2010 PFIG Recipient Dylan Priddy
College of Arts & Sciences
2011 Graduation Year
Internship: Youth Life Foundation
Notes on the first week
I just finally completed the first week of my internship and I can’t wait for Monday to arrive! The bell finally rang for summer at the local public schools allowing the internship to begin! This summer I will be working with the Youth Life Foundation of Richmond, located in the center of a small government-subsidized community, Delmont, in a small building called the Learning Center. The goal of this foundation is to develop leaders by making long-term investments in children from at-risk communities. YLFR operates year-round with afterschool mentoring and tutoring programs and a summer program. Last summer was my first serving as an intern in Delmont and I am very fortunate and extremely ecstatic to be able to return for my second summer. It is so great to be able to continue building the relationships I’ve already formed with the kids and the other teachers. I also feel much better prepared for the challenges ahead.
This past week was spent in training and preparation for the coming weeks. Each intern is responsible for teaching a reading and math group along with leading an elective once a week. I found out that I’ll be working with a new group of students for reading and math than last year, trading fifth graders for fourth grade boys and first grade girls. I’m so excited to be working with them!
The most interesting part of the week was the celebrity golf tournament we put on to raise money for YLFR. Darrell Green started Youth Life in DC so he helped organize the fundraiser and he invited all of his celebrity sports friends to join! I was responsible for driving the beverage cart around to guests like Coach London and Coach Bennett among other sports stars - it definitely wasn’t a bad way to spend the day. Despite the heat, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and it was definitely a success! It was great meeting the other interns and having time to plan this past week but I can’t wait for the kids to start coming on Monday!
I can’t believe I’m already halfway through my internship - a typical reaction, I know, to facing the reality of the date but it’s true nonetheless. It seems as if we just welcomed the kids to the summer program and now the dreaded goodbye is fast approaching. But when I stop to think about all of the different experiences I’ve had, and the huge amount I’ve learned, I realize how much time has really gone by. It has been very productive being able to start from where I left off last summer. Knowing the kids and many of their strengths and weaknesses has really enabled me to build stronger relationships with them, and has allowed me to tailor my lesson plans to their needs. They’ve grown so much since last summer, which really speaks to the strength of Youth Life and the enduring character of each kid. Last summer was more of an introduction into this hands-on area of service and this summer I’ve been able to focus on the finer details and complexities of working with at-risk youth.
There is a unique balance that must be found when working with kids in general, and especially with kids who don’t have much structure in their lives. It involves pushing them to do what’s right and challenging them academically without sending them over the edge. One too many corrections or math problems they can’t solve and they shut down or blow up and you’ve lost them mentally and sometimes physically as certain behavior gets them sent home for the day. I struggle with finding this balance because sometimes I feel that I’m compromising my standards to keep them within the limits of their own self-control. But I’m learning that a true balance does allow them to rise to those standards, even if it takes longer than I think it should.
Each day is very different at the Learning Center. Some days I come home exhausted because I’ve been constantly repeating myself because they never seem to listen, and I’m not sure I have any patience left for the rest of the week. Other days I’m discouraged and frustrated after having to break up fights that stem from the most trivial roots. In some moments, I can’t imagine what more I could do to help my first graders understand addition. But other days leave me feeling so buoyant, hopeful, and amazed at the maturity, ingenuity, and creativity of the kids that the other negative feelings are wiped out. These days are filled with self-initiated apology letters from a fourth grade boy, amazing teamwork that I didn’t have to solicit with a bribe from my reading group, a student having a meltdown but then moving past it, kids begging me to let them keep reading, and having a kid who was fighting yesterday act as the peacemaker today. In these moments, there is no question that there is hope for the redemption of this poor neighborhood. The trick is holding onto that truth in the moments when change seems impossible.
The past four weeks have been a whirlwind extending from Richmond to Pennsylvania. Since my last journal entry, we had three weeks of regular days at the Learning Center followed by Mystery Trip and then a week of camp. I saw a lot of growth in my reading group those last three weeks, including in myself - they in their self-control and I in my approach in dealing with their defiance. It can be very hard to keep my emotions separate from their discipline when I'm facing stubborn disrespect and disobedience, but I've been learning that what they need is someone to come alongside them and let them know he or she is on their team. This approach often requires more self-control and energy for me because it is more natural to dish out fair punishment (which can come off negatively) and move on without reaching the deeper issues. I've been able to practice this with two of my students who have this stubborn tendency. I've realized that I need to let them know, even in their disobedience, their value to me and to the rest of the Learning Center. Now, a reprimand sounds more like this, "Arturo, I want you to stay here today because you bring great ideas into our reading group and I think you're really going to like what we're doing today, but if you're going to be here, you need to come sit at the table and follow directions. So you can think about it for a minute but I hope you choose to stick around." This calmer, more positive approach elicits much better results because it puts me on the same team with the student rather than pitting him against me.
At the end of the summer program, we take the kids who have had good behavior since September on a reward overnight trip. It's called Mystery Trip and the students don't know where we're going until we actually get there. It's the highlight of their year, and mine too! We had 13 students make it this year (it's based on a points system) and we went to Charlottesville! It serves as a very good incentive for good behavior all year and really rewards those who've worked very hard to make it. Some of the students who didn't make it showed their maturity by consoling others and encouraging them to work hard next year. I'm not sure I can describe how phenomenal the trip was. From peach picking to bonfires to seeing the UVA football team and glass painting on the downtown mall, even jumping on the hotel beds, no one ever stopped smiling. The kids were so carefree and they assured us that it was the best day of their lives, both days. It was a great way to end the summer program.
The following week, we took the kids ages 10-14 to a Christian sports camp in Pennsylvania. It's called Citikidz Camp and is a part of a larger organization called Summer's Best Two Weeks. The six-hour bus ride up was a bit long but it was a really great week for the kids and us as leaders as well. While the kids were with their counselors, leaders from all over the east coast went through leadership seminars and activities together. We learned a lot about teamwork, communication, discipline tactics and were really encouraged by other people and their stories from working with urban youth. Overall, it was an incredible summer. I've learned so much this summer and have strengthened my relationships with the Delmont Community.