The Familiar, The Foreign, and Who Tells The Story

As we somehow round out the fourth week of the spring semester, my next to last one here at Duquesne, I reflect on my first two days as an intern with ACH Pathways. Going into this experience, it is all too easy to see tutoring elementary school children as straightforward teaching experience. As soon as I stepped into a cafeteria full of children, laughing and singing along to their own made up songs, I was reminded of the wealth of knowledge that comes with working with children.

            I spent most of my first afternoon in the ACH program helping the kids make paper snowflakes to produce scraps for a larger collage project they’ll be working on later this semester in the style of Romare Bearden, an artist native to Pittsburgh. For the first hour I was there, I interacted with a spunky seven year old who was stubbornly refusing to participate in the art project. She spent the entire hour asking me questions before agreeing to participate in the snowflake project. When I asked her if she asked this many questions in class she said “No, I already know everything about my class, but I don’t know anything about you yet.” At this moment, I realized that the first day was about so much more than sitting in a cafeteria cutting out snowflakes.

            In combination with the last three years of a variety of English classes, each teaching about the construction and importance of narrative in their own unique way, I was struck by the nature of narrative and how it functions in this simple environment. These kids were hanging all over the leaders of the ACH program, but still hesitant to even ask the new interns’ their names. It was great getting to learn about how the adult leaders in this program met the kids where they were at, whether that was in a state where they wanted to do anything but cooperate or in a creative groove. The leaders made it clear that while part of the job is keeping the kids focused, they experience enough adults yelling at them throughout the day and deserve a space to be a little more free. I got to see how the idea of a story works in this environment as the kids told me all about their favorite video games, about how their parents wouldn’t get them a puppy, or about how they struggle with spelling homework but love drawing. In an environment where they have to listen to adults and complete their daily homework, the ACH program and its creative projects gives these kids an opportunity to control who they share their story with and how it’s told.

            So far, I have gotten to know a few of the kids and learned about the many projects the kids of ACH Pathways are pursuing this semester. While some days, that might look like giving the same paper snowflake tutorial fifteen times, I am so excited to hear more of these kids’ stories as the semester progresses.

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