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Field Report: Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools

This past weekend, Rethink held its annual retreat at Tickfaw State Park to discuss the goals and focus of our 2014 Summer Program. I’m not the best person when it comes to interacting with youth–although, ironically, I work with an organization with serving youth as its main focus. You can only imagine my reaction when I found out I was spending the weekend with twenty students ranging from 10-18 in a cabin.

The lovely cabin in the woods

The lovely cabin in the woods

Quite frankly, I was dreading it and spent the entire week stressing about how I was going to cope with the lack of personal “me time” and how to maintain the constant stream of energy and enthusiasm that is so often expected when working with youth. I think my saving grace came when my supervisor asked me to be the co-chef with her. For those that know me well, they know that I am absolutely obsessed with food and that I love cooking. Putting together shopping lists, taking inventory of ingredients in the office, and organizing are all things that I do well and in a way, it was calming.

Saturday breakfast prep!

Saturday breakfast prep!

I’ve learned that I like having order and control over moments in my life, which also explains the hard time I have when working with kids–you never know what situation might come up and a lot of improvisation is involved. Prepping and cooking food for the retreat turned out to be a great way to bond with my supervisor and allowed me ample time to interact with Rethinkers on my own time. I hung out with Ny’Keisha, a Rethinker I attended TEDYouth with a while back, and saw many more familiar faces from the 2013 Summer Program from when I started my VISTA year.

"Let's take a selfie."-Ny'Kiesha

“Let’s take a selfie.”-Ny’Kiesha

As a working staff member of Rethink, I’d always felt disconnected from the youth and labeled myself as an “adult” in their world. While serving dinner on Saturday night, I was called “ma’am” by one of the younger Rethinkers and wouldn’t have given it a second thought if it weren’t for another Rethinker, Arieanna, who then scolded the younger one and said, “Wendy is young! She’s our age, you don’t call her ma’am.”

At the time, I wasn’t sure how I felt. My initial reaction was to be happy that I seemed young (because you never want to seem old, right?) and I felt a weird camaraderie with Arieanna in that she was defending my “youthfulness”. Now that I have time to reflect on that moment, I wonder how effective I would have been if I were in the role of working directly working with the youth.

I imagine that it would be much more difficult for anyone to get anything done since I’d be seen as a peer versus someone with authority. I’m thinking back to how Rethink’s high school interns were treated during our 2013 Summer Program. The majority of them complained about a lack of respect and not being taken seriously during group gatherings.

This reflection also gave me a pretty good response to complaints in my February post about my dissatisfaction with not being able to directly work with the Rethinkers. I haven’t given too much thought to my age in the work world and it’s only now that I realize being young isn’t necessarily a great thing. Sure, I’m getting a head start on my peers, but I think in most work places, there is an assumption that the younger you are, the more inexperienced you are and respect is much harder to earn.

Anyways, bringing it back to Rethink, it’s crazy to think that when I first started with them, I was 19 and our oldest Rethinkers were 18. It’s something that I’m still trying to wrap my mind around.

Oh, and we’ve settled on the 2014 Summer Program’s theme: Freedom. So many ideas revolve around this word and I’m excited to see where the Rethinkers will take it this summer.

The power of the circle.

The circle is at the heart of everything Rethink does.

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One comment on “Field Report: Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools

  1. Jack Styczynski
    March 27, 2014

    Being young is a great thing.

Comments are closed.

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This entry was posted on March 27, 2014 by in Education, Kids Rethink New Orleans Schools, VISTA Field Reports and tagged .

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