From Bad Boys to B-Boys: The Students Become the Teachers

Lorelle Schaub is the Operations Coordinator of Citizen Schools New Mexico. “I like teaching,” says Elvis Jemez an 8th grader at De Vargas Middle School who is teaching a Break Dancing apprenticeship with his good friend, Jesse Portillo. Elvis and Jesse were both students in Citizen Schools as 7th graders last year. From the outside, Jesse and Elvis were “bad boys.” They were often found skipping class, arguing with other students or teachers, showing up late, and rarely completing their work.

Despite their rough outside, they were, at heart, good kids. Elvis would show videos of himself teaching his little brother how to break dance, and Jesse had a smile that you couldn’t help but love. As the semester went on they got better, they showed up to class, did homework, and attempted to study for tests. By no means were they perfect, but they were headed in the right direction.

This semester they continued to head in the right direction as they decided to come back to Citizen Schools, not as students but as volunteer Citizen Teachers, teaching their own Break Dancing Apprenticeship.

These two young teachers command the attention of the room as they give directions. The students stand in a circle and review some foot work they learned the previous week. Jesse starts at one end of the circle, while Elvis starts on the opposite side; they approach each student and watch them demonstrate the skill they just learned. Leadership skills shine through as their thoughtful coaching: “good, that’s perfect,” or “okay, keep practicing I want you to do it 5 more times,” is heard throughout class.

Elvis and Jesse are committed to sharing what they love to their peers and doing it in a way that makes sense, “I like everything about teaching, I get to give skills to kids, who get to give it to other kids, who give it to other kids. I’m affecting a lot of people.” says Elvis about the experience. “It feels good, I have fun and I’m not on the streets.” added Jesse.

The apprenticeship is not only affecting the boys who are teaching, but their apprentices, as well. A fellow 8th grader, Jerry Chavez says, “I chose this apprenticeship because Elvis taught my brother and his friends how to dance and I want to learn too. When you’re dancing you are in another world. Doing what you love. There are no drugs, no gangs, and no violence.”

Students in the class are focusing not just on their love of dance; they are also focusing on 21st Century skills. Teamwork is seen all around the room as students are helping each other. One student is helping her friend in the corner, while a group of boys are working on making their moves align together.

Apprentices Cristol Torres and Luli Rodriguez share how they feel this apprenticeship has improved their oral communication and leadership skills while also being fun, “I am learning to express myself and not be shy. It’s really cool that our friends are being leaders and teaching this apprenticeship. It’s one of my favorites of all time.”