W7D4 – My three most unforgettable characters

Well, this is the first post I’ve ever written in transit. Normally, I wait until I’m home and write them, but it’s going to be pretty late when I get there, and I want to get the ideas down while they’re still fresh.

I’m just coming from a GWC graduation, my first this year. Unfortunately, the way the schedule works, I have four classes graduation simultaneously tonight, and the travel distances between them preclude me from attending more than one. I’m glad I chose the one I did.

It’s a great site, and they do wonderful things for the girls. The teaching team was a strong one. Sites are like children, you love them all, but sometimes there’s one you just get along with better. This was that site this year. Part of what made it great was the presence of three incredible young women, each of which gave me a story to carry away from the summer.

First, Anna. I spent some time during week two helping her to get her Hangman coding project to work. Hangman is a challenging project for even an experienced coder. When I first saw it in the curriculum, I thought, “Gee, I have to think about how to do that.” So, in the hands of a student who is new to programming, and even newer to a text based programming language, it’s a big deal. When I looked around the room, I could see that Anna was stuck, and asked her if she could use some help getting unstuck. She said yes, so I sat down next to her, and we spent about forty five minutes getting her program to work, and more importantly, her to understand what the code was doing.

When we finished, I issued her same challenge I often do: “Now that your code is working, you should help Casey (the girl she was sitting next to, and clearly was friends with) get hers going.”

“No, I can’t do that, I don’t know enough.”

“But you have working code, and you understand what it’s doing. You can work through her code and get it to do the same thing.”

“No, I can’t do that.”

“Ok.”

I won’t push. She’s from a country eight time zones away, and English is not her first language (she speaks six). So, I moved on to help another girl.

Ten minutes later, I glanced around the room, and there was Anna, helping Casey get her code working. Whoop!

Second is Michelle. I support about one hundred eighty girls in all my classrooms. I rarely get to meet any of them more than once or twice, and to many of them I’m probably just that weird guy who comes in once a week, who knows why. It’s part of the job – I don’t get to make the connections with students that I’d like to.

Michelle, though, more than any other girl in the program, made me feel welcome in that classroom. She ALWAYS took time to say hello and ask how things were going, and ALWAYS gave her full attention to the answer. When you’re an outsider, that makes a huge difference.

Finally, Love. When I met her a week before the program at the Meet and Greet event, I’d have told you that Love wasn’t going to make it through the program. I didn’t even think she’d make it through the first week. She had that “I don’t want to be here” look that is frequently the kiss of death – the kind that says any small obstacle is going to derail this. At the same time, there was another girl who very much wanted to be in the program, who even came the first day willing to do just about anything to participate, even remotely. At the time I thought, but didn’t say, that we’d have an opening for her by day three.

You see, I already knew what Love’s obstacle was, her excuse for not participating – a three hour commute in each direction. In order to be on time, she had to be in a train at 5:45 am, every day, and she wouldn’t get home until after 7 pm. That’s a hell of an obstacle.

Still, she stuck it out, one day at a time. Every day, when I checked the attendance, there she was: present. Even in week two, when I saw her, she was still pretty still disengaged, and I thought she might leave. Week three though, she started to change – she joined with the other girls more, and stood a little straighter. I was awestruck tonight as she took the stage, tall and proud, with her project group and graduated. With perfect attendance.

Three characters, three lessons – you can do more than you think you can; be kind to outsiders; no obstacle is too big if you stick it out. I couldn’t be prouder of these fine young women, and the rest of the classes graduating tonight. Fine job, girls, fine job.

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