When I posted about the project previously, McEwans asked in the comment thread if I could share some of the students’ stories. Here's a sampling of their stories and the trends...
Most of the students give a lot of credit to their parents for instilling values, morals, principles and beliefs. Family was overwhelmingly their most credited influence. A lot of students mentioned chores and being a participating member of their home with a needed role as an important aspect of who they are and how they fit in. Especially students who have to help with younger siblings in the afternoons until parents come home from work.
Friends and peer relationships, of course, figure prominently into their middle and high school years. They are greatly influenced by their peer relationships. It was inspiring to read how some students, upon realizing they had chosen friends with dissimilar values, were brave enough to go and make new friends.
Most of the students who credited God, religious beliefs, and church involvement felt it helped them resist negative peer and societal influences. For these students religion has been a positive experience that has helped mature them with empathy and mindfulness. Others felt disconnected and disappointed from their experiences with organized religions. Some students who go to more zealous and narrowly pedantic churches seemed less empathetic and more judgmental towards others.
The negative factor that shaped their lives and which was cited most often was divorce. This was mostly true when the divorce was bitter or a parent became absent. One student revealed the difficulty of dealing with feelings of jealousy towards friends and cousins who had a father present in their lives.
Students who are fully engaged in school and have engaging exeriences are usually involved in a program outside of core subjects. Band, music, art, sports, dance, student government, extracurricular clubs were all cited as major factors in shaping them and influencing them positively. These factors are the reasons (along with their friends) that they love coming to school. (So please keep out the shout to not cut these programs)
They value their education more than they admit to on a day to day basis.
Those who have gone through tough times in their young years (domestic violence, parental drug abuse, abandonment) could break your heart not only by their resilience, but also by their forgiveness and unconditional love.
Specifically, some highlights and quotes:
My grandfather was a huge influence. He took me fishing and to the beach and spent a lot of time teaching me things from his life. I am proud of him because he served our country in WWII.
A poem of growing up in domestic violence titled “When My Blue Skies Turned Grey”
Another poem a student wrote about her current relationship with her parents includes these two lines:
I hate how we can’t talk like we used to
There are so many things that I want to tell you
Or this insight from an essay, Growing up an only child, I got sunburned from the spotlight that my parents always shined on me.
Another student wrote that her jealousy of her little sister’s birth when she was five and the consequences of being pushed out of her parents spotlight were the factors that drove her to seek excellence in academics (and regain her parents’ attention).
I loved the idealism of some of the students. One wants to become a pharmacist. But she did not write about making her own personal fortune in the pharmaceutical business. Instead she shared how she would like to start a program to bring much needed medications and vaccines to third world countries.
One student’s poem describes her feelings when she passes the beach parks with the tent cities of the homeless:
Tides of grief rolled into my heart
And left my body quaking
My comfort burst by Indigence’s dart
A dream was birthed, a goal set
To aid families down on their luck
To cleanse the next generation of our regrets.
Another student wrote his poem about how he used sleep as therapy to get him through the angst of middle school. A few lines of a six stanza poem:
What wonders it brings
to shut my eyes closed
and put down all the walls,
and weapons and soldiers
that keep me safe from
the biting and gnashing of bitter teeth
and bothersome, mindless chatter of the world.
Please leave me for awhile
And I will reach you across the wide oceans of my mind
Through the colossal mountains of thought
Beneath the clouded sky of reflection
And speak with you
In the green fields of sleep.
Or a poem about a parent who made some bad choices that includes these lines:
When your hero falls from grace
All fairy tales are uncovered
When your hero falls from grace, so do the stars
And your perception of tomorrow.
Some students prefaced their essays with a favorite quote:
“Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor” Into the Woods
“Wars and elections are both too big and too small to matter in the long run. The daily work that goes on, it adds up.” Barbara Kingsolver
“Life is a gift; however, living life with values and principles returns the favor.” Anonymous
“Life is not about finding yourself. It is about creating yourself.” Anonymous
I love my job.