From Left- Ashely Brigham, Emily O’Loane, Cherranda Smith, Dr. Jan Riggsbee, Chanell Crawford, Taylor Cater, and Serena Dai
By: Taylor Cater
I have a watch with no numbers on it, just a plain black background with a dot indicating twelve o’clock. One of my students, an animated and evidently observant six-year-old, was convinced that the numbers were invisible and that only I could see them. Amused by his explanation for why a watch had no numbers, I kept his theory going by asking him if he had seen the numbers yet. On the last day, I asked him if he wanted to know the “secret” to the watch. Eager for an answer, he and other students gathered around, concentrating on the watch face while I explained that the watch didn’t actually have any numbers and that I only needed to know where the numbers were supposed to be in order to tell the time. The very anticlimactic truth was at best unsatisfactory for the students who had been eager to see the numbers for themselves…
It is through this and similarly unforgettable one-on-one encounters that I felt most comfortable building relationships with my students during my six weeks at Freedom School. I had cafeteria duty in the mornings of the first two weeks, a time I used to talk with the students in my class as they ate breakfast and waited for the morning activities to start. And it is these conversations that let me get to know my students without the behavior-altering influences of other children, a reading curriculum they may or may not be interested in, and the relative structure of the classroom environment. For the third and fourth weeks I was assigned hall duty where I would not be able to join the students for breakfast. I realized I really missed my morning conversational ritual with my students, and when I entered the cafeteria for the morning activities after hall duty, I knew that at least one of my students, the one perplexed by the numberless watch, missed the conversations too as he worriedly asked, “Where were you this morning?!” On car duty for the final two weeks, I was in a position to greet all my students, both in my class and in my afternoon activities, as their parents dropped them off and they walked into the school. And every day a few students faithfully joined me at my post on the bench to sit or talk before the real day began.
Freedom School, and its students especially, have affirmed my goal of being a doctor. Wanting to specialize in pediatrics, I know that I love interacting with children; but in the classroom setting, when I had only ten students (a class size not typical of the normal school year), I felt extremely limited in being able to get to know my students. Having had only one-on-one tutoring experiences prior to working at Freedom School, having a classroom of ten students, grades kindergarten through second, proved a giant leap and introduced a variety of challenges I never could have anticipated. I may not have been able to meet every challenge, but just the trying was an invaluable experience, and as our faculty advisor reminded us, “you’ve only been teaching for a few weeks” (comforting words when you reflect on how it took an hour to read the students a picture book that day).
July 25, 2012 | | Leave a Comment
By: Ashley Brigham
Healthy Lifestyles 2012 (Click here to watch our end of the summer movie project!)
I have always pictured myself as a teacher and the idea of spending my life in a classroom was more than appealing to me. I loved everything about school growing up so why not spend the rest of my career in the classroom? Although this program allowed me to see past some of my misconceptions about teaching and ultimately decide against that career path it helped me to find a passion I never quite knew I had.
During my second week as a Freedom School intern, I sat next to a student at breakfast eating a honey bun and chocolate milk. This simple moment caused me such concern with the state of our public school lunch system and I just couldn’t shake it. One of the other interns and I took this opportunity to teach a Healthy Lifestyles class during afternoon activities because for the first time I truly had a passion about something. I was lucky enough to grow up in a household that strongly valued healthy lifestyle choices such as nutritious eating and exercise, and it broke my heart to see children making incredibly poor food choices simply because they had never been taught how to make good decisions when it came to their health. We taught about food groups, portion sizes, sugar intake, and smoking, and although we may not have drastically changed the way these children made food choices, there were definitely a few students that got the message, and to us that was a start.
We knew however, that teaching kids about nutrition was not enough. The parents were the key and if we could provide them with the important information, we had a better chance of seeing some change. We decided to make a video about healthy lifestyles, and showing this video at the program Finale will always be the greatest moment of my summer. The parents laughed and enjoyed the video, but you also got the sense that we had sparked some thought, and hopefully some change in this wonderful community.
So although I may have revised my plan for the future, I found a passion and eight weeks ago I never would have said this, but I have finally learned that having a passion is so much more valuable than having a “five-year plan.”
By: Emily O’Loane
Twerking, janking, se’mo… Ever heard of any of these words before? If not, don’t worry, because I hadn’t either before coming to Bennettsville this summer. After spending a full seven weeks here though, these words have officially become a part of my vocabulary and I plan to use them accordingly, whenever the proper time arises. Before beginning this summer, I never would have guessed that I would experience so much culture shock a mere three hours away from Duke’s campus. Life in Bennettsville is very different from the community where I grew up. Bennettsville is a small town- particular emphasis on the small- in the middle of a very rural area of South Carolina. The closest movie theatre is fifty miles away, as is the bowling alley, skating rink, and mall. Besides the relative physical isolation of Bennettsville, the community here is also incredibly tight knit. Within the first week of being in town, members of my group and I were stopped on multiple occasions at the gym, in the grocery store, and on the street by locals asking us where we were visiting from. The community here is so connected that it immediately recognizes outsiders, which we obviously were when we first got to Bennettsville.
