Working at Plantersville Summer Academy has been such a rewarding, yet extremely challenging, experience. But that’s the thing about rewarding experiences, they don’t happen unless there’s some challenges and trials that force you to work harder and rethink what you’re doing. During my time at PSA, I’ve been working as the IAP (Individualized Attention Program) Coordinator. Basically, I take kids who appear to be struggling academically and work with them a few times a week, one-on-one. This opportunity has allowed me to get to know over 30 students on a more personal level than I would if I were in a larger classroom. I get to see how these students think and work out math problems in their mind, I get to see them smile when they get the answer right, I get to see their confidence build as they read without skipping a word, but that also means that I get to see them when they’re frustrated, when they’re disheartened, and when they just don’t feel like they’re smart enough.
I’ve tried to make, and meet, some goals at PSA over the summer. I’ve made small goals, like teaching one of my kindergarteners that the number 16 exists and making sure one of my 5th graders is a master at fractions. But I’ve also made some lofty ones, like encouraging my older students to look forward to attending college and seeing improvement in most, if not all, of my students. But as I near the end of my summer, and as my kindergartener continues to forget the number 16, I’ve quickly realized, and reluctantly accepted, that it’s extremely difficult to make and see tangible change during a short, 6-week long summer camp. But that doesn’t take away from the smile on my student’s face when she spelled her name correctly for the first time, or when another student got all of her reading questions correct and hastily did a little dance.
This summer has been extremely difficult and frustrating at times. When I’m teaching a student and they just don’t understand the concept, it’s easy to resort to frustration, and I’ve wrongly done that at times. But as I continue in my internship, I’ve realized that when I face those challenges, I need to rethink what I’m doing and look at what I’m teaching from a new perspective. Although it’s easier to resort to frustration, I’m making my own personal progress by learning to rethink my methods thanks to the students that I have the privilege of teaching.
I’m lucky because this is a lesson that can apply to my broader life. When I’m feeling frustrated, or depressed, or not smart enough, it’s time to get a fresh perspective and rethink what I’m doing to find a rewarding experience. My students can’t experience the joy of getting the answers right and feeling accomplished if they don’t also experience the frustration of not understanding a concept and feeling disheartened. I can’t have rewarding experiences if I don’t face challenges that I must overcome. But that’s life; you can’t have highs without lows. You have to take the good along with the bad.
The idea that good and bad are intertwined has been poignant throughout our time in Georgetown. As we work long hours in our various internships, we’ve realized the thanklessness of non-profit work and understood the (near) impossibility of tangible change, while still accomplishing personal growth and making small, positive contributions. As we live in Georgetown and learn about the rich history and culture of coastal South Carolina, we begin to understand the racism that still pervades this town. As we stood in line to attend Rev. Pinckney’s funeral in Charleston, we mourned the tragic loss of 9 good people, while simultaneously celebrating the realization of marriage equality throughout the U.S. All the good seems to come along with some bad.
And with only 2 weeks left at PSA, I’m hoping for lots of good with my students and a minimal amount of bad.