If we take a leisurely stroll down the corridors of our islands’ public schools some of might see children frolicking and laughing without the faintest care. Others might see passions aroused among a group of justice seekers from a heated debate regarding who really owns the blue Trolls pencil-topper “that Jack made.”
Then we’d look upon the faces of those little ones who stared right back at us in defiance or with inquisitiveness; to them, we are merely visitors who do not belong to their world of lollipops, jump ropes, and childhood freedom. These children have seen the adult world from their four-foot view, and some have even experienced more than their tiny shoulders should bear. So they are now protectors of the things only they can see or hear or do. In one way, they each live in fear of whom or of what they are to become.
Yet, should they live in such fear? In fact, should we as the adult outcasts invading their hallways allow their apprehension to fester and thrive? Quite frankly, the answer is no.
Although there is more than one way to set a child free from fear of the often strange and terrifying world of grown-ups clad with our to-do lists in hand, in the summer of 2018 we found a viable solution in the Tshwane program, founded and directed by Wendy Ann Diaz — a veteran social studies teacher at Addelita Cancryn Junior High School — and approved by Dr. Lisa Hassel-Forde, principal of the school. This program works; the summer excursion is evidence of its success. The program ignited creativity in each young mind that sat on a stool and listened, and it also built self-confidence and heightened expectations for teachers and students within and without a four-walled room.
At Tshwane, a mixed group of fifth- through eight-grade General Education and ESL students were first asked about things they wanted to accomplish during the summer months. In a “roll of thunder” they randomly and in chorus bellowed, “beach,” “sleep,” “TV,” “no work!” It was a moment of hilarity that both teachers and students could enjoy. Then they were asked if they ever thought about becoming published authors.
The question was met with silence. They did not know how to respond to it, speechless. They were afraid and appalled. They were appalled at the audacity of their questioners: how dare we, the teachers, expect such a possibility from them? They were afraid to try, and to fail, worried about becoming a “laughingstock.”
As an educator, it is very important to have “eyes to see and ears to hear” when nurturing true love of learning in children. Their eyes spoke: “Could I really do this — be this?” This was the moment that began their quest. The students worked hard on their stories for half of the summer. They received knowledge from several Charlotte Amalie High School student-teachers and computer technology supporters, and artistry from Kae-Kae Moses, the Illustrator, and a fourth-grader attending the St. Thomas-St. John Seventh- day Adventist School. Also, photographer Dawn Spencer captured most candid, creative moments on film.
Both the teachers and technology supporters worked with great enthusiasm to encourage students as they waded through each stage of the writing process, and conquered it: prewriting, planning, drafting, revising, editing and typing, and finally publishing. The names of all student-teachers and supporters are Alina Nuel, Seline Gracchus, Reuber Adrien, Jonicia Cardin, Ephraim Hatchette, and Robinson Velasquez.
By the middle of the summer, the students’ hard work had ended. All left for them to do was wait for publication. Then-Senator Jean A. Forde offered to invest in our developing writers and help their them live beyond a dream. Thus, the “fruit of their labor” was realized. Their proud first project is titled, “Capturing Imagination: A Book of Short Stories and A Narrative.”
One step at a time, one question at a time, one conversation or collaboration at a time, and with the constant motivation of teachers and peers, the project came to fruition.
No longer would these Tshwane children sit in quiet defiance or ascribe to what strangers may believe they are. The hard shell that once housed each student would crack and shatter against the floor; each human bird would take flight. The children would be free to now create again and again, to hope without ceasing, and to know that they always can achieve and do better than their less faithful “days of old.”
With God, anything is possible: for these island children, once heard as a faint whisper in their neighborhoods, not seen but through a speckled, cloudy glass door, can now — with love and encouragement from a community that cares, and the growing confidence of a new self-steam, be seen clearly and heard loudly, and in near time, move mountains. Their light would shine, they would gain respect, and people would listen to them.