Teen Advisory Board President and Sandbox intern Hannah Wien reflects on the first day of Spring Session. As a model citizen with aspirations to become an educator, Hannah sees this day as invaluable classroom experience. It's the small moments that build us up to who we are and who we will be.
As I stood out in the new and improved lobby of the Athenaeum, waiting to sign Youngsterz and their parents in for their first day of Sandbox class, I glanced up just in time to see Gara Gaines, social media expert of YAT, struggling to wipe a look of panic from her face.
I heard her call out for someone and as she approached me, I hesitantly asked, “Hey, who are you looking for?”
Gara explained to me that she was looking for a student's mother; one of the new Youngsterz was refusing to participate. Bear in mind, the students in Sandbox classes are K-3rd grade: pretty young students we’re dealing with here.
I realize, hey! I am an intern for that class! And the teacher definitely can’t stop a class full of K-3rd graders to chat with one single student. Chaos would ensue. So I switched my sign-in papers for cheer-up duty. I walk into the class attempting to find the student in question and all I see around me are happy faces that are excited to be there. What's the deal? I take a second, closer, glance around. And I find our hesitant new student. She’s crouched underneath a table, hiding from sight.
Short pause in the story.
I have been an intern for young children before. Through my years at YAT I have tried my best to be a mentor and model citizen for young actors who come into this program, because I remember being young and being small and being shy. I am used to the chaos that is a Sandbox class. I am used to students being shy at first, or being unfocused. But I'm not used to them being this shy. I’m definitely not used to them hiding under tables.
I get up my courage, and I walk to the small child and crouch down to match her level. I begin the conversation:
In a small voice, she whispers, “I’m too tired, I don’t want to go out there.”
"You're tired? Oh no! Are you feeling sick?"
And so it was; we talked in circles about how tired she was and how she just wanted to sit there. Under a table. Alone.
I remembered an age-old trick. I said to her, “Okay, you can stay here. But I’m gonna go out there and have some fun and I sincerely hope that you join me!" And I take huge, exaggerated steps into the classroom and begin to participate in Sandbox class as part of the ensemble, acting out the story of the Three Little Pigs as the director narrates it for the class.
I do this for ten minutes and go back to the lion’s den, kneeling to peek under the table. Our hesitant student has not moved an inch. Once more, I ask why she won’t join the group. This is where I struck gold because she admitted, “I’m scared.”
I realized in that moment just how much fear takes up our lives, even at such a young age. She went on to explain how she was scared of meeting new people. I repeated wisdom I have heard for years at YAT, over and over: that bravery was hard and it was definitely not the easy way out, but it feels so much better to be brave than to live in fear.
Heavy concepts for a 7 year old, I know.
I then go back into class, just as the director is picking which students will build straw houses, stick houses, and brick houses. (Three guesses which house most of the kids wanted to build.) I decided then and there that I wasn’t going to go back under that table; it was her choice and in her hands to make a decision. I knew if I kept going back to her, she wouldn't feel pushed to be brave. So the teacher and I kept her in our sight as we gear the little pigs up to build their houses.
As I was building my straw house, I glance out of the corner of my eye and see a small blonde head creep up behind me. Our lion, tiptoeing from her den! She quietly enters the room and I convince her to build a straw house with me. I have to meet her more than halfway but still, it's progress. We build a straw house, whispering that this was going to be the best straw house of all time. The wolf doesn't stand a chance with our mighty and majestic straw house. She began jumping high, saying that the top needed more straw. And just as the wolf began to approach our house, just as he reached out to knock on the straw door...class was over. Our shy student had spent a grand total of two minutes in class.
I know that some may see this as a failure, but I see this as possibly one of the biggest wins I’ve ever had. It takes time to overcome fear and it takes time to come out of your shell. So yes, she never officially joined the rest of class that day, but I did get to see her smile as she built a straw house. And I got her to come out from under the table.
Being scared plagues us from such a young age, and it takes years to overcome. But it’s the smallest steps that count the most. As a future educator, I learned an important lesson about how you can’t make anyone do what they don’t want to. However, you can nudge them in the right direction. Much like the straw house I was building, at such a young age confidence is pretty weak and can crumble at the smallest blow. But at some point, you will advance to sticks, and then eventually to bricks. It could take the entire session or more, but I know that we can build in each and every student the confidence, creativity, and discipline that will stand for a lifetime.