My Story - Joy McBrien
Joy McBrien - Community Partner
Laura Jeffrey Academy
I could go on and on about the transformational experiences I saw take place on Laura Jeffrey Academy's first-ever Pay It Forward tour. There was such a buzz of enthusiasm around serving other people and exploration... what a wonderful change of pace for anyone, but especially middle-schoolers, who can get so caught up in their personal lives and forget to see the bigger picture. Pay It Forward tours teach empathy to students, teach them to push themselves outside of their comfort zones, and teach them to listen to one another's stories. I had been on 6 tours before, but this was my first time as a "community partner," as I worked to get the tour started out of the all-girls middle school in St Paul that I work at as an Americorps Promise Fellow.
When I first saw the list of students I had recruited for the tour, I was a little nervous. A lot of the girls were ones that I had expected-- girls that had been in my Agents of Change class or had talked to me previously about their love of service. However, some of the girls I was shocked to see had signed up. Many teachers were very opposed to some of the students getting the "reward" of attending the trip... girls who have behavior issues at school and are running around the hallways constantly, even though many times it's a result of their severe ADHD. The trip ended up being a fantastic fit for these girls-- they could channel all of their energy into serving others, and the enthusiasm was welcomed!
There was one girl, however, that I was really worried about getting on the bus. She has severe autism and doesn't really have any friends at school. Girls avoid her because she's different, and I was worried about having her away from home for 3 days without the support of her parents. Teachers regularly mention this student's poor attitude in class... she doesn't want to participate because she thinks everyone hates her, which, in middle school, is potentially true. I had little experience working with her and I didn't know how best to support her on the bus.
This student was, by far, the biggest surprise for me on the trip. Her enthusiasm was contagious-- she would start service projects with exclamations like "this is wonderful!" "everything is so beautiful!" and would end them with "we got so much done!" "I'm so proud of us!" and "that was so fun!!" Opposite of the negative attitude I had been told to expect, she was INCREDIBLE. She wanted to work with other students, she got very involved in every project and activity, and she wasn't afraid to share her opinion and be a leader. What may have been her "disability" on a normal day became her Pay It Forward tour superpower. I have seen the transformation in students, but never before to this extreme level. I think the greatest part was when we did the "shoulder tap" activity, where girls sit with their backs to the center of the circle and statements are read like "I consider this person to be a good friend" and a group of students in the middle of the circle tap the backs of those people they think it applies to. This student got choked up by how many taps she got, especially with the impression that everyone disliked her. At first she was in disbelief, saying that people probably just tapped her because they felt bad, but after her peers stood up for her and the people they had tapped, she was shocked that people really saw her in so many good ways. It was just the boost of self-confidence that she needed.
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Reply #2 on : Sun April 21, 2013, 06:05:15
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My Story - Dan "Sparky" Knapp
Sparky shares his experience through multiple years of PIF'n