The arrival of finals week was disappointing because finals are chaotic, but even more so because it meant my time at ACH was coming to an end. Knowing last Monday would be my final day at ACH, I showed up a few minutes early and planned to stay later than I had all semester. Instead of the regular homework routine, I arrived to find that many of the children had no homework to complete. I was content to spend the first hour of ACH chatting and laughing with the kids. Some of the little girls I had built the best relationships with this semester gathered around me at the cafeteria table and snacked on some of their favorite candies, describing what they did over their Easter break. While one of the children exchanged some of her favorite toys with me, playing out a complex storyline, another young girl told me about her close-knit extended family. For one of the first times in the last weeks of the academic semester, I could completely relax and share in the children’s joy. Above everything else, the students of ACH taught me about the simpler joys of life. Even after a difficult school day, or in the midst of struggles at home, the kids at ACH were quick to grin and enjoy little pleasures like coloring with crayons and playing a game of tag. The kids of ACH reminded me each and every day to appreciate the little things.
After a session of music class and some time outside, it was time to say goodbye and return to school to study. I waited for the counselors at ACH to filter down the stairways back to the cafeteria, stopping one of them in the hall to say goodbye and thank you for the wonderful semester. After a bittersweet hug goodbye, one of the counselors rushed into the cafeteria and announced to all of the students that it was my last day. Suddenly, the students who were hard-pressed to focus on projects or instructions had one focus – giving a proper goodbye.
Before I knew it, I was standing in the elementary school hall way with kids hanging onto be and shouting, with smiles and explosions of emotion. One young girl hugged me tight and looked up, asking in a quiet voice why I couldn’t stay there with them for the summer. In that moment, listening to her compassionate words, I saw the true value of all of those afternoons making crafts and helping with homework. For these kids, all of the adults at ACH were people who cared about them, a safe place to find support. On my last day, the students were showing me the love that they saw from their counselors in these simply after-school activities.
I will be forever thankful for the experience of working with ACH Clear Pathways. After working with children in many different contexts, I was still pleasantly surprised by the passion each child in ACH had for their after-school activities. The students and counselors of ACH were, hands down, one of the most welcoming and enthusiastic group I have had the pleasure of working with and I will remember them for the rest of my life.