Finding the Power in Poverty.
What does one private-schooled twenty-three year old from Kentucky have in common with a room filled with thirty or so nine to thirteen year old boys and girls in a Title 1 school in Denver, Colorado? There are a few things I can name: ambition, aspiration, dreams, passion, hunger and enthusiasm. But, there is something else that I share with these students, something under the surface that others may not see, even if they were looking, and that is, we all live in poverty.
My state of poverty, however, was a conscious choice. I joined the AmeriCorps VISTA program after graduating college because I wanted a taste of the reality that so many Americans experience. As a child, I thought my life was normal – Catholic school, new uniforms and shoes at the start of each school year, my mom’s minivan in the carpool line, my dad’s powder-blue Cadillac coming home from work each day, being coaxed to take a few more bites of my green beans so I could have ice cream for dessert – but in college, I began to realize just how much privilege I had.
For some of us reading this, myself included, college was less of an option and more of a “next step.” Throughout my high school career, I was always preparing for college: thinking about where I’d want to go, what I’d want to major in, what organizations or clubs I would want to get involved in once I got there. Family reunions were filled with questions of “How is school going?” and “Where are you thinking of going to college?” My parents supported my every whim; they took me on college visits across Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, Massachusetts and Florida. At the ripe age of eighteen, I felt as though the possibilities were endless; all I had to do was follow my dreams. The whole world was within my reach; all I had to do was listen to my heart so I knew what to reach for. It was only once I got to college in Lexington, Kentucky that I began to meet those my age who had fallen behind due to circumstance: those for whom college was more financial trouble than it was worth, those who had full-time jobs they needed to work in order to help their families, those who hadn’t finished high school because they were abusing drugs and alcohol and they had no one who cared enough to stop them. I began to realize I was very, very lucky.
After graduation, I wanted to share the gifts I had been given with others, somehow. That is why I was drawn to the AmeriCorps VISTA program. VISTA members choose to live and serve in some of our nation’s poorest urban and rural communities. Members make a one-year commitment to live at the poverty line of a single person in the area they are serving. Many members, like myself, come from backgrounds where they know their friends or families can pick them up and support them should they fall. For the students I have met during my AmeriCorps service, this is often not their reality. They are usually born into poverty and often into families who have known nothing else for generations. While people like me are exploring opportunities, trying to choose from an infinite spectrum of possibilities, and using a year in poverty for personal growth – others are looking for just one door to open up, one light to appear at the end of an infinite maze of tunnels. All along I have been patting myself on the back for graduating college and beginning my professional career, but then I realized, I was congratulating myself on hitting a home run when I had started on third base.
OpenWorld Learning can be that door, that light, for so many students. It is important to understand how damaged people or people from damaged backgrounds don’t always know how to say “yes” or to choose the big thing. It’s a shame that they carry – the shame of not believing they deserve to stand in the same way, in the same room, with people who may have started ahead of them. It is difficult to think “yes” or to think “up,” when all you know is fight or flight, when all you know is eat or get eaten up. We all trigger things inside other people, whether it be lighting a fire or causing a storm. OpenWorld Learning seeks to show all children that their minds, their imaginations, their stories that they have to tell are just as beautiful and radiant as their peers who may have started out with more. OpenWorld Learning believes that any student is capable of becoming a leader, of learning complex concepts of math, science, technology and engineering and of developing a love of learning that will be their ticket to places they couldn’t imagine before. OpenWorld Learning is here to tell these children that they have every right to sit at the same table.
Review from #MyGivingStory
Open world learning has been wonderful for both of my elementary aged boys. They are experiencing computer programs that they would never have had access to. The atmosphere is fun and supportive and we love the opportunity to be involved in the program.
Review from Guidestar
My 10 year old son has been participating in Open World Learning (OWL) for the past semester at Park Hill School. While his school does provide some computer classes, they are very limited and do not at all address programming. He loves attending OWL and is learning Microworlds and Scratch computer languages, to program graphics and games that he has created. This is a fantastic program that will give today's kids a technical (and fun) computer programming education that will be sure to help them later in life.