December 7, 2009

Guest Blog from Nick Holzemer, a Junior Biology and History Major at Notre Dame

It hit me partway through the day that it was our penultimate week at Riverside and I began realizing how much I would miss it. I feel like I am just starting to make significant progress in getting to know the kids. When they remember your name or ask you to help them with something, no matter how simple it may be, it really feels like my time has been worthwhile.

For example, Nnandozia, who rarely talks, though he can, actually responded to a question I asked him. Though it was as he was walking away towards the open door as he always does and I rhetorically asked, “Where do you think you’re going?” and he turns and says, “I’m not going anywhere,” as if I had asked a very dumb question. It was a big step for me because I’ve only heard him speak to the teachers a handful of times during our weeks here. Also Emily was out sick this week and I really missed her coming over to sit by me (usually going out of her way to do so) or at least giving me a smile when I entered the room. It’s these little connections that I’ve been making with the children that have affected me the most. Though to be honest, I feel like I have contributed little more than an extra hand at times in comparison to how much these teachers do, I hope at least some of the children were positively affected by something I was able to do with them.

Now that I finally feel I am getting comfortable enough to not always wait to be told what to do by the head teacher, it has come time to leave – as is typical with most experiences it seems. I wish I could have the chance to come back some day while my class is still working their way up in Riverside. They may not remember me, but I’m always going to remember these kids and how much of an impact they had on me. I’ve been able to observe some simple progress in a few students over the weeks. However, by coming back after a few years, I would really be able to see how much they’ve grown both emotionally and academically. That is the reason that people get into teaching, the long-term effects of what is done at Riverside are the most rewarding.

Ben is usually pretty quiet and keeps to himself. This time, for the first time since I had been there, he was just a ball of energy. When they came back from the store he was running all over the classroom hiding in the play fort, then jumping onto the beanbag chair and trying to get people to chase him to have fun. He has always been one of those kids that I wasn’t sure why he was at Riverside as he seemed quite bright but was just very soft spoken and looked a little nervous at times. Apparently these energetic outbursts can be accompanied by real behavioral problems and aggression. I talked with the teachers after class about it and was surprised to hear that his parents were transferring him to another school. It is for children with mostly behavioral issues but with a higher academic ability. He had originally been in mainstream school but wasn’t able to succeed. After coming here, though his work level was lower, he was able to thrive emotionally and has made great advances in confidence. Now being moved to this more advanced school they worry about how well he will do socially and emotionally. Though the academics will be at the level he can do, will he do them because he may be overwhelmed?

There’s a really delicate balance for the higher functioning children that I never considered. Just because they have the academic ability to succeed at a more mainstream school, would they be able to do so when all the other factors are included. It’s a tough trade off that parents have to face. I would have no idea what to do. You really want your child to learn a lot but you also want them to be comfortable. I hope that Ben’s time at Riverside has given him the confidence he needed so that he can now go on to succeed at his new school. If it doesn’t get him anywhere and he loses ground on everything he has gained, it would be a tragedy.