Since September, a group of 12th graders have been assisting at Families Forward Learning Center. Families Forward provides free education and social services to low-income families in Pasadena and Altadena with children from birth to five years old. Find below four testimonials from our students recapping their experiences there.
From Finley, '20
When I started at Families Forward I felt uncomfortable and out of place. The kids were so interested in the smallest things. Such as a phone that doesn’t work. I really didn’t understand how to interact with the kids. I didn’t feel that I could fake the excitement I saw in them. Over the next few weeks, I learned how to use my role to help the students. I wanted to teach them about sharing and caring for others. My relationship with the students grew once I helped the kids interact with each other. It almost made me feel like a part of the community. I have learned that I can become fully invested in building blocks. When I apply myself I can become interested in anything and actually enjoy it. The fact that I can play with magnets for 2 hours and have fun shows how I have grown. Before I found my Fridays very boring. It is so interesting to me that I went in thinking I would help kids but I have also learned so much. I have learned a lot about paying attention and investing myself. These students have made me feel like a toddler at certain points, I have laughed along with the kids and have made connections with them. I feel that this experience has made me a better and more attentive person. I sometimes would feel that people think I am not paying attention but during this time I have learned how to be more attentive in conversations. I have gotten more from Families Forward than I have brought. I feel that I have had a chance to look at my core values and improve on them. In the situation where I try to calm the kids and prevent arguments I have looked into my past and have seen how I can be childish. The more time I spend with these kids the more I think I’m more similar to them.
From PJ, '20
It was snacktime and I was sitting in my normal spot right between the two tables nearest the toys. I was watching this one kid who’s name I don’t remember yell for more milk. The teachers were all busy though, and I couldn’t reach the milk. Another kid, I don’t quite remember his name, but I have never seen him smile or talk. He doesn’t even try to play with the other kids. He just covets certain toys and wonders around. When he does want something, he just screams.
Anyway, he noticed the kid sitting next to him yelling for more milk. He picked up his glass of milk, which was full, and held it out to the kid. The kid took a second to notice, then saw and started to reach for it. This little kid, completely deadpan, slowly brings the milk out of the other kid’s reach. He never broke eye contact. He never smiled. He just took it away so it was just out of reach and set it next to his plate on the side furthest from the other kid. Then without a second look, he returned to his orange slices. It was such a cold move. The other kid just looked very confused and then began screaming for the teacher again. Eventually he did get his milk. No one else saw this interaction.
And here’s the kicker: when this kid went to put his plates in the bin, his milk was still full. He did not drink it. He did not want it. Kids are wild, man.
Despite my inexperience with kids, I’m actually enjoying myself at Families Forward. I wouldn’t consider myself a person who’s good with kids, but somehow the kids have gotten used to my presence and have even started liking me. Although he won’t brush his teeth for me, one child sits in my lap everyday when it’s time to circle up, and he finds me and asks to play. Usually kids are scared of me, probably because they can sense that I’m slightly afraid of them, but now I’ve gotten over that fear. I feel like I’m much better with kids now than I was before, and I’ve found the joy in working with them.
From Jason, '20
For the past couple of months I have been going to Families Forward Family Learning Center as a volunteer helping the kids develop their social skills. Coming into this with no past experience in working with kids around the age of 5 there was a huge learning gap. Not only have I learned more about the community there but also about myself.
Developing a relationship with someone you don’t know is already a difficult thing to do, especially when working with someone who is not in the same age group. Learning how to communicate with the kids when words are sometimes not the best option was something that took some time for me to get comfortable with. A large part of developing this relationship with the kids is being able to put yourself in their shoes so that both sides can better understand each other. Personally it took me some time to be able to put myself in their shoes and in a way try to be a kid again so that they do not feel intimidated that I am just another authoritative figure. It has been really rewarding to see how the kids have slowly gotten more comfortable with us and how excited they get when they see us coming in every Friday afternoon.
One of the things that I have learned about myself throughout my time with the kids has been the importance of being patient and taking things one at a time. This has been something that I have struggled with in the past feeling overwhelmed when I feel like I have an endless amount of work. It is really easy to get yourself stressed out with your own thoughts but I really feel like I have learned from the kids that you have to try and find the fun in everything you do.
I have really enjoyed my time at Families Forward and look forward to the new things that not only I can teach the kids but to the things that they could teach me. The work that the staff does not only for the kids but for the parents is really amazing and I am proud that I could be part of the mission.
From Alex, '20
I have had a lot of opportunities to learn about how to run a classroom but none have shown me so many new encounters as the Families Forward classroom has. Working with preschoolers has taught me a lot about how I can help young kids show their care for each other and their communities. Almost every time I visit I get to run a little dance competition where we get to practice loads of social and academic skills. I get to teach the kids how to care for their friends and how to play in ways that include everyone so that everyone in the classroom can benefit and participate.
I’ve also learned some stuff about myself like what type of activities I gravitate towards and what kind of kids try to join in on my activities. I learned how to push the more introverted kids to participate in games with their rowdy classmates. The kids seem to have more fun when more people participate in their collaborative activities. I’ve also learned effective strategies on how to defuse very tense situations between the kids. I’ve taught kids how to express their emotions to each other so that everyone feels much more cared about and heard.
The kids also have shown how wonderful it is to have some people rely on you. Any week where there’s no school on Friday I am asked by all the children why I missed the previous Friday. They always tell my friends and I that we should come more than once a week and every time we leave for the day a group of them line up to give us hugs. Even the teachers talk to us about how much easier the kids are to manage when we’re in the classroom. Our presence causes the kids to become more gravitated towards whatever we’re doing. So when cleanup time comes around the kids are quick to set up for circle time so we can all make announcements about our weeks and explain what toys we brought.