David Jacobson is a first time Citizen Teacher at McKinley Institute in Redwood City, but a lifelong coach and teacher. He teaches creative writing and has the experience to back it up in journalism, content counseling and marketing/communications! Now, he owns and runs Inkflow Communications, marketing and communications consulting. Continue below to learn more about his experience volunteering with Citizen School.
At the time of this post, I would ordinarily be in class. But it’s Spring Break, so I am writing instead of teaching, and my students are even more scattered than usual.
In childhood, I loved Spring Break or any other break from school. An aspiring journalist even then, I also secretly enjoyed writing the ritual essay on “What I Did Over Spring Break.” But now, as a volunteer for Citizen Schools, teaching a weekly creative writing class for middle school students at McKinley Institute of Technology, any break is too long.
Nothing is more rewarding than teaching young people, especially those in the under-served communities that Citizen Schools serves. Inside the classroom, students’ energy levels vary depending on whether they’ve had enough to eat and how much rest they could get the previous night in chaotic, overcrowded homes. Their expressions during class range from slack-jawed “a-ha!” to open-mouthed sleep.
Their potential is immense, yet still sometimes no match for the forces arrayed against them: systemic racism, under-resourced public schools, frequent reminders of the inhumanity at the borders their families crossed, and renewed threats to their own safety and sanctity no matter the number of years since those crossings.
The students’ resilience is remarkable. One has lived in the U.S. for less than a year. His stated goal on the self-assessment index card he turned in was “to learn more words.” Another writes beautifully and brutally of being forced at age 10 to choose between living with her mother or her father.
“That sounds very difficult,” I observed.
“It wasn’t,” she answered. “I don’t like my mother.”
Despite some gut-wrenching circumstances, there are no outbursts, no behavior any worse than that smattering of scattering mentioned earlier or a typical middle school giggle. The students want to learn. They help each other find words, whether to answer a question out loud or to complete a sentence on paper. When it’s time for pens and pencils to keep moving, they do.
The students treat guests with great respect. One week we hosted Dania Denise, whose creative talents include comics and graphic novels, because several students showed interest in those forms. In a future class, Rudy Ramirez, an ethnic studies professor at College of San Mateo, will share the songs he has written in Spanish and English.
It’s critical that these students see people who look like them and hear people who sound like them show and tell them the way toward personal fulfillment and professional achievement. Too many in this class too often are subject to discouraging depictions of themselves from too many of the too-few people in power.
Much of the students’ writing shows the angst that typifies their age under any circumstances. The best of it shows signs of imminent rage against their specific circumstances.
Last week, students wrote descriptions of the final projects they are committed to deliver when the Citizen Schools term ends in May. One will write about finding respite in nature, another plans poems about a poor family, and another outlined a super-heroic quest for a cure to save her mother’s life.
As much as I used to love Spring Break, now I can’t wait for it to end.