Hometown: Halifax, VA
Minor: Creative Writing
Why did you apply for this particular internship? I am interested in education, but I had no idea what it was like to actually teach, and I thought this would be a good way to decide whether or not I was cut out for teaching. However, I didn't want to have just an average teaching experience, and I knew working with the kids at Anna's Arts would be anything but average, since they serve a population that suffers failing schools, unstable home life, and dangerous neighborhoods that are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
How did your work apply to your studies at W&L? I am about to begin education classes in order to achieve teacher's certification through W&L. This internship will definitely affect how I see the issues that arise in my education classes. My experience trying to handle a classroom of unruly twelve-year-olds will also undoubtedly be valuable in the practicum components of W&L education courses.
What was the most unexpected aspect of your Shepherd Alliance experience? Being expected to teach four classes by myself every day of camp.Favorite Class: Shenandoah Internship in Literary Editing with Professor Smith
Favorite Lexington Landmark: Sweet Things!
Why did you choose W&L? It's small, with a tight-knit school community that sets high expectations for its students, and I knew the professors would push me to do my very best. The beautiful campus helped, too.
"If you can teach these kids, you can teach any kid."
Throughout the summer, this was the never-ceasing mantra of one of the Anna's Arts for Kids education directors. I didn't tire of hearing her say it because it affirmed for me that getting through to our students was indeed a difficult task, one that would require making a lot of mistakes first before getting it right. Working with the kids from Anna's Arts was the most difficult thing I have ever done, but it was also the most rewarding.
I thought I knew what I was getting into when I found out I was going to be working with Anna's Arts for Kids, but I was wrong. Instead of being an assistant to a more experienced teacher as I had expected, I ended up being one of the teachers at the summer program. In addition to that unanticipated detail, I also soon discovered that we would be partnering with an organization called Lighthouse for the Blind and that we would be working with visually impaired children as well as sighted children.
Every day began with a walk to work through the stifling humidity of New Orleans to Mercy Hall on the Loyola campus. Here I would wait for the children and other interns to congregate on the steps outside, occasionally sneaking into the air-conditioned building to get some relief from the heat. After everyone had arrived, we walked the older kids to Loyola, while the younger ones went their separate way to the Tulane campus. Most of the morning would be spent attempting to get forty to fifty kids into quiet lines as we walked through one of Loyola's academic buildings to class. This was not usually a successful endeavor, no matter how many serious conversations we had with the kids about the importance of being quiet in an academic building.
I never knew what a child might say or do each day. For instance, oftentimes when we travelled through the halls together, one of the most difficult kids in Group 7 (my group) would take thumbtacks off the bulletin boards and run up to me to show me his "shanks." Teaching was a whirlwind of trying to stay on schedule, attempting to keep a room of easily distracted children engaged, and dealing with every behavioral problem imaginable. To add to the confusion, many kids would come for one day of camp and never come back, or might not start coming until two weeks into the program. If it became difficult for me to keep track of their schedules, I imagined that it must be difficult for the children themselves, who never knew where they would be from one day to the next.
Afternoons consisted of helping visual and performing arts teachers manage their classes, as well as the occasional, horrifying trek across campus to the gym. There is nothing like knowing that a group of nearly unmanageable children is in your care and that you are responsible for keeping them from running into the street. In many ways, afternoons of art and theater were exciting because it was a chance to see how even the worst behaved children could be highly imaginative and creative when given the chance.
I didn't realize what an immense challenge it would be to work with kids who have so much stacked against them. Most come from failing schools. Some have parents in jail for drug-related charges. Many have deceased or absent parents and live with other relatives. In addition to the normal problems of inner-city kids, they all still suffer from the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina--physical damage to their neighborhoods and city as well as emotional trauma from being completely uprooted and having to move elsewhere.
Anna's Arts attempts to balance out some of the disadvantages that these children are facing, but it's not an easy task, and sometimes it can feel like a losing battle.
Every day with them was truly an adventure. Every day I understood a little bit more about where they came from and why they had so much trouble behaving like "normal" children, why they had difficult expressing themselves, and why they had such low expectations for themselves. Sometimes I felt discouraged when I thought about how much they would have to overcome in order to succeed, but I knew to stop holding out hope that they would succeed would be to fail them.
I found working with visually impaired children to be especially rewarding, and I am now considering training to be a teacher for the visually impaired after I leave W&L. The most amazing thing about working with visually impaired children is to see how successful they are despite society's expectations of them. Visually impaired kids are just that--they have impaired vision. But they are in no way incapable of doing anything that sighted children are able to do. The same goes for all the kids I worked with this summer. Society expects them to fail because of where they are from, and doesn't see them as being capable of succeeding in life because they are at such a disadvantage. The truth is that every one of them is perfectly capable. Although the harsh reality of their lives may make their situations seem hopeless, I never felt that what Anna's Arts did was in vain. Every little bit of help and attention that the kids from Anna's Arts received brought them one step closer to having real self-esteem, one step closer to being able to articulate their own dreams. Even if we can't completely transform their lives in a few weeks of camp, we can at least be one more positive influence and can give them a chance to be heard, which is often what they need the most.