However, now, as my time in Bennettsville draws to a close, I feel as if I have become a part of this community where everyone seems to know everybody else in town. It’s the type of community that I have only read about in books or seen on television shows like Gilmore Girls. The community here, while tight knit, has also proven to be extremely welcoming. My service with the Children’s Defense Fund provided me with unbelievable insight into my own career goals and made me a stronger, more confident leader, but one of the main things I will take away from this experience is this taste of small-town life, where relationships are absolutely the most important aspect of daily life. It is something that I will take back with me to Duke and beyond. The relationships within the Bennettsville’s community are what make this place feel so special. It reminds me that wherever I go in life and whatever profession I go into, it is the relationships I make along the way that will be the most important aspect of my life.
By: Chanell Crawford
I began this summer knowing that, without a doubt, I wanted to become an elementary school teacher. I truly believed that nothing could be more rewarding, meaningful, and enjoyable. After spending the summer teaching to a class of ten children, I can say that my passion has been reinforced. This is not to say that my classroom experience was what I pictured it would be. It was much more trying and challenging than I could have possibly imagined, and more often than not, I felt as if I wasn’t quite getting through. My love of reading did not always translate in my lessons. My energy level and persistence often waned during the day. Sometimes, it was clear that my students would rather be outside playing or spending time at home with friends than discussing a book. However, my breakthrough moments, while few and far between, have solidified my love of teaching and working with children.
These moments came when a child shared something incredibly personal, because he or she needed advice or simply someone to listen. They came when students smiled, laughed, or made an insightful comment as we read. They came when a scholar mentored a younger student or thought so far outside the box during a group activity that I was baffled and stunned. They came when groups from my “Healthy Lifestyles” afternoon class shared plans for making concrete and healthy changes in their lives. Every morning, I could not help but smile as I listened to the voices of 170 kids singing “Something Inside So Strong.” When I had the chance to spend time with any child who loved learning in its purest form, my day was made. It is the vivid memories of these moments, not the challenges, that will stay with me forever. Participating in this program has given me a wonderful snapshot of the many rewards of becoming a classroom teacher and has shown me how powerful a connection teachers can forge with even the youngest students.
July 25, 2012 | | 1 Comment
By: Cherranda Smith
Serving in the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Program has definitely influenced my life at Duke University. Coming into this prestigious institution, I knew that hard work was required, however working past the exhaustion and mental strain proved too difficult at times in my freshman year. These moments lacked that last bit of motivation because there was no urgency present; there was always tomorrow to complete an assignment or next semester to achieve a goal. As a servant leader intern of ten students, I quickly grew out of this procrastination routine. There were many tasks to complete and goals to achieve over the summer, however my motivation stemmed from a new source- ten children who depended on me for an enriching experience everyday. Their need matched with my untapped potential raised my work ethic to new heights.
I plan to take this elevated work ethic back to Duke. Though I will not see my students everyday, I know they still depend on me to blaze a path for them to follow when they reach this point in life. These grade schoolers may even forget my name and how much fun we had over the summer, but I still know that my work at Duke University should reflect the time, energy, and positivity I pumped into them every day. “I have high expectations for you,” I often said to them when self-doubt began to set in. Now, I say the same to myself, “I have high expectations for you. You have the ability to do it, now show me.
By: Serena Dai
Coming from a predominantly Asian community, participating in DukeEngage in Bennettsville was a big culture shock. All of the students in my class were African American, and one of the first things they said to me was that I looked like the girl in the movie The Karate Kid, probably just because both of us are Asian. Throughout the program, I tried to ask my students questions to make them think about their community and help me understand their background. Discussions revealed that although we had our differences, we also had many similarities. Many students in my class were interested in attending Duke, and the girls asked me for my opinions on life and relationships. I showed my students some pictures of the places I have been to, and I made sure they saw my willingness to hear their opinions. I realized that being a teacher, or even a leader, is not about telling people what to do, but instead about developing relationships with people and gaining their respect. After I developed mutual respect between myself and my students, I never had to raise my voice in the classroom and I was comfortable being my slightly soft-spoken self.
This program also taught me to value the importance of having quality teachers in the education system. Many intelligent and promising students are weighed down by the negative influences in their lives, but it is the teachers’ jobs to see and expect the best in their students. When I made it clear to my students that I expected the best from them, even the most stubborn student started to respect and listen to me. These lessons can certainly carry into our daily lives, and this summer I truly learned a lot about myself and how I should interact with others.
The community of Bennettsville is also very welcoming and willing to help people out with any difficulties. As the weeks passed and I got to know my fellow teachers who were from the area, I appreciated the unique and amazing people working alongside me. I developed relationships with experienced teachers who had so much wisdom to share. There was a certain teacher, Ms. Rona, who was originally from Queens, and she is one of the brightest and warmest people I have ever met. She always wore bright colors and applied vivid makeup to her eyelids, and she was always an uplifting sight to see on slow Mondays. She could really think out of the box and teach creatively, and she taught me that no matter how simple something seems, there is always a way to spice it up and make it more interesting. By interacting with my students and my fellow teachers, I truly have learned invaluable lessons. I will certainly take what I have learned here at Bennettsville to become a better student, leader, and professional in my future at Duke and beyond.