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826CHI: My Experience as Secret Agent Butterfly

Working with students at 826CHI has certainly been one of the highlights of my semester and college career. I first visited the center towards the end of October, and by the end of my first day, I was only disappointed for not volunteering sooner. The first student I worked with, D, was an incredibly sweet seventh grader who resembled a younger cousin of mine. He was quite shy at the beginning, just as I usually am; however, after asking D some questions about his school and family, we found that we had many things in common. I learned that D had been attending After-School Tutoring at 826CHI since the fourth grade and that he was Mexican-Ecuadorian. I also learned that his favorite subject is Math and that he wants to attend Whitney Young High School. It was refreshing to witness D’s strong dedication towards his schoolwork and his compassionate demeanor. The following week, I visited the center once again and was pleased to see D entering the space. When G asked who D would like to work with, I was thrilled when he pointed at me. I worked with D a few more times after that visit, along with other students as well. Each of them have greatly inspired me by their brilliance and creativity.

Moreover, I was incredibly inspired by the staff and volunteer team at 826CHI. Along with participating in After-School Tutoring, I also participated in one field trip. The students attending this field trip were third and fourth graders who were involved with an organization dedicated to building young Black leaders. The 826CHI staff members who led the field trip were extremely passionate towards making this a memorable experience for the children. They informed students that they were specifically chosen to help one of the writers at the publishing house edit a story she wrote. However, when it came time for the story-teller, J, to reveal her story, she regretfully admitted that she did not write one. The students, then, were asked if they could please help J write a story before Avril Moody, the “publisher” who no one has ever seen, became aware of the situation. They agreed, and thus began the creative writing process.  It was wonderful to witness the students’ imaginations be valued so deeply. Not only did I gain experience working with young students, but I also learned that there are many good-hearted, wonderful people who are dedicated to helping students become better writers. The staff and volunteers at 826Chi inspire me to be a better educator and the students have shown me the wide potential that lays within them.

To conclude, I am so grateful to have pariticapted in such a wonderful organzation. The enthusiasm, positivity, and dedication of 826CHI is like no other program I’ve seen before. In addition, I greatly respect the values and ideals of 826CHI as they strive towards amplifying the voices of Chicago youth. Oftentimes in education, there is a high importance placed on analytical, persuasive, and argumentative writing instead of creative writing. Although those are important writing skills to acquire for success in higher education, we must not forget the value in allowing students to be creative. Creativity is what led to the novels we read in class being published. Therefore, instead of simply analyzing famous works, we should be inspiring our students to be authors themselves. This idea goes hand in hand with the lessons we have learned from our class readings, such as Inside Out and Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. Both sources identified methods towards instilling creativity in the classroom, some of which include: valorizing the action of doodling, creating alternatives to a book report, having students write for a larger audience, and many more. I will be sure to carry these methods, along with the valuable lessons I have learned from 826CHI, with me throughout my professional teaching career.

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My Time as a Secret Agent

In my time volunteering at 826Chi, I gained a lot of experience with an array of kids in different age groups and with different activities. It was very interesting to be able to watch how different groups react to the same field trip, and how creative students can really be. In my time, I experience 3rd-5th graders for fun storytelling activity, and then high schoolers for a field trip revolving around Chicago. The very first experience I had was with a group of High School students who were in to do a field trip called Chi-Town Stand Up. From a CPS school, the students knew what it was like living in the city, and experienced everything from the Loop area, to their own smaller neighborhood. After watching an arrangement of different videos, including a music video by Chance The Rapper, the students analyzed and spoke in groups about what they think about their city. The Chance video called “Angels” featured him riding around the Loop on top of a CTA train. The students thought it was a cool video, but ultimately noticed that Chance’s song about Chicago only featured the tourist spots, and not the neighborhoods, or a huge chunk of the people who make up this city. They noticed that often in music videos, or media, the neighborhoods they live in aren’t front in center, and they thought it was because of how the public perceives smaller neighborhoods in certain parts of the city. The students were very open about how people, as well as the president, give their neighborhood a bad name. People often think they need to be afraid of certain neighborhoods, and they were tired of people thinking that about a place they love and grew up in. Their passion came through very strongly, especially in the various activities they were asked to do. Through poem, drawing a map of their favorite spots where they live, and writing a story, the students showed immense talent with words and passion for their home city. It not only gave the students a better idea of their thoughts on their city, but it also opening my eyes to living in different parts of the city, and how different people experience it differently than I do.

