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Mentor Day!

Katie Rainey

Katie Rainey, STAFF

I learned about people from places around the world.

I learned about how my schoolwork and the activities I do will help me later in life.

I learned that sometimes you have a Plan A and sometimes you have a Plan B, but sometimes those things aren’t what you really wanted, and what you wanted and what makes you happy is that unexpected Plan C, which isn’t really a Plan C at all.

On Wednesday, June 24th, Community-Word Project Teachers and Staff embarked on a brand new journey with corporate volunteers from BlackRock’s Latin America & Iberia Division by creating what was later named Mentor Day. At 8 o’clock in the morning, six CWP staffers and 20 BlackRock volunteers assembled at Accion Academy with an idea to create a kind of career day in which the volunteers would share and teach the classes of 7th & 8th grade students about their lives, and what it means to use creativity in the workforce. The weeks building up to this event revolved around numerous emails, phone calls and meetings that focused on educating the students about BlackRock and finding a way to show them how the poetic and theatrical devices they had been working on with their CWP Teaching Artists could be incorporated into the workplace later in life. Presentations were built. Roles assigned. T-shirts made. Student questions prepped. Community writing lessons created. And a plethora of other small details necessary to execute an event like this were implemented.

However, what really happened was a Plan C that no one from either organization had imagined.

The students at Accion had been working with CWP Teaching Artists Molly Goldman and Sheldon Best for 10 weeks to create a theatrical culminating event (performed the week before) and an anthology of their work that focused on their individual voices and communities, and this last day of the residency usually focuses on reflection. When the team of adults arrived, they were met with a big obstacle- this particular Wednesday night was graduation day for the 8th grade class and attendance was extremely low. However, the TAs had an idea to combine the small number of 8th graders with the 7th grade classes and make two large groups, rather than four regular sized classes, which allowed the BlackRock volunteers much more time with each group and turned out to be the “hurdle” that made the day so special.

We began with an opening ritual the TAs had been doing with the students each week, a playful take on CWP’s motto, “I have a voice. My voice is powerful. My voice can change the world.” Their version involved drumming, rhythm, hand gestures, clapping and stomping, and the students took time to teach the BlackRock volunteers each beat. Soon the room was full of laughter, clapping and a storm of individual voices repeating the mantra to varying beats. The extra time allowed the students to be the teachers and opened the room in a natural way that only helped what came next.   

What is BlackRock?

The students were told in weeks prior that BlackRock team members would be coming to visit with them, but relatively all of the students had no clue as to what BlackRock was.

The Wikipedia answer?

BlackRock Inc. is a multinational investment management corporation based in New York City. BlackRock is independently managed, with no single majority stockholder; stock is owned by institutional and individual investors, including BlackRock employees.

But that doesn’t mean much to a group of 7th & 8th graders.

The next step of the day had the volunteers stand up one at a time and give what was meant to be a brief introduction about who they are, what they do at BlackRock and how they got there.

Prior to the event, one concern was whether or not the students would be receptive to the volunteers enough to ask questions. The TAs prompted the students and helped them come up with a few questions to help facilitate the discussion, but we were all worried that the students would be relatively closed mouthed, given that they were preteens who are often “too cool” to care. The students proved us wrong immediately. One by one, the volunteers stood and spent a considerable amount of time answering questions that ranged from the playful like What is your favorite sport? to more thoughtful ones like How do you use creativity in your job? Why did you come to the United States? and How does your work impact your community here and back home? What was meant to be a brief introduction evolved into a long and thoughtful discussion with each volunteer, allowing the students to get to know them better.

Next, the group split into small groups with 1-2 BlackRock volunteers to every 3-5 students. They spoke candidly about their lives, swapping stories about their communities, world travels, the students’ home and school lives, and much more. The students were comfortable opening up on a more intimate level with the volunteers after the two big community exercises and that made all the difference. While still in there small groups, Molly and Sheldon, along with CWP staffers, passed out the students’ anthologies of their original poetry that they had been working on throughout the residency, titled The Community That Made Me. Each student received a copy, as well as all the BlackRock volunteers, and a buzz of excitement filled the room as the students saw the published result of their hard work. Students shared their poems with the volunteers in the small groups, taking turns to read and hear feedback from the BlackRockers.

Soon “autographs” were being signed as books were passed around, students signing and drawing pictures next to their poems, BlackRockers writing words of encouragement and thoughtful sentiments in the margins. The students reveled in their new celebrity status as published authors and the BlackRock volunteers were more than happy to be their adoring fans.

This segued into a poetry reading and the students one-by-one took the stage at the front of the room and read their work aloud for all to hear.

This is Me by Saidey Sanchez

I dig down deep within my soul,
to find my true colors,
to see what my heart unfolds:
there's different shades,
red, orange, blue,
many colors,
but yet one personality.

A blossoming rose, different petals
but none the same,
It's going to grow into this strong flower,
It might go through different phases,
But it's strong enough to go through rain,
hail, snow.
But it will survive,
because this is me. 

Head of the BlackRock volunteers, Pauline Roteta, made a special connection with one student named Amari, and the boy took her anthology and sat down to write her an original poem.

"All I do" by Amari Ball

All I do is play
All I do is love
All I do is think about life
All I do is give thanks
for the people that
care about me
And all I do is care

Soon all the students and volunteers were composing poems for one another that focused on their own communities and the community they established together that day.

Around noon, lunch was served courtesy of BlackRock and a select group of ten students dined along with the volunteers on authentic Puerto Rican cuisine from the neighborhood. The students were happy to spend more time with the volunteers and to hear how their histories led them to BlackRock and how even the activities and interests they had as young students were incorporated now into their work lives. One volunteer talked about how he worked in a restaurant when he first came to the United States and taught himself English by working as a busboy. It was inspiring to hear how this once non-English speaker worked his way to a position at one of the world’s leading investment companies, and how he had never imagined himself their as a kid.

After lunch, Molly and Sheldon led the group in a reflection on the day. The students were asked about what they had learned from the BlackRock volunteers and answers varied from the humorous to the inspiring.

“I learned about people from other cultures.”

“I learned about how getting more involved in my clubs and hobbies can help me later on.”

When it was his turn to speak, Amari, one of the most vocal and interested students of the day, said,

“I learned that sometimes you have a Plan A and sometimes you have a Plan B, but sometimes those things aren’t what you really wanted, and what you wanted and what makes you happy is that unexpected Plan C, which isn’t really a Plan C at all.”

And this seemed to sum up the day for everyone involved. We hadn’t planned to have two large groups for two hours a piece. We hadn’t planned to sign autographs or write poems for each other. We hadn’t planned for a two-minute introduction to evolve into an hour long group discussion that kept a room full of preteens engaged and interested. We hadn’t planned many of the little moments that occurred, but they did, and that made all the difference.  

CWP would like to thank our devoted Teaching Artists, Molly Goldman and Sheldon Best, the classroom teachers and administration at Accion Academy, all of the BlackRock Latin America & Iberia volunteers, and especially Pauline Roteta of BlackRock. Each of you made this special day and future events like this possible. 

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