I had a really amazing experience on my ASB trip. I had high expectations to begin with but the trip definitely exceeded all of my expectations. It was an incredible experience teaching middle school students. I was so excited to tell them all about college and hopefully encourage them to consider all of their options. I was also very interested in learning about the Navajo culture, since it is so different than what I am used to. In terms of what I learned about myself, I learned that I can really step up in front of a class in a leadership position. I was definitely nervous about this going into the trip but as each day went by it became easier and very, very rewarding.
One of the first things we were told when being introduced to the staff and shown around the school came up throughout the trip as well. It had to do with inconsistency. People who teach in this region tend to stick around for a year or two, learning techniques and getting to know the students. However, after they leave, students are left with a new person who has to rebuild their trust. It is difficult for students to fully trust teachers and see them as dependable role models in an atmosphere with such a high turnover rate. I recognized the fact that we were contributing to that model, since we were only going to be there for a week. This has me thinking more and more about not spreading myself out too thin. Experiences like this are important, but perhaps I should concentrate my efforts on fewer communities for more significant amounts of time.
I remember one of the kids coming up to me and asking a very simple question: "Why did you come to Gallup?" I told her that I wanted to come to teach for my spring break instead of just going home. She asked me why. I said because I wanted to give back to a community in some way. She continued to ask why until I was forced to think for myself, "Why Gallup?" Most of the kids wanted to get out of Gallup as soon as possible and there I was teaching nutrition for a week. I knelt down beside her and said, "Because I wanted to meet you." She blushed and went back to her work, but I stood up in deep thought. What was my original purpose in going to Gallup? The trip was not about being a resume-filler or getting a chance to see New Mexico. The purpose of the trip was to make REAL connections with students that would last longer than seven days. And I realized in that moment that I meant every word I had said to her.
We were visiting a small mission school just for a couple hours with 14 disadvantaged children. We ate lunch and played with the kids, but it was nothing too organized or special. As we were saying goodbye, we took a group photo with all of the kids on our backs. I walked the little girl that I had played with back to her school building and she threw her arms around my neck, refusing to let me go. There was actually a minute when she was hanging from my neck while her teacher tried to coax her back inside. It was amazing to see how much of a connection we were able to make with the kids and the impact that we had in such a short time even though we had barely talked to them.
In Gallup, New Mexico, my ASB group taught lessons about nutrition at a middle school where diabetes and obesity pose huge threats to the community. After describing the dangers of diabetes to a class of eighth graders, I walked around the room, supervising the class as they filled out a worksheet on what they had learned. When I approached one boy, he told me that he was terrified of getting diabetes - he was visibly scared. While I had hoped to make an impact on the students, I didn't want them to leave feeling incredibly uncomfortable, and I tried to explain to the boy that while diabetes can be very harmful, it is also preventable, and can be treated. The boy talked to me for a while, admitting that he currently drinks three sodas every day, and that he wanted to start changing his behavior. When the class left, I spoke to the teacher about the boy's intense worrying. The teacher explained to me that this student is autistic, and gets extremely worried very easily. He assured me that we had not scarred the boy with our warnings about unhealthy eating – on the contrary, our information might actually set him on a path towards better nutrition.
One memory that particularly stood out was when one of the students in my class asked if we would be coming back. We said we didn't know and that we had to go back to school too. He responded by telling us that we could still come back after we graduated though. This moment stood out because, while our time in Gallup was very brief, the kids lived there permanently and constantly experienced high turnover rates of teachers. Education is extremely important, especially in a community where high school graduation rates are comparatively low. Gallup already has a lack of resources and poverty is prevalent, and as a child, it would be difficult to be motivated and believe that teachers are fully invested in helping their students succeed if they are constantly coming and going.