Graduation. It’s an iconic scene. It’s the same everywhere. A universal passage of sorts. I experienced my sixth graduation from Camp El Valor, six graduations in three years. And now my summer job is over.
Graduation. It is always so final. A coming of age ritual that symbolizes the end of something and the beginning of something else. The graduation for the second half of Camp El Valor brings a bit more symbolism for me. Another summer gone; my favorite job of all time over again for another year. I hope not forever. The August graduation symbolizes back to school, and I am without a teaching job.
At El Valor’s summer camp graduation, diplomas were passed out and accolades were given to those of us who encouraged the children and pushed them to learn more about science and technology. This time, my sixth and possibly last time, I invited my husband to come and witness the celebration, a celebration that always leaves me affected with emotion and excited about the future. I had described it to him before. He had read my previous blog about parent testimonials. But he had to see it to believe it, and he was moved by his experience.
“It just felt like such a shared feeling,” he said. “Like the community was coming together to celebrate the power of education. Everyone just seemed so happy and so proud. It made me feel like it should be easy to make the changes that need to be made (in public education).”
When the parents talk about how happy they are to have this community center that offers such a high quality, free summer camp program for their children, everyone listening feels affected. We feel motivated. We feel lucky to be part of something so inspirational. And we know that there are not enough programs like this one.
The happiness is something my husband comes back to when I ask him to expound on his experience at graduation. I like hearing the experience coming from someone else. “There was this shared feeling of pride and happiness," he went on. "I thought about how all people, everyone, go through this ritual at some point or another. Usually multiple times. Parents and children all dressed up. Everyone feeling festive and happy and talkative. Eating. Drinking (coffee and juice)…” My husband continued talking and I began thinking about what he said. There is a shared feeling of happiness. A universal feeling we all share when we watch our children succeed, because it means we’ve succeeded. Through education, we can succeed as a society.
I want to thank El Valor and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum for giving me the opportunity again this summer. Working as a Technology Educator with the kids this year was, as always, an amazing experience. Working with the tutors, who are all such intelligent and wonderful role models, and 15 to 18 students in the classroom at one time gave us all an opportunity to get to know one another. The field trips deepened the friendships formed. Everybody was learning while enjoying themselves. The children enjoyed fresh fruit and vegetable snacks and spent an hour and 15 minutes at lunch and recess where they enjoyed brutal games of dodge ball and fast action soccer. Sometimes everyone was required to play, but not always. Some kids just sat under the trees and played UNO. Another fierce competition.
But in the classroom, there was only helping. All of us helping one another to learn more. Four weeks of building a community that will hopefully last a lifetime. Rolando Madrid, the Educational Director at El Valor, is, as my husband agrees, one of the most motivational speakers we've ever heard, and we've heard some good ones. His successes are due in large part to his belief in community and partnerships.
I understand that not everyone can build a community center. Not everyone has the time to volunteer. Heck, I don't even have a job or real health insurance! But if every single person found a meaningful way to give back to the community, maybe there wouldn't be so many children being "left behind." It's all about community.