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.