Alternative Breaks at the University of Kansas (KU), a student run volunteer organization, dedicated a week to immersing themselves in four diverse schools on the north, west and south sides of Chicago. The program is designed to help KU studetns gain perspective through education, direct service and reflection. And it worked! Through play, student volunteers from KU and inner-city children made connections and built bonds across social and cultural hurdles.
It was hard for students and volunteers to say good-bye alike when the week wound down. Our students were able to find new role models in their lives, while the KU volunteers learned invaluable experiential lessons in empathy, the importance of physical activity, and values-building! At the end of the week, everyone respected the game, played hard and had FUN!
Here’s what the alternative breakers had to say about their week with Playworks in Chicago:
As the kids were coming out to recess, they were all so happy to see us and greeted me with “Hi Coach Laura!” and “I’m so glad you are back!” As the second grade class was walking out, one of the kids came up to me and asked, “Are you coming back forever? Because I really want you to.” Words cannot describe how heartwarming that little voice was. All those kids wanted was someone to run around and play tag with, to be able to talk to, and to be able to look up to. I wanted so bad to tell him that I would be coming back ‘forever’, even though I only had a week left with Playworks.
Playworks focuses on low-income schools and the most volatile time these kids see at school, RECESS. Recess includes physical activity and social interactions that are critical to a child's development. Helping organize recess gives us a chance to teach values by example: fairness, respect, and leadership. These values spread into the classroom and the students’ lives. School may be the only chance some kids have of getting a shot at what they really want in life.
I aspire to be a dentist, and I think one of the most important aspects of being a good dentist is being able to empathize with patients. To better empathize with people, you have to have experienced what they have experienced. Though I will never be able to fully empathize with most of the children I worked with, I have a better understanding of what life is like outside of where I grew up. During a Class Game Time, when I got to talking to the teacher of the class we were with, she looked me in the eye and said "Coach Fi is the greatest thing that has ever happened to this school." This sums up all of the great things that Playworks does, and I feel as though I am now a part of it.
I want to be an elementary school teacher in a low-income school, so getting to know the students was very intriguing. We saw a lot of students get in trouble for fighting or disrupting class. Coach D would call them over and talk to them quietly and tell them that he knew they were better than their actions. I was inspired by him because he related to the kids and showed them that he cared about them as a person. From this experience, I will take away what Coach D taught me about how to get through to the kids and how to gain their respect.
What I really enjoyed about watching the volleyball leagues is seeing the interaction between the coaches and their teams. Every child that participated in these teams greatly looked up to their coach, and every single coach exhibited a personal connection with each individual student. In addition, it was impressive to see how even when the coach stepped away, the kids mostly remained adherent to the three rules of Playworks: respect the game, play hard and have fun.
After our initial meeting with the Playworks staff, any nerves we had turned to excitement. The rules for the playground were simple: 1. Respect the game 2. Play hard 3. Have fun. It was incredible to see how these three tenets transformed the entire school environment.
All in all, this volunteer experience has been so much more than that. I met and bonded with some really awesome kids, and they taught me how to be less self-conscious, let go, and have fun. I also saw coaches and teachers who work hard every day to be positive role models and change these kids' lives for the better. It has been a unique and amazing experience, and I'm so thankful I've had the opportunity to be a part of it!