I am quickly learning that some of the greatest rewards of this job are small, sometimes immeasurable, and often heart-warming.
A couple weeks ago, a girl at Virgen who was in third grade last year showed up to class for the first time this year. We thought she moved schools and were disappointed that we probably would not see her again. But no, there was Milagros, running up to us, a taller, matured fourth grader. Most of our returners grew even just over the course of two short summer months, so it wasn’t surprising to see her towering even higher over her fourth grade peers.
What was surprising was that she answered our questions about how she was, totally unprompted and with little hesitation. Milagros was a tough third grader. We had to fight strategically and gently to get her to speak during every class, even to answer seemingly easy questions. Most days, she would throw us an apologetic half-smile and shake her head to indicate, no, she was not going to share. When she was awarded Kimochi (the stuffed animal that asks the girls to share one reason why they are happy and one reason why they are sad), we tried counting down, using probing questions, and silence in an effort to get her to speak even just one word.
So when she said, “Estoy bien,” with no hassle, we could tell she had changed.
This Wednesday, it was more evident than before. We got rained out for class, so the girls made up their own game to pass the time waiting out the storm. Milagros is an excellent athlete who loves to play but was hesitant to join in. Eventually, the girls did a full team race across the court and back, and Milagros got into it. They were only a little bit soaked and so full of smiles, we hoped their parents wouldn’t mind us letting them continue splashing through the puddles in the spirit of competition.
Instead of awarding the three different stuffed animals we normally award, we decided to end class with a full round of Kimochi. We stood in a circle and listened as most girls said something along the lines of, “I am happy because we got to play in the rain. I am sad because I am a little wet.” (Angely was happy because the plants got water.)
Milagros’ turn came around and with a smile on her face she said, “I am happy because I played.” She wasn’t sad, she said, and she passed Kimochi on to the next chica with little hesitation and almost confidently. Although this may seem like a small step, and there are many other contributing factors in our girls’ lives, it feels like a huge leap as an educator who did everything but beg her to make even a sound last year.
This has been a common theme with the start of the new year. We have seen girls who were previously quite shy feeling more comfortable to chat (occasionally when the profes are talking, but we’re working on that). We have seen girls request to be the next set of leaders who we hadn’t expected to step up so soon. We have seen girls ask to demonstrate a skill because they are so excited to know it and have the power to teach it to others.
These small steps feel like monumental strides in the work that we do. It is exactly the progress we want to see and observing it in real-time is exciting, to say the least. Here’s to more chicas breaking down their own walls and becoming loud, puddle-splashing girls and women.