Pencils, notebooks, and backpacks, oh my!
School is in full swing here in Cusco, and we are stoked to be back. Here in Peru (and most of South America), March marks the beginning of the new school year. For us, this means big classes with returning fifth and sixth graders and a new crew of fourth graders.
When we visited each school for information sessions on our Chicas Dinámicas class the first week, we knew we would have a zealous, fresh group of youngsters. In our first week of classes, the fourth graders showed up in full force, bringing a couple new girls with them each class. They are a little shy, full of giggles, and eager to learn.
With our veteran girls, we were met with huge hugs and plenty of sass.
They put on the sort of “I’ve been here, the profes already know me” attitudes that only come with being a grade older. We had to remember our foundational lessons and remind the girls of what it means to be a part of a team and to be leaders.
Ashanty is a sixth grader and consistently excellent athlete at Santoni. She has been with the program since before she was even allowed to attend, and she is wholeheartedly dedicated to being the best in the class. This week, she pulled me aside after being put in a group with some new girls and, with an angry face and folded arms, told me that she found it difficult to work with girls she did not know. She wanted to work with her friends and her friends only.
Although I could feel some frustration and anxiety build up in me as I tried to keep an eye on our class of 26 girls, I took a moment to remind Ashanty how much we valued her as a leader and a role model for the younger girls. I told her what a great opportunity it would be for her not only to make new friends, but to help teach the new girls the skills she may already have. We discussed how her serving as a mentor would be an impressive experience to write about one day on a college application.
With that, she brightened up, gave me a handful of nods, dropped her arms, and said, “Ok, Profe.” I asked her if she wanted to rejoin her group and she said yes. Five minutes later, Rachel and I caught her showing one of her younger partners how to properly throw the frisbee and taking charge on communicating to keep the frisbee from hitting the ground.
I learned that there is a teachable moment to be had even when it seems like a wall has been put up. Even when it can be frustrating to manage negative attitudes and there are nearly 30 girls scrambling around the court, taking the time aside with Ashanty was worth it. Having a conversation with her instead of reprimanding her for not wanting to play turned into progress and skill development. We are excited to watch her and her teammates continue to grow in this new year.