At the end of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, just before she clicks her heels three times, Dorothy takes a moment to say goodbye to those who helped her on her journey. Each one played a unique role in her success, and she shares a brief moment with each. But to the Scarecrow, whom she saves for last, she whispers just one short sentence, "I think I'll miss you most of all."
Ok.... maybe it's a little harsh for the other characters. But we all know that feeling when we're saying goodbye. There are many, many things we miss when we leave a job, move away or end a journey. But there is always one thing, or person, that stands out from the rest.
As I prepared for this, my final Brooklynology entry, I had many ideas for what to say. But in the end, there was one thing that kept coming to mind--my constant gratitude and appreciation for having had the opportuntiy to work with the incredible young people of Brooklyn.
You see, I didn't have just one scarecrow on my five-year journey down the Brooklyn Connections road. I had over 4,000.
Stereotypes tell us that middle school students are the toughest of all age groups to work with--they are dealing with emotions, hormones, peer pressure and other factors that make them an impossible audience. Many educators refuse to even consider working with adolescents in this age range.
Personally, I can't imagine ever working with a different age group. I'm not saying that these stereotypes don't occasionally ring true. I've seen and experienced my fair share of middle school horrors in my time. But even on the most difficult days, it was the students that kept bringing me back.
In the last five years, I have learned more from the students of Brooklyn Connections than I ever taught them--and they probably don't even realize it. All of those emotions, hormones, peer pressures and other factors that make youth "impossible" also make them insightful, honest, brave and reflective.
I've seen the most cyncial students become fascinated by an archive--to the point where their questions completely derailed my lesson, in a good way. I've watched a young girl have an "aha" moment as she sees similarities between her life and that of someone who lived a century ago. I've learned to recognize the small signs that a student is beginning to look at his surroundings with new eyes. Anyone who tells you that today's "plugged in" youth are simply beyond making such connections isn't looking hard enough. The moments and signs are not easy to uncover, but they are most certainly there.
The students in the Brooklyn Connections program have reminded me what its like to live with passion--for life, for family, for friends, for community. So many times, I have been struck by the way they can relate what they study to what they experience. They look for that understanding in a way that we adults have long forgotten about. I've seen projects that honestly touch on racism, sexism, economics, policitics and other "hot button" issues that many adults would shy away from. I've seen a teacher moved to tears as a student described his admiration for his father, a Mexican immigrant and small business owner in Sunset Park. I've heard students from Crown Heights admit that they've secretly yearned for a better understanding of the diverse--and sometimes divisive--cultures that inhabit their community. I've watched as a 13-year old girl starts a class conversation about why her neighborhood of Brownsville is worthy of community pride and respect.
For me, the biggest lesson I have learned is that so many young people in Brooklyn, and everywhere else, are just looking to have a voice. I am proud to have helped create a program that strives to provide them with at least one form of outlet. And I am so confident in this program that I am willing to leave it behind, knowing that it will continue to flourish and inspire (and be inspired by) the youth of Brooklyn as my career takes me further into the field of education reform.
In short, you only need speak with a student about his or her work to understand that there is far more to the story than the words on the page or the poster on display. Brooklyn Connections is not about students' projects. It is about the students themselves--who they were, who they are and who they will become.
And so I close this blog entry not with my own words, but theirs. I share this video not because I want to promote the program --there will be plenty of time for my successor to do that--but because it is the best possible way I can think of to show who I will "miss most of all":