The other field trips I went on differed majorly, most likely due to the ages. The other two experiences I had were with groups of 3rd-5th graders who were extremely excited about visiting a new place and fulfilling a task given by Agent Moody. The young kids showed up, were asked to pretend to be adults, because Agent Moody does not like kids, and then were given a task to complete an entire story by a certain time. They were so excited, and their creativity shown through throughout the entire activity. The students were taught about protagonists and antagonists, and were asked to make up plot, characters, and a multitude of things to make a very wacky, and entertaining story. By the end, they each needed to create their own ending, color in their picture, and make an “About the Author” acting as their adult selves. The young kids loved this whole experience, and the amount of creativity they showed while creating characters and writing the story was eye-opening and so fun to watch. I was expecting to be given a hard time with getting through the story, but they were so excited and thought of things no adult would be able to muster up. They were truly so creative, and fun-loving. The younger kids showed me such a fun experience of being looked-up to and being a role-model.

Overall, doing field trips like these really opened up my eyes to my future as an educator, and it showed me how different activities would work for certain students, and not with others Often times, the students were open with what they thought was stupid or not useful, and also very vocal about what they enjoyed and their own creativity. I think as a teacher, it shows me that things can be worth a try, but often times not everyone will connect with every assignment or activity. In our own 486 class, we worked a lot with getting background information before diving into a book, finding different ways to influence creativity, and how t make students want to write I think 826CHI did an amazing job of giving opportunity for every type of student to participate and get their voices heard in a way that makes sense to them. I hope to take experiences from both places and inviting them into my own classroom one day.

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Secret Agent, Sgt. Bubblefish

For most of my field work at 826CHI, I volunteered with students in 4th and 6th grade at storytelling field trips. I was also lucky enough to attend a 12th grade memoir-writing field trip. For each grade-level, the field trip activities were different. My first field trip was on October 3rd with a group of 27 6th graders from a local elementary school. This particular field trip was a day dedicated to small-group story making. Students sat together and participated in a lesson on the basics of stories. Everything from plot to protagonists were explained. Next, the children mutually created the protagonist, antagonist, and setting of their story. Lastly, students worked in small groups to create their own stories using the details they had come up with as a class. As a volunteer, my duty was to facilitate the sharing of ideas and to type them.

If paradise were created by children, the roads would probably be paved with hardened caramel, and the homes built of Hot Cheetos. The hero of this cavity-inducing utopia would most likely be made out of candy as well, and in one case, every time he walks you hear the sound of, “slapping Jello”. Before volunteering at 826CHI, I had no idea how obsessed children were with sweets. Nonetheless, I was impressed by the creative little minds that managed to convolute detailed, complex, and hilarious stories centered around their favorite treats.

The next two groups of students that I worked with were 4th graders. Strawberry, the leader of field trips at 826CHI, explained that this field trip would involve an imagination that the 6th graders were, “too cool” for. At this field trip, the fourth graders were made to believe that they were at Admiral Moody’s publishing house. Admiral Moody hadn’t published a book in nearly 20 years! The author that Moody relied on was supposed to submit her book by a 10am, except there’s a problem– she doesn’t have the book ready. She calls on the help of the fourth graders to help her create a completely original story.

What I took from these three field trips with the younger students, was how incredibly passionate children become about writing when you allow them to express the most original parts of themselves. None of these stories could resemble anything already in existence as per the field trip rules. I feel like this rule gave them the freedom to step out of the box and dig deep into their most creative thoughts. Not only that, but by holding young writers accountable for producing original content, the importance of the writer’s thoughts is emphasized in effect. The writers left the field trips with a look of accomplishment on their faces. Many of the students I spoke with were gleaming with confidence for having taken part in creating a story they all liked. Additionally, I thought it was very special to see how interested in each other’s ideas they become when they’re working together in a space that’s respectful to everyone’s input. 826CHI modeled what a safe space can do for fostering a positive writer’s community. As we have read in Inside out and Teaching for Joy and Justice, creating a writer’s community in the classroom is important because writing is a very collaborative medium.

The last group of students that I worked with were in 12th grade. Their field trip was titled, “I remember…” and it was an extended memoir-writing exercise. This field trip was very different form the others in that the stories that this group of students were working on were drawn from their very own experiences. The field trip began with the students creating a playlist of songs they thought of as the soundtracks to their lives. They then did a series of exercises that got them thinking of moments and relationships in their lives as grounds for storytelling. Finally, the students chose a memory of their own to expand on. As a volunteer, my task was simply to encourage writing, sharing, and to facilitate the expression of their ideas by asking questions.

