Members of the Class of 2017 gathered on June 1, 2017 to share reflections in small groups regarding their experiences providing community service through our Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Service Project. (See the photo gallery from the Arrupe Service Projects Reflection Groups.)
All Cheverus seniors end their classes in late April and spend the next four to five weeks on site at various institutions in the community: schools, day care centers, nursing homes, hospitals, etc. The students work at the site for five to six hours a day (the equivalent of a school day) working with clients for at least half of the time. The students must meet with a Cheverus faculty adviser once a week to process their experience, and write two 500-word reflection papers over the course of the month. It is a graduation requirement and corresponds directly to the mission of Cheverus to prepare young men and women to be people for others by fostering intellectual, spiritual, physical and personal excellence.
The Arrupe Service Projects -- named for Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, a former Superior General of the Society of Jesus -- have been part of the Cheverus experience since 1972. Thank you to faculty members Stephen Dalvet and Daniel Haskell for their leadership of this important program.
At the Arrupe gathering ceremony, Jesse Rodrigues was selected to share his personal reflection before the entire Cheverus community, please find the transcript of his speech below.
Jesse Rodrigues, Class of 2017
It goes without saying that working with small children requires a tremendous amount of patience. I do consider myself a patient person, but a person can go their whole life cultivating the esoteric virtue of “patience” and be thoroughly deficient in the particular kind of patience needed to work at the place where I was assigned, or anywhere where small children are present. I am the youngest of four; I live thousands of miles away from any cousins younger than me; and I’ve spent the last four years of my life walking the halls of a place populated almost exclusively by people over the age of fourteen. In short, I don’t know how work with little kids.
And yet, my placement was my placement, so away I went. I was put in the Great Atlantic classroom of the East End Children’s Workshop with seventeen kids aged three to five. A typical day began with morning playtime as they arrived, followed by morning meeting (usually a book reading or the “word of the week” unit). Then we’d feed them breakfast, let them play inside for a little more, then take them outside to one of the local playgrounds on Munjoy. Then we’d come back, feed them lunch, and put them down for a nap. Pretty straightforward in writing, but in practice, you can imagine that herding seventeen small children from all over the spectrum of social-emotional development is no small task. Every minute presented some minor crisis or tantrum of one kind or another.
I won’t lie, there were plenty of times when I lost my patience with the kids. But each time I gave into my frustration, I knew that I was missing the point of what I was there to do. The Children’s Workshop primarily serves disadvantaged kids. Space is limited, so they’re admitted to the school on a case-by case basis. And so I was never explicitly told about their situations, but details about their lives still filtered through to me through conversations with teachers and with the kids themselves. Kids in this age range are really frank; for the most part they speak exactly what’s on their mind--if they like something, great, they’ll tell you. If they don’t like something , they’ll be sure to tell you. And so, with kids in these particular situations, this frankness sometimes translated into some really jarring conversations.
One girl pivoted from telling me about the stuffed dog that she had brought into school that day to telling me that her dad was dead, almost in the same breath. Another boy who was talking to me a mile a minute while I was trying to read to him; he told me that he felt like his brain was crazy and that he was sorry that he was interrupting the story but he just couldn’t calm himself down. Another girl told me that the policeman had been really nice to her the night before when he came to take her dad to jail.
I have experienced unhappiness and difficulty in my life, but I will never fully understand what it’s like for some of these kids to be in the situations that they are, right at square one of their lives. Whether it’s poverty or insane custody arrangements or absent, deceased, or even abusive parents, the world isn’t always kind to them. And unfortunately, my job and the job of the teachers I worked with begins and ends at the classroom door; we can’t just lift them from bad situations. We can arm them with social, emotional, and intellectual tools, but at the end of the day, when we send them out the door, they face their battles alone.
But I believe the Children’s Workshop is preparing them well. It may not look like it, but when we teach the kids to share their oversized legos and to sit still at circle time and to praise each other’s drawings, we’re working on something much bigger. We’re beating back a darkness that is present in their lives through no fault of their own.
Maybe I’m not entitled to speak that floridly about something that I participated in for only a month, but I’ve gained a huge amount of respect for the people who do this professionally. Education is a gift that has the power to take a bad circumstance and turn it around, or to take a good circumstance and make it even better. My Arrupe assignment gave me the opportunity to see this process in action, right at its roots in early childhood, and it was only through my own education that I was given this opportunity and the eyes to see the grace present in it. I hope that one day, years from now, the kids I worked with will be in this same position, poised to graduate high school, proud of what they’ve accomplished, and prepared to meet the rest of their lives head-on, all owing to a solid foundation.