This post was written by Samantha Kent, a JA volunteer from Allstate Insurance Company.
I volunteered in Ms. Pierce’s 4th grade class as part of Allstate’s JA in a Day at Lewis School of Excellence in Chicago this month. I know running a school can be incredibly challenging, but what I saw above all else in my classroom and throughout the day was a group of children who were grateful for their school, who respected their teacher and the adults in that building, who knew what was expected of them, and tried their hardest to live up to those expectations.
In short, I was amazed.
I spend a week every summer at a camp for children with life threatening illnesses and chronic diseases. We get a lot of campers from inner city Maryland/DC and inner city Philadelphia. There is so much of their lives that I can’t relate to nor begin to understand, but every summer, our camp director helps by reminding us that it is a child’s job to push your buttons, to make you mad, and to annoy you, and it is our job, as adults (and educators as is the case with Lewis Elementary), to let them. They can’t grow and develop unless they push the boundaries. But what’s pivotal to their successful development is that structure and boundaries are created and enforced in return. If we can direct their “pushes,” there is hope that they will begin to forge the right path on their own.
The school and the class teacher I was paired with, in particular, exudes this sentiment. I was amazed at how well the teacher managed his students, how well he knew them and responded to their behavior. What amazed me even more was his ability to discipline the students and in the next breath build them up and redirect them. He treated them as human beings, as individuals with control over the choices that they make, providing boundaries to make those choices and giving them options, and challenging them to pick the best one.
I felt like I was watching the students grow and change right before my eyes.
I could go on gushing about my experience, but I might never stop so I will conclude with, probably, the most important takeaways I had from my volunteer experience. I grew up in Newtown, Connecticut and was very personally affected by what happened in my town in December 2012. I have not set foot in an elementary school since and was not prepared for how that would affect me walking through the halls of Lewis Elementary. But from the first teacher we met (a 6th grade teacher who was so incredibly funny, positive, and kind) to stepping foot in the classroom, I felt so safe, so grounded, and so welcomed.
My day ended with some incredible questions from a 4th grader named Jazzi (Jazzilyn). After asking the students to share with me what they had learned or what they enjoyed most about the day, she raised her hand and asked me questions that no adult has ever asked me! And I must share – because I believe they are a direct reflection of not only the schooling they are getting, but the environment Lewis Elementary’s staff have created for them as well. She asked me: “When you were preparing to find a job, how did you decide, how did you pick a company like Allstate?; “What kind of problems do you solve? Like, in your job, when you’re at work, what problems do you work on every day?”
I was dumbfounded by the intelligence behind these questions. They were beyond anything an adult or peer has ever asked me – and let me remind you, Jazzi is 10.
I hope Allstate and Lewis Elementary partner up again – I cannot wait to return. Until then, I know I’ll be talking about this for as long as people will let me! The Lewis staff are superheroes.