One of the activities that Strawberry had the students do, was to write 5 separate and anonymous, “I remember” statements on sticky notes. The students then stuck the notes all around the class. Afterwards, they walked around and took 5 sticky notes that were not theirs. Once they had them, they used the notes to write a poem. This reminded me a lot of the found poetry we did for our Unit 3 portfolio. I think this was really beneficial to the students because it eased them into thinking poetically about moments and memories. Doing this might have helped them to think poetically about their own experiences. It also granted each student’s experience acknowledgment and importance and contributed to the safe writer’s space.

Overall, what all of these field trips had in common was the publishing aspect. Students create work with the knowledge that it will be published for a wider audience. In the case of the younger age groups, their stories were published in books they could show their friends and families. For the seniors, their drafts would later be sent back to 826CHI to be published in a memoir special. This coincides with the idea we have seen in many of our class texts about the importance of knowing about and writing for an audience. By publishing their work, writers are encouraged to create works that others can connect to. Furthermore, they are eager to create works that others want to read and that represents their creativity to the fullest.

I began my field work at 826CHI nervous that I was going to suck as a secret agent. I had this weird idea that I would have to be all-knowing on the subject of creativity and good stories. I ended my experience understanding that my duties were less about me having to uphold a false sense of all-knowingness, and more about creating a space where students could bring their own wisdom and intelligence to the table. Students can only be as passionate, collaborative, and creative as their environment allows them to be.

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826 Chi Reflection

My volunteer work at 826 Chi consisted of attending various field trips. I had the opportunity to work with students ranging from grades 6 through 10. The field trips I participated in included memoir writing with tenth graders, storytelling and bookmaking with sixth graders, and a STEM field trip consisting of a science experiment and writing with sixth graders. Perhaps the most memorable field trip I was a part of was titled Chi Town Stand Up. This volunteer experience took place at 826 Chi, on November 20, 2018. The field trip asked students to explore the city’s art, culture, and history so they could write their own memoir about their what their city means to them. The field trip consisted of ten high school students. Because it was the week of Thanksgiving break, half of the class had been absent. Although it would have been nice to have the rest of the students present, I really enjoyed the smaller class size because it allowed for more individualized attention and discussion. I was paired with an intern at 826 Chi with a table of five students and a man named Jack (not his real name), who I believe was a teaching assistant or co teacher, I’m not too sure but he seemed to have a real connection with the kids and really contributed to our fruitful discussion. The students all had unique personalities and had a lot to say about Chicago. The topics ranged from their favorite food spots, to where they grew up, went to school, and the places that meant the most to them and why.

This particular experience really stood out to me because I was surprised at just how honest and real the students got with us. I know that it can be difficult to share personal experiences or even one’s opinions in high school, (I still get shy to share in my own classes sometimes) and I appreciated that they were more than willing to share their writings and thoughts with us. Before the students arrived, one of the volunteers had told us that she looked up the school the kids were visiting from, and that it was an alternative high school. We all looked at each other nervously and discussed the possibility of behavioral issues and having that get in the way of the learning experience we intended to provide. Perhaps this is why this field trip was the most memorable. I learned that I was extremely wrong for assuming that the students were going to be problematic because of the school or neighborhood they came from. The students were eager to speak, yet respectful of each other and their own opinions. They joked around with each other and us, the volunteers, while also focusing on the task at hand. I was pleasantly surprised, yet ashamed of my initial assumptions. This experience turned out to be the best one because I got to talk to some great kids about the city we all live in, and the experience served as another reminder of why I am pursuing this career.

I was only able to participate in the field trips for 826 Chi due to schedule limitations, so I did not get a chance to tutor or experience any of the other services they offer. I do plan to volunteer after the class is over, however, because I feel their organization is so important. The field trips were incredibly inventive and fostered such a fun, yet educational environment, similar to the one I hope to provide in my future classroom.  I will take some of the activities from these trips and incorporate them into my own classroom. The Chi Town Stand Up field trip, for example, had the students walk around the room and look at pictures of various Chicago landmarks, neighborhoods, and streets, that were scattered around. The students then had to pick the one that meant something to them or they had a connection or memory with, then stand next to it and talk to the people around them about it, and then begin to write more about it. The theme and activities of this trip were all so creative and useful, but this particular exercise stood out to me because it specifically focused on Chicago. Activities like this one really resonate with students because they deal with something that is familiar to them, something that they are passionate about, and have a lot to say about. And I feel like that is so important. A lot of what we’ve covered in class this semester focuses on giving students a platform for which to write authentically and fearlessly. These type of activities allow students to feel like their writing matters because they are talking about something that matters to them.

