by Harriet Go
From the Editor: Harriet Go is an elementary school teacher in Philadelphia and a leader in the NFB of Pennsylvania. She mentored a group of three students who were assigned to report on the 2009 NFB Youth Slam and generate blogs about what they observed. We asked her to set down her reflections on the Slam experience. This is what she wrote:
After a weekend of mentor training at the University of Maryland at College Park, I couldn’t wait to meet my students. I was ready to get the week’s events started. One by one Oleado, Grecia, and Kayla arrived late Sunday afternoon. After getting unpacked and engaging in the initial getting-to-know-you conversations, we sped off to the dining hall for dinner and an evening of ice-breaker activities. The next day began with a rousing and energetic opening session with speakers like NFB President Marc Maurer and Mark Riccobono, executive director of the Jernigan Institute, who encouraged and challenged the youth to do new things beyond their imaginations. Then it was off to the Slam News track. From there I was sucked into a whirlwind of NFB Youth Slam events with my students that would demystify journalism and shatter the beliefs that currently limit the opportunities of blind people.
Because Youth Slam is ultimately for the students and the programs are designed to develop and expose them to various career fields, I knew that my role as a mentor was critical. From the beginning I made it a point to connect with my students, to listen to them, and to do my best so that they would have a great week. I wanted to share the knowledge and experience that have helped me become an independent and confident blind person.
Many of the teachable moments occurred during authentic experiences during the week like learning to navigate the crowded and confusing lines in the dining hall without dropping our trays, finding our way from the dorms to Annapolis Hall without getting lost, discussing our feelings about other people’s attitudes about blindness, and even working on meeting other students in order to sharpen our social skills. However, teaching was only part of my job; as a mentor I was also learning alongside my students. When I first found out that I was going to be mentoring students in the Slam News track, I gulped. I was a little disappointed and quite intimidated. I knew nothing about journalism. Being a science enthusiast, I would have found almost any other track more interesting. I would have loved to explore the planets in our solar system or simulate a rocket launch in the astronomy track, learn about forensics in the CSI group, or help to build a car in the Blind Driver Challenge. But with reassurance from the instructors and the excitement of my students and their confidence in their ability to write, I couldn’t help jumping right in. So Slam News gave me the opportunity to learn about podcasts, blogging (which I knew nothing about), Twitter, and various styles of writing.
Being a mentor provides a great opportunity to participate in Youth Slam and make a positive impact on the lives of young blind students. It is also a chance to learn from them. These students are our future, and they have a lot to offer. I learned about new things and met lots of people, just as they did. It is exciting to see how much my students have grown and are changing in just a few days. It is inspiring, and I am proud of their accomplishments. I know that they can become great journalists and reporters, or successful in whatever other careers they choose.
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