The first and second weeks were hectic. On day one, it seemed that we were managing 100 students, not just 40. After the initial wave of chaos, the other interns and my expectations about the job and our roles had to change.
First of all, we realized that some of the jobs we planned on doing were not very realistic goals for our crew. It was a bad idea to try to have our team paint the halls. If we would have tried to do that, it would have been more likely to see the paint end up on the ceiling and the floors than on the walls. We had to shape our expectations to become more in line with the skills and maturity of the students we were working with. As another example, on the third day when we decided to let some of the kids use weed whackers, we realized that most of the students did not know how to use them safely and some of them even waved them around dangerously to get their coworkers to laugh. We needed to change our expectation that they would handle them properly. The next time we used weed whackers, we handed out a total of three weed whackers and told the students to take turns, rather than giving out around 10 weed whackers to every single student who wanted to use one. This created a much more manageable and safe working environment for all of us.
Second, we realized that our students upbringing and cultural experience were quite distinguishable from ours. We learned to ask questions like, “Where do you stay?” instead of “Where do you live?” Many of our students had, in one way or another, strained relationships with their parents. As their supervisors, we wanted to be respectful and understanding of their situations, so we were careful with how we phrased our questions. The moment when our differences were most obvious was when I took about 10 of the students to the surrounding neighborhoods to handout fliers for Cody High School. It was the end of the day, and we only had about 30 minutes left. One of the staff members at Cody asked if we could help her with this, explaining that many of the high school aged kids in the neighborhood might not even go to Cody. I was happy to agree to do the task, thinking that it would be nice to go for a walk through the neighborhood instead of picking up weeds. The students warned me that it would be dangerous, saying, “This is a bad idea! Don’t you realize this is the hood? Maybe this would be safe in your neighborhood, but it is not safe here!” I reassured them that we would be fine. “Don’t worry, no one will be angry at us for handing out fliers.” However, even though nothing happened to any of us, I observed a stark contrast between handing out fliers in my neighborhood versus handing out fliers in the Cody neighborhood. Several home owners yelled profanities at us, a group of kids ages 6-10 chased us with sticks, and growling dogs showed their teeth when we walked by their porches. I found myself hurrying our students back to the school. After we finished and I was in my car driving home, I reflected on what happened. I realized that the locals probably thought we were some type of gang trying to cause trouble. To make matters worse, GDYT has a uniform that all of the students are required to wear. It’s possible that people thought that was our gang’s colors. Thankfully nothing drastic happened while we were walking around, but I learned to be more careful and aware of my surroundings.
Lastly, we learned to be more gracious if students did not show up on time. Some of them had to take multiple busses to commute to the school. Their transportation was not always reliable, and understanding this helped me become more encouraging of them once they arrived, rather than scolding them for showing up late.