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(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)

“I can make a difference in my family.” That was the theme for week 2 at Freedom School. Our books ranged from topics including coping with a family member who had Alzheimer’s disease, understanding the food process, planning for a family, overcoming obstacles, having hope, and honoring family members. To say the least, week 2 was very emotionally draining, as many of the scholars in the classroom began opening up more each day about their personal lives and the nature of the relationships they have with their family members. On the first day, for example, I asked the scholars to think about the first words that came to mind when they heard the word “family.” One young boy shared, “Chico. He’s my dog. He’s the only one who is ever home and the only one who ever listens to me because my mom is always working and my brother is never home.” Another boy then said, “Temporary. My uncle left one day and never came back and my older brother was shot in the head two years ago. So yeah, temporary. Because nobody really stays around.” I inevitably had a very difficult time hearing and processing these statements because they are so different from my understanding of the word “family” and what it means to me. However, despite the challenges that came with having conversations of this nature, I was very glad that my scholars felt comfortable enough to share the information they did because they quickly realized that many people had similarities and shared experiences within our rather intimate group of nine. Additionally, it was very inspiring and exciting to hear the scholars talk about how they will all commit to making a difference in their families in one way or another… Two of my favorite responses were, “I’m going to call my grandma more because she is very sick and I think she likes when I check on her.” and “I am going to try and help my mom out more because she’s like superwoman and does everything and I know she’s tired a lot.”

Although week 2 was definitely mentally and emotionally demanding, I have really started to grow a deeper appreciation for my scholars, coworkers, site coordinator, and regional director at Sedgefield. My scholars have truly taught me a great deal about the importance of perseverance and resilience in the face of plight. They have also taught me about the importance of not stressing over simple things and trying to make the best of whatever situation I may find myself in. On another hand, my coworkers, site coordinator, and regional director have all showed me what it means to have a positive support group and why it is incredibly important. Relatedly, one of the activities we did during a reading lesson in my classroom this past week included taking a bundle of sticks and trying to break them. Everyone tried but no one was able to break the bundle. We each then had one stick and tried to break it. Everyone was successful at breaking their single stick. The intern, volunteer, site coordinator, and regional director team at Sedgefield Elementary is just like that bundle of sticks – a unit that cannot be broken even when it is tested and tried with a considerable amount of opposing force and effort. I included this analogy to ultimately say that I have really felt at home and supported by our team at Sedgefield – they are the sticks that form my bundle, and I honestly would not be able to get through the tough conversations I’ve had to facilitate with my scholars if it weren’t for their listening ears and helpful words of encouragement. With the love and support I have received from the people I have the privilege of working with, I am confident that I will be able to conquer the remaining 4 weeks of Freedom School and make it an enjoyable experience for myself and, most importantly, my scholars.