Let me start off by disclosing that I am not a parent. I am also not a teacher, not in an official capacity. And I don't pretend to be an expert on kids even though I've read enough books by so-called child experts and studied all the issues and stats that highlight the challenges of being a kid in today's complicated world.
But it wasn't until I had the chance to engage kids personally through our summer partnership program — Winburn Kids on the Move Unplugged — which just completed its fourth year with Russell Cave Elementary, Mary Todd Elementary and Winburn Middle — that I gained more in knowledge and perspective than any textbook could ever teach me.
I learned that the leader of the "mean girls" isn't really that mean, and a simple thank you and hug went a long way in replacing her icy stare with a smile.
I learned how to be fearless by watching a free-spirited boy dance wild and free in the gym, proudly wearing his long hair in a ponytail and not bothered at all that people mistake him for a girl.
I learned that an incredibly bright, confident boy with repeat behavioral issues was very self-aware of his attention deficit disorder and all it took was a soccer ball, along with lots of hugs, to get him to focus and play nice. He promised that he would become a brain surgeon and my future care provider when I grow old.
I learned that a boy got into a fight to protect the one thing that meant the most to him — a pendant around his neck holding a picture of his father whom he could no longer see. I learned that a kid missed camp for a week not because of laziness but because the child's mother was dealing with abuse and harassment from an ex-boyfriend.
Each child had a personal story that taught me about adversity and courage. In the process, I learned that my day was made better by being with these kids.
No child asks to be born into a difficult situation, but some of them are. No parent wants to be labeled "bad" but some of them are
While I got to be counselor, teacher, guide and surrogate parent for half a day (then go home to be with my dog), many of these parents struggle with raising a child 24 hours a day. All of it can be incredibly overwhelming — for parents, teachers and especially the kids.
I won't pretend to have easy answers. But these kids taught me something simple and valuable: Be patient, be in the moment and truly listen to what they have to say. They can teach us to be better adults.