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A Wheel of Grace

Ava Jenkins, DSHA '22
During my two weeks on Vocare, I had the honor of serving at Bryant Elementary. Bryant is a small Milwaukee Public School just 10 minutes away from DSHA, and around 220 students are enrolled there. I had the joy and absolute pleasure of spending my time in the K4 room with four and five-year-olds. 
Each day I would accompany the kids through their schedule. I helped out in music, art, and gym, and after their specials, I ran a station in the classroom dedicated to learning their current letter of the week. I made many, many play-dough "I"s and "V"s, and then eventually snowmen. At lunch, we helped kids open the wrapping on their lunches, got them water, and threw away their trash before sending them outside. After recess and my lunch, we got the kids ready for rest time, during which we would work on prepping coloring sheets, homework, and other school work for K4, doing math flashcards with 1st and 2nd grade, or if no one needed us, we snuck in to take a nap with the K4 kids. Easily the worst part of each day was waking up the kids. I was deeply unprepared to wake up a heavily sleeping four-year-old and put his or her shoes on.

Side note, the kids in K4 had some shoe game, but trying to shove a child's foot into some sick Air Jordans is something I wish upon no one here. Once somewhat awake, we got the kids' snacks and started to get them ready for pickup. Every day at Bryant loosely followed the same routine but by no means was any day the same. Kids are WILD. Playtime was a battlefield. I mediated countless fights over who got to use the blocks despite a shelf full not in use, I swept up rice from over-zealous kids in the sensory bin, but most seriously, I was the judge of which imaginary cake was better. Let's just say four-year-olds take their culinary prominence very, very seriously. 

Being in K4 was great. We danced, sang, and worked on learning letters. In my couple of hours spent with older kids, the learning was different. COVID-19 affected all of our educations, but I never realized the immense impact on young kids. Sure, we missed a school dance or two, but these kids missed integral parts of their education. Sure, half of last year was online. But we had the resources to log in online and participate in classes virtually. Many of these kids could not do that. I felt incredibly discouraged while doing math with the first graders because half of them couldn't count. I felt inadequate as a volunteer and a mentor to these kids until I took a step back.

Because my service at Bryant, and all of our service in general, is not about us. It has nothing to do with how hard it is for me to teach math to kids. It has everything to do with sitting there, grinding out problems, and supporting these kids. At our Vocare send-off assembly, I know many of us were a bit taken aback by the speaker's message, her assertion that we wouldn't change these kids' lives. It didn't feel very optimistic. But she was right. Our two weeks of service did not remedy the toll COVID-19 has taken on these kids' education. My 30 minutes of math help did not teach these kids how to do addition flawlessly. But that's not what it was supposed to do. My 30 minutes of flashcards showed two kids that people are willing to sit with them in their struggles. Maybe it taught them that it's okay to be wrong the first time because people will support you until you get it right. My hour and a half of writing the kids' names on different assignments and prepping color by numbers did not teach them the alphabet, but it took a burden off the K4 teacher's shoulders and gave her more time to devote to other tasks. 

My service at Bryant left me exhausted. I slept for 14 hours straight after two weeks. It gave me a glimpse of teachers' sacrifices, especially at MPS schools. The teachers at Bryant consistently give their all to those kids. For many kids there, school is the one constant thing in their lives. It's two of their meals in the day and the most direct attention and love they receive. MPS schools are often underfunded, and their communities underserved. But these teachers show up every day and pour their all into their work. I was dogged each day afterwards and that was with a nap included with the K4 kids. These teachers are there year-round and care about each kids’ education on a personal level.

The teachers at Bryant Elementary love those kids like their own, and it is reciprocated. During our reflection session, halfway through Vocare, we were asked if we felt that we were receiving more than we were giving. I know for a fact that the answer to that question is yes. Every single day, those kids told me that they loved me. They told me by wanting to hold my hand in the hallway and oddly wanting to see my belly. They told me by asking me to sit with them at lunch. They told me by continually asking to see a picture of my brother playing basketball. They told me outright. They told me every morning, no matter how tired and raggedy I looked, by simply being excited to see me. 

Mr. Pavlovich captured the sentiment of service perfectly in my reflection group. He described it as a wheel of grace. Every name I wrote on a paper, every tower I built, any labor of love I committed was multiplied and returned to me in the form of appreciation and love. Every day, I sat in my car after the school day and felt fully content with my day. These kids didn't ask me for anything. They just wanted me to be there, be present, and listen. In return, they provided me with the purest, unadulterated form of love. That is the beauty of service. By being the Goodness and Kindness of Jesus Christ, I consistently receive the wholesome, undeserved love of Jesus through each smile of the kids and staff at Bryant Elementary.
    • Ava Jenkins, DSHA '22

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