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826 Reflection

Volunteering at 826 Chicago in Thursday’s have been very eye opening. The place is located on Michigan Ave., and the tutoring center is behind a store front which sells secret agent items for young children or young adults. Along the wall are books either written by the students or books that the store recommends for young writers. Once you say you are there to volunteer the front desk tells you that you can go back and that you are free to sign in and then take a seat. The seating arrangement is consisted of five lunch tables with four chairs on both sides. Tutors are paired with students who they either know from before or who the student wants to work with. Age and grade levels range throughout but I have been working with 6th and 7th graders for the most part of my volunteering.

I did not want to teach children because I thought they would be too difficult to have in a classroom but that is far from the truth. I think it’s mostly because I have younger siblings that I look after so it makes it easy to talk to children. Also, it’s easy to trick them into learning. What I mean by that is once the children finish their writing assignment and their homework, they are required to do a certain amount of reading but many kids don’t want to do it. So, I usually ask them what their favorite book is or what their least favorite book is and I have them reads it to me giving them their reading time. Another thing that I do, especially when a student needs to study, I have them take breaks in between and then we can continue studying. I have a student named Frank* who needed help studying his multiplication tables for an upcoming test and when his focus was not on studying, I kept giving him his problems and counted how long it took him to answer it. I then shared my concern that he was not ready because one question took him 35 seconds to answer. He then put away what he was playing with, post it notes, and gave me his full attention. The next week I asked him how his text went and he said he got one wrong but he was one of the best ones in the class.

I noticed that a lot of the other volunteers from UIC also love to work with the students even if they were weary about it in the beginning. I also notice that everyone who works at the center knows the students and knows the parents very well. They will have long conversations with the parents while the students pack up and get ready to leave but they also listen to the students about their day and ask for a follow up on something that might have been previously said. What struck me as confusing is the way they gather the rooms attention. It is done by howling and everyone mimicking that howl. It seemed odd to me but now it is natural however I do not think I’m comfortable enough with doing that to any of my future students. Maybe one day I’ll try it out. Another thing that is helpful when coming into the center is the coordinator sends out a mass email to the volunteers about what will be happening at the center at that week. This is helpful because not all volunteers will be coming everyday to help out the students but it is also a refresher for us in remembering what we need to focus on when we are tutoring.

I learned that doing something which I deemed tiresome even before I stepped into it was ignorant on my part. Just because I’ve had bad experiences before does not mean I should take all experiences and lump them together. I’ve also learned that it’s important to listen to the student when they are not comfortable in a certain situation but unable to speak. There was a tutor who has a degree in English but she was teaching to students to write the same way she did without considering their grade level. I could sense the tension and unease from her students so I tried to speak to her about it but she did not seem too happy about my input. I ended up tutoring my kids but had to go behind her’s as well. It’s important for teachers to remember that while we might be more educated than our students, we must still treat them as equals and not of lesser beings. Plus, if we truly care about them, we should not try to force them to try to ‘become like us’. That shows them that they being themselves is not good enough but we will make them in our image to make them presentable.

 

*: names have been changed.

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Fieldwork Reflection

Doing fieldwork in 826CHI was very fun and enlightening. I loved working with the students. I volunteered for various weeks on Wednesdays. These students taught me so much about what it means to be a teacher. One instance that I remember in particular is when I was working with two boys; one was very loud and talkative and the other was very quiet and reserved. We had to do a writing assignment and the student who was very talkative would instantly let me read his writings and he would ask me questions. When I would try to read with the quiet student, he would cover his work and he would stop writing. Towards the end of the tutoring session he started talking a bit more. The next week, I was paired with the same students and the quiet boy was no longer quiet with me. I realized that he was gaining my trust in order to be able to show me his writing. That same day, we were doing one of the students’ math homework and I could not figure out a way to explain it without giving him the answer. I spent a really long time trying to explain it in a way that he would understand. The student was super patient with me and he didn’t care that I couldn’t explain, what mattered was that I was trying. In the end when we got the answer, he was very happy that he had understood. Sometimes as teachers we have to test things out until we find a way that works with the students. While not all students might be as patient as him, students respect when someone is genuinely trying to help them.

