If prompted to think of all the things we must teach a child, gratitude probably wouldn’t top your list. Though, now mentioned, you may agree to it’s importance and that you would want all people to have this quality. So how do we teach gratitude? If I were to use my experience, I would say that it happens through sharing experiences with others, thoughtfully reflecting on the experience, and broadening your understanding through learning about others’ perspectives.
One such pivotal experience in my life that has taught me about gratitude happened when I went to college; I started volunteering at a unique charter school that was designed in an attempt to improve the diversity of college student populations to be more representative of the diversity of the actual population. The students at this charter school were low-income, of minority backgrounds, the first in their families to possibly attend college, and either the student or parent (preferably both) must be committed to ensuring the student pursued college. It was at this school that I learned that I was fortunate in my educational upbringing. Unlike many of the students I worked with, I never worried about college being a financial strain for my family- not because of tuition fees, but because I wouldn’t be able to contribute an income to my family. I never thought about whether my school was or was not preparing me to be competitive enough to get into college. I never worried about my friends giving me a hard time for going to a college prep school after returning home from an hour commute each day. I also never wrestled with the pain of drugs, alcohol or gang activity in my life.
I grew up in a small suburb of Los Angeles County, where going to college was the next step after high school. In elementary school I was tested for the Gifted and Talented Education program several times at the request of my teachers, I never passed, but was always placed with the teachers who had the gifted students. I didn’t make the connection that not all students in the eighth grade were taking algebra, even though not all eighth graders went to school for zero period to take the only algebra class offered before everyone else started school. My high school advisor, who set my class schedule, argued with me when I said I wanted to take regular Spanish IV with the ‘easy’ teacher, and tried to convince me to take advanced placement Spanish IV.
My experience as a volunteer tutor and mentor for middle schools students at this unique charter school lasted for three years, however it only took a few short months for the students to begin to confide in me. It was their honesty that brought me to the sobering realizations of my schooling that I shared above and allowed me to be grateful and appreciative of the educators who believed in me. At the time, I was unable to recognize my life as full of opportunities because they were normal to me; I had no idea how life differed for others. That experience sparked my curiosity about education and it led me to pursue a teaching credential and a masters in education, teaching under-served populations, training Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia, and now, working alongside AmeriCorps Members who tutor and mentor students in Los Angeles Unified School District with City Year.
I find it crucial for our youth to have experiences that will broaden their perspective, because it was when I learned about others and from others that I came to a place of gratitude and was able to come to know my passion for educational equity. We need to be intentional about providing youth with valuable experiences. We can’t expect kids to be “good” let alone great without teaching what that means and then giving those kids appropriate opportunities to practice being a good person. Most of us need support in this growing process, and then hopefully we get good without support, and even when no one is watching.
So, what might that look like? A new non-profit called Big Citizen HUB has designed deliberate programming that brings young people together to learn about social issues, to take action in response to the social issue through service, and all the while reflecting to add an additional layer of learning. What is unique about Big Citizen HUB is that they bring together diverse teams of youth to be curious, adventurous, reflective- to be ‘big citizens’ by actively participating in their community to build greater democracy. The youth who will participate in this program will serve 100 hours and by the end of the program will do their own research and design their own service project to implement. Programs such as these are amazing and inspiring, they give hope and encouragement because they are designed to strengthen character (if you are interested in the research on the relationship of character and success check out the character lab founded by Angela Duckworth). These programs need to be everyday, commonplace. That is my hope.
If you would ever buy me a latte in the future, I am going to ask that you spend that $5 on donating to Big Citizen HUB because I believe in this organization and its leadership. Just pretend we met up, I mean we still can, and I’ll just drink water or buy my own drink, better yet, I’ll buy you a drink, so that you can click this link and give a bit to our future leaders in a city whose bank of opportunities is heavily weighted on factors that have nothing to do with them. A child doesn’t ask to be born, or have a choice in where they grow up, or choose the school that they attend. And when did those choice-less factors become strong determinants of a child’s opportunity?
Let’s be good to each other because we can. Let’s support those that are courageous enough to invest in our youth.