If you already know all about UB and don't need a refresher, skip this paragraph or snooze your way through. Just in case you don't know, UB is a federally funded program that provides educational assistance to young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds or whose parents do not have college educations. Its goal is to help prepare high school students for college so they can get their degrees. One aspect of UB is summer courses during which they live on a college campus and take classes, some of which they get college credit for. And the best part for them is that it's free! Yep, that's what our tax dollars are up to.
Anyways, to get back to what I was saying before, today was my first day of classes with this year's batch of UB scholars, and, man, was it a good day!
I have two classes with seniors (class of '14) and one class with juniors (class of '15). Oddly enough, I have computer classes with them even though my degrees are in English and library science, but that's kinda beside the point.
Before I get to this great feeling of accomplishment, let me give you a little background. I worked with teenagers for nine years in the public school system, and this is my third summer teaching with Upward Bound. One of the things that really bugs me about a lot of the young people I've worked with is the apathy and satisfaction with mediocrity that a lot of them show. Last summer I challenged my UB scholars by giving them tough computer tasks to do with no instruction on how to do it. I told them to do some digging around on the Internet to find the instructions for their computer problems. I'd like to say that my students rose to the occasion and surpassed my expectations, learning to be independent problem solvers. Well that didn't happen.
So what did I take away from the experience?
These kids need to be motivated. The need inspiration. That's why our theme for this summer is motivation, inspiration, and activism. And that's what we talked about in class. I told them that there is a little spark of greatness in each of us, that we are all capable of doing great things. But in order to put a flame to the spark, we have to DO HARD THINGS. That's the name of the book I'll be reading excerpts from this summer--Do Hard Things by Brett and Alex Harris. They're a couple of fellows who created a website and wrote a book when they were themselves teenagers, challenging other young people to rebel against low expectations. They call it the rebelution: rebellion + revolution. Cool word, huh?
So we started our rebelution journey with a couple of simple questions:
"Why are you here?" And "What inspires you?
Why are you here?
Okay, so this wasn't some deep profound question, like, "What is the meaning of life?" No, I was just curious about why they were spending their summer taking classes with Upward Bound. You see, most of the classes they get don't earn them college credit. They don't get credit on their high school transcripts. Heck, the grades they get don't even count for much. So why on Earth do they drag their butts out to spend the summer studying when they could be lying next to the pool and drinking lemonade?
The number one reason? Friends. They're living bunk by bunk with people their own age, and through this experience, they're forming gorgeous friendships. And with lots of people! From lots of backgrounds! With people from towns they've never heard of!
And I thought, what a great way to learn social skills! Dump a bunch of kids together who've never met each other and let them learn about each other. It's what folks in the business world call "soft skills." Learning how to play well with others.
The second reason they come is to better prepare themselves for college. Few, if any, of these young scholars have parents or older siblings who have finished college. A lot of them don't even have parents who finished high school! And these guys want to be different. Their goal is to be first generation college graduates (something I would've been if my dad hadn't graduated the semester before I did, but that's a story for another day).
What inspires you?
This is the second question I asked and the one that elicited my favorite responses. The number one response was family. A couple of the kids said they come from large, not-so-wealthy families and that their folks are not well educated. They want to educate themselves so that they can help provide a better future for their families. Does that not just puddle your heart! I wanted to give those kids a hug for saying that.
One girl said that she was inspired by her sister and her grandma. She said her parents abandoned her and her sister when they were young, and her grandma raised them. Her parents told her and her sister they'd never amount to anything, so they set out to prove their parents wrong! Her sister recently graduated college and already has a job lined up in which she'll be helping other people. And my student plans to follow in her sister's footsteps.
Another girl said that her mother inspires her because she raised her by herself. I know from experience that it's hard enough raising a child with both parents involved. I can't imagine raising one on your own, and one who willingly goes to school during the summer to increase her college prospects, at that!
One young man talked about his uncle and all the opportunities he's had in life career-wise and financially. He wants to have those kinds of opportunities himself.
One girl's response threw me for a loop at first. She said she's inspired by negativity. Negativity? Whuuut? Well, she explained why. She said she goes online and finds negative comments people post--I hate so-and-so or I want to kill myself. All the bad things people pour online, hidden and anonymous. Then, she reposts them and gets all her followers to do the same until the whole system is inundated with the message, and in this way, she says, the original poster realizes he or she is not alone. Even people who are complete strangers reach out to show they care.
And I thought to myself, wow! I've already got a rebelutionary right here in front of me!
Of course, there were other students who didn't know how to respond. Maybe they'd never asked themselves before. What inspires me? I'm hoping that by the end of our six week course, they'll have reflected on the question and gotten to know themselves a little better.
So here's a shout out to my summer of rebelutionaries! Ignite the spark! Let the flame shine bright!