Curiosity and a deep desire to learn, despite the bravado. That's what I see in some of our toughest kids.
"This After-School Academy is stupid!!" is what I heard from one of the kids (I'll call him Donovan) as he tried to refuse to walk in to the African Beading class we had scheduled.
I decided we would all be better off if I didn't push him to conform. The other kids were ignoring his obstinate behavior so I left him alone.
His arms were crossed and he stood with a furrowed brow and clenched teeth behind Ms. Dipo, the instructor. Ms. Dipo started with an African greeting and then began talking to the kids about Africa. One-by-one, she pulled out her beaded jewelry. Chelsea's face lit up as Ms. Dipo placed the head pieces on her to show everyone how they were to be worn.
I kept an eye on Donovan making sure he wasn't going to become disruptive to get attention. Instead, as Ms. Dipo started talking, his body language changed. As she held up a new piece of jewelry I saw him sidle over so he could see around her shoulder, then quickly return to his place by the door.
As we moved in to the classroom to make our own beaded bracelets, Donovan started in again, "This is so stupid! I hate this and I can't put that string through that little hole!" ...and then went on to get started.
Unfortunately, he continued making the snide comments, being disrespectful and causing the others to join in with him, until I finally had to pull him out of the classroom.
As I talked with him, I realized Donovan seems to already have his life plan decided...but these new activities that intrigue him seem to be throwing his plan off. He wants to be an "O.G." (original gangsta)...or so he says. But I have hope these little moments are stimulating his thinking. I have hope that the After-School Academy is a place that augments his mom's efforts to ensure he grows into a productive young man.
As I talked to him, I explained that he has opportunities. It is up to him to take advantage of those opportunities. My hope for Donovan is that he will realize that and that one day he will be able to say...
"...and I --I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference."