Breakfast started at 8:15 am today instead of 8:00 am, which meant I actually arrived well before we began…I even had time to grab two KFC-style biscuits. Yummy!
Josh introduced someone new this morning, a black man named Kwame. He talked to us about how Teach for America is built upon the recognition of race, class, and privilege, because only by recognizing and being unafraid to refer to such thing can we seek to rectify the biases that our society is built on. We got into groups and discussed how we would use our experience with race, class, and privilege to help reach our students.
For jobs and college acceptances and things like that, it’s fine to select by merit alone, but we need to make sure that the pool of applicants we’re selecting from is diverse. If the pool isn’t diverse, there’s a problem.
There was a brief break around 11:00 am at which time we were given a box lunch to eat (turkey and cheese sandwich, Lays chips, and cookies). I wasn’t hungry, so I put mine in the refrigerator until later. When I stepped outside, the air from the ground to about three feet above it was literally steaming. I felt like I was in the tropics or Costa Rica or something (only I never saw any steam when I visited that country, South Carolina is a lot prettier, and there isn’t trash everywhere).
I dashed out to where the vans were waiting. We were going to spend an afternoon at the Boys & Girls Club (in Florence, for me. Some of the others were going to other cities). I had to ask what the Boys & Girls Club was. Apparently, it’s like the YMCA — a place for kids to hang out, do activities, and get something to eat (kind of like a glorified day care, except for K-12). I’m not sure if the parents have to pay.
It was about a 10–15 minute drive to the Club. The way was pretty nice, though at the end we turned onto a dirt road where the houses were more run down. One was a burned-out shell with broken furniture stacked into the windows. Nevertheless, I wondered if it was occupied. One more turn and we were at the Club — a large, well-constructed, pretty building.
We went inside and loitered for a minute while we waited for someone in charge to take us in hand. The kids (all black that I saw, looking mostly around the ages of eight or nine) in the main room looked up from their games of pool and fooseball to give us uncertain looks. One of them remarked, “That’s a lot of people.” We gave them a smile, feeling equally uncertain (and a lot of us very white). A large black man who wasn’t in charge but was a helper talked with us a little about the fact that this was the Club’s first day of summer camp, until a young white man with one earring showed up and split us into groups. We had originally been assigned sections (mine was Science), but Science was never called out and I ended up being one of the “leftovers” and was put into a classroom-sized room where several young girls were eating lunch.
Taking a deep breath, I decided to seize the initiative and walked confidently over to a table of girls, asking if I could sit there. They said yes, and I asked their names. I am really bad at hearing names that aren’t familiar to me, so I had to ask a couple of them to spell them out so I could visualize how to pronounce them. The kids got really excited at showing me they could spell (they were all second graders, with the exception of one girl who was in the third grade) and spelled out not only their own names, but also their mother’s, father’s, and siblings’! One of the girls was white, and for some reason it took me aback to see her there, although I never once thought about the color of my own skin, which was probably kind of odd, since many of my colleagues later admitted that they felt very self-conscious about their “whiteness.” One of them remarked in reflection later that their acceptance by the kids at the center really showed them that it was “okay to be white.”
I asked the kids some questions and encouraged them to ask some of me. We didn’t get to interact too long, as their lunch time was really short. The girls were ushered out and a group of boys (around the same age) were ushered in. I encouraged the kids to come over to my table, acting very energetic. The other corps members in the room with me began to get into it, too, and we cheered when kids came to our table and groaned when they ditched us for someone else.
My kids wanted to play Uno; one of the third graders got the deck, but it was big and he was having trouble shuffling it himself, so I suggested he split it among us. I said there were four of us, so how many piles would he need? He said four, but then proceeded to give us four cards. I reminded him that he needed piles, not cards, and he quickly saw his error and corrected himself. Just for fun, I asked how many cards we would get dealt, and he said “seven,” so I asked the kids if there were four of us and we got seven cards each, how many cards would get dealt total? The only second grader almost immediately said, “Twenty-eight!” The third grader wanted to know why we couldn’t do addition, so we did a little of that, too.
Uno was fun, but the two third graders kept getting rowdy (one would do something to the other, and the other would hit the first, etc.) I wasn’t sure what to do except to reprimand them, since these weren’t my kids and I couldn’t discipline them. Finally, I warned them that if they couldn’t be nice to each other, we would have to stop the game. They ceased for a little bit, but then went back to hitting, so I said we’d have to stop. I thought they were going to argue, but they accepted the consequence without dispute and we moved on to something else (charades, in this case. A few more boys joined us as well).
They weren’t very good at charades, not understanding the idea of phrases, or stating words/syllables, or sound-alikes (e.g. a three word phrase for them might be “puppy fire slimy”), but we still had a good time. A couple of the boys always wanted to be the one acting out the charades, and I sensed an argument would start as the game continued, so I added a musical-chairs style system to the game. Usually, the person to guess the correct answer gets to go next, but using my system, students rotated chairs in order to preserve acting order. Problem solved.
After a while, these kids were taken away and a group of older boys (around fifth grade, I think) came in. We played one round of Uno, and then as an entire group we played Heads-Up-7-Up. In this game, you put your head down on your desk, close your eyes, and stick up your thumb. The “It” people go around the room and each push down one person’s thumb. Then everybody opens their eyes and those who got picked have to guess who chose them. If they guess correctly, they get to be “It.” I got chosen once, but I didn’t correctly guess who had picked me.
One of my suitemates came in after a few rounds and suggested we play Mafia. She explained the concept to the kids, who thought it was very complicated, but she assured them that it would seem easier once we began playing. (It’s sort of like Heads-Up-7-Up where everyone puts their heads down and closes their eyes. Then the Mafia “wake up” and choose someone to kill. They go to sleep and an “Angel” wakes up and chooses someone to save. Then they go to sleep and everyone wakes up. The Narrator (the only one who’s awake at all times) tells a story of how so-and-so died and how the Angel did (or didn’t) save them, at which point the person (if unsaved) leaves the game. Those still playing then have to vote on who they think is the Mafia, and “arrest” those people (they can only arrest as many people as are Mafia left in the game). These people leave the game, and the round repeats. The game is over when all the Mafia have been arrested or when the Mafia kills everybody.)
(Incidentally, after all the racism pre-work we had to do, I was very cognizant of the deeper implications of the game for the first time…sending innocent people to jail, glorifying organized crime, etc. I’ll have to think of a way to change that to make it more school-friendly, just in case some of my kids get it into their head that they want to play.)
Anyway, my suitemate randomly handed out the cards that said what our role was (“Mafia,” “Angel,” or “Citizen), and I got “Mafia.”
It was fun. I’m very good at not moving too much or making a lot of sound when I “wake up.” The boy next to me, on the other hand, moved around a lot. It was clear he was the Angel. I “killed” him on the second round.
There were three Mafia total, but I was the only one still alive at the end of the game. The group decided to play again and oddly enough, I was the Mafia this time around, too! Once more, I escaped detection. =)
It was time for us to go. They had us TFA members gather in front of the building for a picture, along with some students (not from my group). It was very bright outside, but we endured.
In the van on the way back to the university, the other corps members said they wanted to stop at Starbucks. Our leader asked if anyone didn’t want to go, and I raised my hand (I don’t like coffee). I wasn’t adverse to going, I just didn’t want to go. (I really could have cared less, though.) The consensus was essentially “Too bad,” so in a joking tone I said loudly, “I’m the Mafia, I kill you,” completely stunning half the van who hadn’t been there with us for the game. (Truth be told, I’d forgotten they hadn’t been there). Those who had played erupted into laughter, while the other half kind of looked at me askance. I could just see our leader going up to Josh Bell later and saying, “Do you know who you hired?” I quickly explained the jest, but I’m not sure everyone was convinced.
After a short break during which time I fulfilled orders for my book Robin: Lady of Legend (The Classic Adventures of the Girl Who Became Robin Hood), we met in the dining hall again for a bit of reflection about the day. Then it was off to dinner at “Mellows Mushrooms” — a pizza parlor, apparently. My group had to stand in the rain for about ten minutes before we could go because our driver had gone home and they had to find another one. It was thundering.
At Mellow Mushrooms, we were seated in a classroom-sized room. It was nice and cozy, but very loud with everyone talking. The pizza was quite tasty (with a lot of grease). After we were done eating, the girls I was sitting with asked if they could step outside because it was so noisy in the room, and I went with them. We had a lovely conversation while we waited for everyone else to finish.
Eventually, the others came out and we all went to the bowling alley. I had to search a long time to find a bowling ball that would fit my normal-sized fingers, and it didn’t have a weight listed on it, so I think it was lighter than I normally use. It served me well, though. I played with about seven other girls and one boy, and scored a 144 (the others asked me to show them how to bowl right — my first time teaching in South Carolina!) Our paid-for time finished three frames into our third game, and everyone left. I wished we could have stayed longer. Because there were so many people, our turn came too infrequently to really feel like we were playing/active in the game.
Back at the university, my suitemate was hungry, so I gave her the as-yet-unopened lunch I had saved. I worked on my website briefly (small upgrades to the home page) but was really too tired to do anything much, so around 1:00 am I went to bed.