These two weeks of teaching Scratch programming in St. John have seemed so short in the span of my life, despite being so rich. But it's amazing to know that what I've done for some kids at the J.E.S.S. school there will last longer. I got to open up a new realm of learning for some 4th, 7th, and 8th graders, and it was incredibly rewarding. Even though not all of them took to computers and programming naturally, those who were interested got the resources to explore this area more and consider a future in it. In a school where not all the teachers are accounted for and it often takes 15 minutes to find the keys to a classroom, this kind of opportunity to pursue a new interest was probably rare. I think, from my own experience, that mentorship and exploration in a new area of learning is extremely valuable, especially in this kind of situation. Some of the kids I taught really had amazing talent for programming that they had never gotten to explore before. The fact that I was able to help them tap that and open new doors was incredible, and made me appreciate the kinds of opportunities that I have had to pursue my own interests throughout my life.
Before I went on this trip, I heard from others how rewarding it was to get to know the kids, but I didn't really believe that my own experience would go beyond the role of teacher. I looked forward to teaching and sharing my enthusiasm for computer science, but I didn't expect to make connections with them at a more personal level. During the second week of teaching, however, what I did started to go beyond just guiding them through writing code in Scratch. Whether all the kids liked programming or not, I could tell they were glad to see me every day. They greeted all of us with smiles and raucous conversation, and were curious to know-- where do you live? do you all go to school together? why do you wear that scarf around your head? if your hair is cut short, are you a boy? do you have any siblings? can you do the splits? I exchanged that and more with the 8th grader, four 4th graders, and four 7th graders that I taught. I learned that not all of them led happy lives. Many of them live in split-up households and don't get much attention, which made the attention we gave them that much more significant in their lives. The fact that they came to school every day with enthusiasm that matched and often exceeded ours was incredible. This gave me motivation to bring all I had to teaching them even when I was tired or frustrated, which I did find difficult. Yet they still found joy like we did, in going to the beach with friends, going shopping, playing sports. They want and need the same things I want and need, and I got to give them affirmation and knowledge that they can achieve these things too.
This experience of sharing my knowledge with these kids changed me in ways that I still don't fully understand. Only at the end of the trip did I really begin to realize the kind of impact I had, as some of the kids I worked with eagerly took selfies with me and cried to see me go on the last day. The sadness of leaving hit me only as we left the 4th grade on Friday afternoon, knowing that as easily as I had slipped into these kids' lives, I was gone. Though I likely won't return to St. John for May Program next year, this experience of teaching the kids there will stay with me for a long time, and it has made me appreciate how much we really can help other people through knowledge as well as the kind of simple kindness that makes us human.