though we have a specific time set aside for each of the older students (12-19 yr olds) to meet with their mentor (me) every week as the formal place for them to share their vision of the future, brainstorm ideas for ways to explore their interests and passions, talk about the things that worry them, discuss ways to move forward when they are stuck, get help putting together a portfolio and transcript, and set goals, both incremental and life vision - we find that these individual sessions are actually an infinitesimal piece of the mentoring program.
In DRC’s multi-age, and open environment, students are surrounded by all those diverse discussions and activities that spontaneously crop up all day long, as exhibited below. At any given point during the day, there are usually between five-eight kids and at least one, if not two, adults standing around the kitchen island – making food, eating, listening to music, looking stuff up on their phones, and sharing stories. I have realized over the past couple of years that DRC actually replicates the practice of the family dinner, which has been documented as one of the most important factors in raising happy, well-adjusted children, who are able to relate to others in positive ways because they have learned by developing real relationships with their parents and siblings.
Yes, we are family. One that is authentic, dynamic, and constantly changing – breathing in and out with a life of its own.
The new ten-year-old student, who is totally surprised that I didn’t call him out for goofing off in the chill-space. The two new teen cousins who throw clay at the art table for hours on end and “mop” the floor as only two teenage boys can. The thirteen-year-old who spends most of his time in the basement shop and asks for $3 from the petty cash fund to go to the thrift store to purchase a couple of jackknifes so he can work on a yet to be defined project. The fifteen-year-old who tells me that she thinks she wants to become a baker so I contact two local bakeries to set up interviews. The same teen who returns from visiting a friend at SUNY Canton for lunch with a huge grin on her face exclaiming that she is definitely going to college, probably next year. The thirteen-year-old, who has not previously used DRC in a meaningful way, asks me to do his mentoring session in the music room to listen to him play the three songs that he has written at home and asks me to help him figure out how to record them. The genuinely talented teen who is trying to figure out exactly who she is and speaks of the permanent mask she wears. The eight-year-old who has discovered a passion for cooking and makes amazing sausage and gravy one day and mashed potatoes the next. The eighteen-year-old, who indulgently, and ever so patiently, takes on the role of Uncle C., as the others have labeled him, writes his name in Runes on his arm with pen and spends every free moment researching Viking History and super-heroes, and developing costumes and props for cos-play. The fourteen-year-old who was deathly afraid of reptiles, but held a lizard on his chest during a presentation and later proclaimed how proud he was of himself. The tween who is in the middle of intense family crisis and requires unlimited emotional support. The young child who draws amazing characters from cartoons and tells the stories of the world he has made up where they all live together with him. The two teens who work through hurtful comments and behaviors, discovered by one of them, in an emotionally charged confrontation that could have ended disastrously, but instead became a time that they were both proud of themselves. The teen who experiences moments of extreme anxiety and leaves the Center for a short-time to walk it off. The six-year-old who weaves his way through our space watching and listening intently, all the while bouncing on his toes and fidgeting with a toy in his hands and then heads to the music room to figure out how to play the keyboard and guitar at the same time. The fifteen-year-old, who sits in the chill space with headphones firmly planted over his ears, listening to music and watching random You-Tube videos, and one day presents two of those videos (each 20 minutes long - one motivational, the other about music theory) during a mentoring session, with a detailed explanation that proves without a doubt this kid is indeed going to be better than OK. The teen who hides his brilliance in his sketchbooks and is afraid to share his talent with anyone.
We have discovered that providing this space, this caring, supportive, respectful community, where all of that and more can happen, requires not only an abundance of time and energy, but an intuitive, natural skill-set that cannot necessarily be taught through an official or even traditional professional program. Loving and mentoring these kids requires listening to, and understanding, their stories - the traumas, big and small, all the experiences throughout their childhoods that have shaped who they are. In addition, we do all this without feeling sorry for them or allowing them to use those experiences as excuses for not moving forward in a positive direction.
This is mentoring in its rawest form. It is gritty and real. There are equal moments of heartbreak and elation. It is definitely not for the faint of heart or for anyone who expects that they can control any situation by simply making rules. This is all about love – pure and simple.
We are assessing the forecast for Tuesday. There is currently a winter weather watch posted. We may decide to reschedule. You can keep track of all the amazing items on the website. We will keep you updated, as decisions are made. Thank you!