By Sarah Symes, SED 2016
This summer, I had the opportunity to work for Youthworks, an organization that runs mission trips for middle and high school students. I was hired to be one of the two service coordinators in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my responsibilities included reaching out to different community contacts, coordinating service projects, and serving alongside the students at our service sites around the city. While I grew to love all of our diverse service sites over the course of the summer, one of my favorite sites was a place called Gingerbread Land.
Gingerbread Land was founded in 1989 when a woman named Sister Clara felt called to make her neighborhood a beautiful place for children to live. In response to this call, she painted her house pink with purple trim, just like a gingerbread house. While her neighbors thought she was crazy and even wrote letters to local officials trying to get her to paint it back to its original color, Sister Clara continued to advocate for her vision of creating a beautiful safe haven for inner city children and youth.
Now, twenty-five years later, when you turn onto N 1st Street, you are greeted by a row of beautiful, brightly colored homes. When I asked Sister Clara to describe her personal vision for this neighborhood, she smiled and replied, “I want this place to be like Disney World in Milwaukee. With lots of flowers and colors. The kids in the neighborhood need something beautiful to look at. Something that gives them hope. The chance to be a part of something beautiful.” During our time on the site, the students and I helped with various tasks in the neighborhood including getting houses ready for families to move into and weeding at the local community garden.
As I began my junior year last September, I wondered how my summer filled with driving around Milwaukee, playing bingo at nursing homes, serving coffee at community centers, and weeding the community garden at Gingerbread Land could impact the way that I approach my studies here at BU. It wasn’t until I thought back to Sister Clara’s vision of creating a beautiful, safe space for children that I realized that, as an educator, I have the ability to do that same thing in my own classroom.
When reflecting on this during my General Methods class, I realized that creating this space is like building a house. Teachers are responsible for laying a foundation of respect and perseverance, providing intentional structure and purpose, and guarding against the elements (disruptions) to the best of their ability. However, students are the ones who make this house a “home” in that they should have the opportunity (within this structure of respect and learning) to create their own community in the classroom. Here, students have the opportunity to learn, grow, and, “be a part of something beautiful”.
Sarah Symes is a junior in the School of Education majoring, in English and English as a Second Language