Keeping it real with spider webs, mentors, November, Jena 6 and apples…

September 21, 2007

Someone will probably question what the above title has to do with anything. Believe it or not, they readily come together in a week at Gould.

Obviously, apples and teachers have always gone hand in hand. I seem to generally have at least one on my desk. I sometimes look at the apples as I procrastinate, keeping one (or a Tootsie Pop) as a reward for when the job is done. Even at 47, some of us have to still use those little techniques to overcome our obstacles!

But my procrastination has little to do with the ‘apples’ in the title. I will get back to them.

The week started with a great day on Sunday with the freshmen and a dozen or so upperclassmen that were helping as mentors. I have to admit that sometimes the whole ropes course ‘thing’ can start to feel a little cliché. That is, until you get there! Groups of eight freshmen and two mentors quickly began working together. It’s important to remember that less than two weeks ago, most of these kids didn’t know each other. Within the first ten minutes at our first station (the spider web), the group was working closely together, problem solving and having quite a few laughs. Watching the whole crew at lunch, you would have thought that they had been together for years.

At the other end of the spectrum, it was just as thrilling to have the opportunity to talk with some of the leading thinkers in adolescent development and education. I was fortunate to participate in conversations with Alan November and Donna San Antonia within days. We are tapping into these and other experts as we develop new ways to work with students and make a Gould education even more exciting. My students will be happy to know that I too sometimes struggle with the ideas that my teachers expose me to and that I also worry about buckling under the challenge that has been given us While I worry whether I will do a good job, I am also invigorated as a student.

However, the great learning opportunities come from the students themselves as often as the ‘experts’. The Jena 6 provided an unfortunate but very tangible context to discuss segregation and racism and to help our ninth grade section make more sense of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. I can’t take credit for the rich discussion. I don’t think that Jeffrey understood when he brought the Jena 6 up how it would fit into today’s discussion. His question made the class richer and more tangible for all of us today. It was pretty ‘real’.

…and just to make sure that I am ‘keeping it real’, I will be meeting half a dozen of our students who didn’t quite make all of their obligations this past week at 6:00 AM to do some chores around campus. When I asked where we could pitch in, one of the ideas offered was picking up all of the apples that have fallen from the crab apple trees near the McLaughlin Science Building. I am sure that some the tardy group wishes that I wasn’t keeping it quite so real or that apples didn’t have so much to do with education!

(I hope that you now understand the title!)

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