Last week I was able to witness the students presenting their “Who Am I” Projects to their teachers and peers. Students had been working on creating a past map and future map, and tasked with narrating the trajectory of their lives. Standing in front of their new classmates, they told their stories, told who they are, who helped them get to where they are, and who they still hope to be.
Tears flowed as students talked of their struggles and payed homage to the people who have stoof behind them, such as parents, aunts, grandparents and siblings. They showed pictures of families, pictures of when they were little, the countries they were from, the states they had lived in. They showed their support networks, their inspirations, hopes and dreams. The students showed themselves to each other.
It takes a great deal of courage to stand up and share your life, your tragedies, hopes and dreams with a group that you have not known for long. But students did it, and did it well. The power of their words, stories and dreams filled the room, as we were all riveted to each speaker’s words. When students shared painful chapters in their lives to the point where they could not go on, others students comforted them and helped them continue. It was one of those days in school that one does not forget easily, a day when students tell and listen to each others’ truths in a deeply respectful way.
Something changed in the group dynamic after the students presented. I could get a sense that everyone knew each other a little better, and trusted each other a little more. The question of “Who Am I” helped bring about an increased sense of community, a sense of who we are.
While projects like this do not end in technological breakthroughs, new hybrid cars or startup companies, they do contribute to the creation of a caring and committed learning community. They also allow for personal breakthroughs and for students to present on a subject very near and dear to them- themselves. The projects create a culture of learning and respect necessary for students and teachers to, as they did last year, come to see each other as family.