Sunday, October 18, 2009

Working with Underprivileged Children: A Unique Experience

On Saturday October 17, 2009, I participated in a workshop for migrant and underprivileged children in the Van Hoesen building on the SUNY Cortland campus. Not fully sure of what this workshop entailed, I decided to participate in it in order to gain an understanding of the different types of children I will encounter when I become a teacher. With all the possibilities of what it would be like flowing through my head, Saturday morning arrived and I was ready to go...

Early last week, Dr. Luis Columna mentioned that if anyone were staying in Cortland over the upcoming 'October Break' weekend, there was a workshop Saturday morning that they could participate in if they chose to. Thinking I was going to go home that weekend, I brushed it off. At the end of the week, the person I was going to go home with decided to leave early. I couldn't go any earlier than we had stated so I was stuck in Cortland that weekend. I approached Dr. Columna and offered my help for the workshop. He explained what it was all about and I agreed and would meet him bright and early Saturday morning.

When Saturday morning arrived, I walked down to Park Center ready to start the day. I met Dr. Columna and the two others who were helping out. It was nice to see that Dr. Stephen Yang was also running the program as well. Here I found out that we were using 'exergames' in the workshop. Once we loaded up Columna's Jeep with dance dance revolution pads and other equipment, we were ready to head up to Van Hoesen.

Once up the hill, we unloaded all the equipment and set up in two classrooms. It was here I found out that many of these children did not speak English and only Spanish. This would be interesting as I can only speak English and nothing else! Then 10am rolled around and the children arrived. The first to come were very small; about ages 2 to 5. I began with a game that uses an electronic giraffe to help find other animals 'lost' around the hallway. When I began to explain the directions and activity, I had to have Dr. Columna there to translate so the children would understand what was going on. It was a relatively simple game so not much language was needed. The giraffe made other animal sounds and said the animal names and most children understood this rather easy. But they sure did love it! We played this game for almost half an hour moving the anmals around and having them 'run' from being captured. It was quite an experience!

Next, some older children came in a were semi-reluctant to participate. But once we demonstrated how fun it all was, they were quick to join! DDR was very popular as well as the Jackie Chan running game. But nothing was more popular than the 'eyetoy' for Playstation 2. In this interactive game, the kids could see themselves on tv and moving around interacting with the digital environment. Once these kids left, the workshop was completed and ready to be broken down.

This was quite a unique learning experience for me. Not having ever worked with children who do not speak English or who are underprivileged, I did not know what to expect. But these kids are just like any other kids out there. They love to play and get involved in activities assuming you are there to help them and make sure they have a good time. The language barrier never really seemed to be an issue. There are many universal words and body language that are readable in any language making this just a little bit less difficult. I learned that all the kids you encounter in schools will not be the same. It's not like you're going to get the great kids at St. Mary's all the time. There are children whose families are poor and struggling to get new clothes and keep food on the table all the while making sure their children get a quality education. But underneathe this surface, they're just like any other child. It takes a dedicated teacher and a patient individual to work with them and ensure they receive attention equal to all the other children out there. "Give them the skills, and they will be active."

As a professional, I anticipate the challenges I will meet in the classroom. I do not truly know what to expect but can gather a general idea. Workshops like these are crucial to the development of an individual as a teacher. You cannot learn this through courses taught at the college. It has to be experienced for one to truly learn. I thank Dr. Columna and Dr. Yang for allowing me to help and hope to participate in another workshop soon!

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