I used to think to myself that graduating from high school was not an accomplishment or milestone. I didn’t think it was anything to really celebrate because it was expected of me. I thought it was easy for everyone and that everyone knew it was the bare minimum to get a decent job, but working here at Larkin Street has shown me just how ignorant that mindset of mine was.
I have been working for 5 weeks now as a GED tutor. I really wanted to do this from the beginning because I used to tutor in high school, and I didn’t think it would any different. However, I found myself sadly mistaken because everyone was at a slightly different level and had other things to worry about on top of getting their high school diploma. This wasn’t like my own experience where I went to school from 8 to 4 and come home to warm meals and a bed. They are homeless. Some have kids. Some don’t have shelter of any kind. Others are recently out of jail. It was uncomfortable to me to learn about their circumstances, and I almost didn’t want to know what their lives were like because I thought my only role was to teach and that becoming aware of their circumstances would impede me from being a good tutor. But the instructors helped me understand that we have to know their reality in order to support them fully by meeting them where they are at and never neglecting their emotions in class because the classroom is a safe space for some people. They all have their own dreams, aspirations, and struggles, and I’m inspired to see just how driven they are even in this uphill battle. Education is powerful and valuable at every level of completion, and it should not be taken for granted. I’ve recognized the privilege of going to a school with resources, and I feel grateful to have had teachers who supported me because not everyone has the same experience, especially when considering other factors.
I may have only been here for 8 weeks, but I hope to take what I’ve learned about meaningful interactions in the classroom and about the complexities of homelessness beyond this summer and back to Duke and Durham. We often think deeply about the systems at play around the world, but it seems like many students, including myself, don’t know much about the immediate community we live in. Durham has a high number of homeless and huge disparities among the neighborhoods, as seen in the resources available to schools around the area. It is important to have these conversations so we know just how our presence at Duke affects those communities in the long run and how we can use our privilege to actually support their growth.