A couple weeks later I worked with a girl who is in eighth grade, she is one of the oldest girls in the program, and she disliked going to 826CHI because she couldn’t really relate to anybody, since most of the students were much younger. During this time, the students were to publish a story. Once I started to work with her I realized that she disliked writing a lot. However, the story had to be written, so I had to find ways to get her to write and to get her excited about publishing her own story. In order to do this, I had to ask her questions and to get her to relate to what she would write about. After many days of brainstorming, we finally got the story that she wanted to publish. Even though it wasn’t perfect, she was happy with the result. During this time, I was also tutoring a fourth grader and I was helping her write her story. This student impacted me so much because she was an amazing writer and she was one of the most creative students that I interacted with. This student would always be asking for the meaning of new words. She would make me give her a sentence before the definition, in order for her to try to define it first.

Overall, 826CHI is an amazing place to volunteer in. The students are very diverse and they are filled with an immense amount of creativity and imagination. Every day that I went I worked with various students, and it allowed me to work with different kinds of students with different needs.

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826CHI Reflection

I won’t lie, I was incredibly nervous about volunteering at 826CHI. While I had worked with teens before, I felt that it was difficult for me to get past my awkwardness and fully engage with students outside of academics. Would I be able to connect with the kids? Would they learn anything from me? Feel comfortable around me? These were the questions that had me especially worried and apprehensive to participate at 826CHI.

Throughout the semester, I participated with 826CHI through the after-school tutoring program and the school field trips. I participated in the field trips a lot more than the after-school tutoring which was only once where I shadowed and worked with a seventh grade student. On other occasions, I worked with middle school tweens who were in the fifth and sixth grade as well as 12th grade high school students. For the middle schoolers, I worked on small group storytelling and bookmaking. Whereas with the 12th grade high school students, I worked with them on memoirs. While I did find myself enjoying interacting with the 12th graders the most, I felt I received a greater learning experience from working with the middle schoolers and there are a few reasons for that.

I first intended on doing solely after-school tutoring, but schedules conflicted with that, so I settled on doing field trips. My first field trip was with sixth graders, that consisted of an equal balance of three boys and three girls (plus a mother chaperoning that also sat at my table). For the trip, the students needed to work on setting the literary elements (characters, setting, etc.) in the story in our small groups and then using all of the elements the students came up with to write a story in our small groups before sharing out. While it was difficult getting the boys to fully engage with the story, the girls were the ones that took lead and provided with creative ideas on what to include in the story. These girls we’ll call Natalie, Hayley, and Daisy. Natalie and Hayley were the ones that spoke the most and seemed to be very invested in the story when they realized they were putting the most effort in creating it. It was very endearing hearing them speak and laugh at suggestions of “houses made out of chocolate,” “edible snow made out of ice cream with rainbow sprinkles that fell down from the sky as rain,” or “people born with crazy hair colors that gave them magic powers.”

Typically, this is the age where girls begin to slowly lose confidence in themselves and their abilities, so they stray from activities such as these, but it was interesting to see them invest themselves in the story and argue with the boys about why their ideas of pet monkeys and “poop cities” didn’t work with the story the group was cultivating.

I did find it difficult to balance in including everyone’s ideas because, of course, student voice matters and I especially wanted to hear from the boys and have them share. I decided the best way to make sure that all voices felt heard was to make sure to address their idea and then question how they think it would fit into the story we have written so far. That way, they get to thinking how well their idea fits before explaining how it does or doesn’t. They still get to bring in their input while still accomplishing the task of writing a cohesive story together. It was really good practice with teaching and being able to foster facilitation and including student voices since, often, some voices get muted from louder voices and, with bigger classrooms, this is unintentionally done.

A lot of 826CHI’s activities are collaborative and involve active discussions, group work, and inclusivity/individuality in order for these activities to be meaningful for students. I also really enjoy the idea of pushing this idea of “writing just to write” or to “get something out” in order to develop writing. In Syllabus, Lynda Barry pushes this same idea that “writers and visual artists think they have to be INSPIRED before they make something. Not suspecting the physical act of writing or drawing is what brings that inspiration about” (163). In order to spark incredible writing, you need to get some type of writing down in order to inspire more writing, which is why 826CHI does smaller writing activities to warm up students into the act of writing larger works such as the one we did. The act of practicing writing needs to be done in order to elicit effective writing.