My name is Julia Gagnon and my studies at American University include an interdisciplinary major of communications, law, economics, and government. My service learning is connected to my College Writing class, Decoding Social Justice, through which I am paired with Horton’s Kids. As a volunteer at this organization I help students, mainly in K-5th grade, with their homework. Before I started volunteering my expectations included placing myself outside of my comfort zone and connecting with kids in perhaps a small, yet meaningful way. On my first day of volunteering I was definitely far outside my comfort zone. Some of my uneasiness and hesitancy was attributed to the fact that I had never really spent much time in disadvantaged neighborhoods because I had the privilege of growing up in a small, affluent town. However, as I sat in the center, surrounded by young, energetic, and vibrant children, I realized that often I was more nervous to open myself up than they were. I sat quietly in the corner and observed for a while, my introverted nature making it difficult to even muster a “hello” to a nine year old. Sometimes my greetings were rejected and other times they were met with a far more enthusiastic response.
As I sat there a wave of nostalgia hit me as I realized I had forgotten how cool it was to be a kid. If I didn’t have the words to fill a silence they would fill it. I learned about their favorite type of food that their mom makes and how they swear stuffing a burrito with Doritos is the future of culinary art. I didn’t know if I would really know how to connect with them, but I was proven wrong when we decided that Taylor Swift was old news and that lions, without a doubt, were pretty cool. Each individual had such a distinct personality and I learned to sit back and just appreciate it. Often they didn’t need much help with their homework and most of the time knew more about math and science than I can probably ever hope to. However, to be able to be present if they did need help and to be able to fully invest my attention into whatever wonderfully outrageous thing they were about to say was such an amazing opportunity. Kids are brimming with potential and I think that is often lost in the midst of debates over education policy and reform. We, as a society, often think that we know what’s best for children, and in some cases we may. However, kids have something that many politicians, teachers, and adults in general have lost, the ability to be unapologetically themselves. If you stop and listen to the unfiltered wisdom kids have been trying to get you to hear, I guarantee you will gain a perspective you never knew existed.