It is a bright and wonderful fall day to celebrate our second monthly event at the Alexandria campus of the Northern Virginia Community College, held yesterday, October 20th. Every one of our students participated and were joined by three new students. As students excitedly arrived, they ran to hug us all and each other, jumping and laughing and immediately sharing how much they missed each other. As they waited for everyone to arrive, they decorated small pumpkins that I gave them to take home. They took responsibility to introduce the new students and to make them feel immediately comfortable and welcome. We reviewed what we had agreed to last time about a community based on trust, and then we added the importance of respect in all of our interactions.
Our Tai Chi instructor was unfortunately in a car accident on Friday, so our wonderful mentor, Amrit, substituted and conducted a beautiful introduction to yoga. The students loved sitting and laying on their yoga mats learning breathing techniques and the Sun Salutation movement. The room was so silent you could hear a pin drop. They loved the feeling of “internal calm” yet fully alert. They asked for us to do this every session.
Susan Barker-Clem, our First Star Executive Board member, spoke to the students about how they were national pioneers forging a new path for youth in foster care all over the country. She discussed the importance of them not only doing their personal best for themselves, but because it also meant their success would open doors for hundreds of other young people who dream of a bright future. She commented on beautiful things she had observed in the students, and affirmed their goodness. She touched their hearts by saying that each is beautiful just as they are and they should be comfortable accepting themselves for their own unique attributes and gifts.
They were ready and open for the next learning unit which introduced the 8 Intelligences by Howard Gardner. They learned about activators to learning and were able to state their own high spikes of intelligences, for example: a linguistic, spatial and interpersonal combination, and what careers might be a good match for their various natural strengths. They learned about “crystalizing events” and identified them in their own lives.
Our wonderful friends from Capital One, Laura and Karla, offered a terrific unit on budgeting which helped the students with differentiating “need” from “want” and how to begin framing a life budget. We discussed overdrafts, service fees, and why we must be accountable for our expenditures. Next time, we will continue this thread with checking and savings accounts, writing checks, and making good money decisions.
Our lunch from Panera’s was delicious and refreshed us for the campus tour. We broke into three groups and explored the grounds. One group was graciously offered a spontaneous back tour of the photography lab, including the dark room and how the equipment is used. Another group was welcomed by the librarian who showed the students how to use technology to make their studies and projects easier to complete. Everywhere the students visited, they were openly welcomed by the NVCC faculty who went out of their way to encourage our students in their pursuit to attend college.
What happened next was simply amazing. We worked briefly on finishing our surveys from the first session, then prepared to transition to an art experience doing our personal shields. But then, a beautiful change of course began. One of our students had shared music from her iPad for the group while they were working, and suddenly all the kids starting singing. Quietly at first, then stronger and louder and more confidently. The room was filled with lovely young voices singing in harmony with simple pure joy. I asked the students to make a group decision if they would like to continue and do the art experience next time and they all said “yes, please!” One of the girls reminded me that she wanted to sing for me. I asked her if she would be willing to sing for us all and she smiled the brightest smile and said “sure”. She sang like an angel! That encouraged our brand new student who also asked to sing. She, too, had an extraordinary voice! This was followed by a young man who stood and sang like a star. When the music suddenly stopped, he kept going a cappella, pure and on perfect pitch. Two more girls followed with their lovely duo performance and we ended with a group song. Each time, everyone clapped and hooted and cheered for the singers! It was JOYOUS. They sang from their souls and filled us all with such a celebration of life.
4:00 came so quickly. One girl lamented to me that it went too fast and that we should do this every week. Kids gathered up their belongings, their pumpkins, apples, water bottles (and yes, some Halloween candy) and met their parents and taxi rides. Mr. Miller from DC CFSA was able to be with us to meet the kids and was so helpful with the cleanup, packing up and the important debriefing that we do before we all leave.
I must thank Rhonda Myers from NVCC for setting all of this up for us. She thought of everything to make us comfortable. The room was bright and spacious. Everything was perfect in terms of the location, convenience and accessibility. We are so grateful to Great Expectations and all the NVCC faculty who graciously allowed this opportunity for our students.
I continue to pinch myself because I must be dreaming- -this is such a gift to be a part of something so heartwarming and relevant as we each do our small parts to truly change the world for the better. Thank you from deep within.
First Star Greater Washington Academy