I am a selfish bastard.
I admit it. I’m one of those kids who volunteered in high school just to put it on my college application. Guiding guests at school events, taking out the recycling, raking leaves for the elderly– I did it all. And I hated it.
I just didn’t get the warm fuzzies, I guess. The idea of doing menial tasks with barely any incentive is just, well, unreasonable to me. I’m simply not that magnanimous a person. I admit it. You can rag on me all you want.
My scholarship, however, requires volunteer service. 100 hours a year, every year you’re enrolled in school. Not only that, but you must partner with a non-profit organization in order to get these hours. But that’s fine. I can deal with that. In fact, I had high hopes for my volunteering. Maybe I would discover that I liked it! Maybe I’m not so selfish after all! Maybe I can help others!
Oh, no. Oh no no no no no no no.
I volunteer at a place called Sociedad Latina, a non-profit organization serving underprivileged kids in Roxbury. Sociedad’s noble aim is to prevent kids from dropping out of school and get into college through a series of prevention, academic, and character-building programs. I work for their Mission Enrichment Program, a program offering after-school homework help for kids from 6th to 8th grade.
And the kids are nuts.
The first time I went there, it looked a little like this:
The first time I was there, I was merely supposed to help with homework. I tried to help one 7th grader with history:
But you know, I could deal with this. It would be fine. But oh no, fate decided that wasn’t enough! My biology class is a “service-learning” class, meaning that students have to go out in the community and volunteer as part of the class. In my class, we’re required to join volunteer organizations and teach kids biology. I’m in a group of five who were assigned Sociedad Latina.
Other groups have easier programs. Some kids are with the Science Club for Girls, a program teaching science to enthusiastic students. Some kids are with the Hinton Scholars program, helping academically-minded Boston students with their AP Biology labs. Well-established programs with a receptive audience.
This is the first time Sociedad is trying biology labs.
The kids are suspicious of newcomers on sight.
We are the guinea pigs.
The first time we tried to run a biology lab with them, it did not go well.
It was a terrible day. As soon as my group got outside, one of the members yelled,
We needed to revise our strategy. Instead of trying to deal with a bunch of kids at once and keep their attention for a whole hour, we split the kids up into three groups and rotated them every 20 minutes. We had to come up with three labs instead of one, yes, but it was much easier to deal with.
The first lab I designed? It was called “Design your own dragon,” where kids wrote the genetic code for a dragon, and if they did it correctly, I would draw their dragon for them. And since no one else could draw dragons quickly enough, I ended up drawing all of them. My hand was cramped by the end.
But that week, our labs were a success! It was really shocking, and we all came out completely relieved. The fact that the kids didn’t eat us alive was an amazing feat in itself.
I’m too harsh, though. The kids are bad-behaved, yes. But it’s not as though they come from affluent white suburbia, like I do. Shootings are a common occurrence where they live. People get mugged there all the time. Their schools aren’t quite up to par. I heard kids offhandedly mention that their parents were gone, or that they only saw their dad once a year, or that “they didn’t want to talk about their parents ‘cuz it makes them sad.” It’s just… tragic, really. They have to grow up in this kind of environment, and that makes them the way they are.
And it’s not as though all the kids are so bad. Some of the kids are actually really nice, especially if you can talk to them one-on-one. A couple of the 6th graders, in particular, are really interested in science. (Not the 7th and 8th graders, though– at that point, it seems like school has sucked the magic out of science for them.) But I actually got this discussion out of these kids:
That’s my sliver of optimism, though. Sociedad Latina is … overwhelming. I always walk out of there harassed and stressed and demoralized and just… completely drained. I’m not sure how I’ll be able to stick with it for the entire year without having a mental breakdown.
Well, at the very least, I have to stick it out for this semester.
I can do this.
I got this.
Wish me luck.