Monday, May 11, 2015

Summer Immersive Experience: Bamberg, SC

Reagan Bachour, posed, with violin
Reagan Bachour
Cohort A
Moore Scholars
During the week of May 4-8, the members of Cohort A, Dr. Rogers, and I travelled to Bamberg, South Carolina for the first ever Moore Scholars summer immersion experience in the low country. This experience was like no other that I had had before. I had never even been to a town so rural , and it opened my eyes to how diverse the state of South Carolina is.

Working with the students at Bamberg-Ehrhardt High (BEH) School was incredible. I had never taught anything related to poetry before, and my fellow Cohort A teammates and I were a bit worried about teaching high schoolers since we are all Elementary Education majors or Special Education majors.  We were fortunate to have Kendrick Brown, a graduate of BEH and the Emerging Scholars Program, to work alongside us and assist us with our lesson plans and getting to know the students. Our theme for the week was "Finding Your Voice," and allowing the students to share their feelings and passions was amazing because the students opened up to us through their writing.  We didn't really expect to read about some of the truly personal topics that the students shared with us, especially in such a short period of time.  From learning about losing family members tragically to struggling with such issues as depression or bullying, the students opened up to us in ways that we really never expected.  I was overjoyed that the students trusted us to share their thoughts with us this way.

We were also really impressed by the community of Bamberg.  The people there made us a part of their family, and we were not expecting this either.  Right away, we were welcomed into the home of the pastors of the Trinity Methodist Church, and we stayed there at night.  We were able to use the fellowship hall there to make our lunches for school each day and have our meals in the evenings.   Meanwhile, the guidance counselors and teachers at the school worked to make sure we had dinners covered.  We quickly learned that you can't stay in Bamberg without having some of "Buzzy's" cooking!  ("Buzzy" is one of the best  caterers in Bamberg, you see!)  One morning, the principal got up very early to treat us to a pancake breakfast.  On top of all this, we were also able to see how amazingly gifted the culinary arts classes at BEH are.  We managed to time our visit during Teacher Appreciation Week, so treats provided by the gifted students enrolled in these culinary arts classes were offered to us as well during our time in the school because we were treated like members of the faculty.

One of the best parts of our week was working with the amazing teachers who allowed us into their classrooms.  It was a pleasure to see what it means to see good teachers in action in these classrooms.  It was also a powerful experience to know that they were willing to give us time to try our hands at teaching their students.  Most education majors don't get to attempt this type of thing until much later in their academic careers.  We are so grateful for the opportunity to apply the theories we are learning so early because we know it helps us develop into stronger teachers.

The culminating project of the week was the Open Mic Night Poetry Slam on Thursday night. This gave the students the opportunity to share their voices and their hard work from the week. It was incredible to see parents' faces light up as students shared their poetry in front of a full audience. This event demonstrated that all students have a voice to be heard and are capable of working diligently and fervently.  Looking out at the parents, seeing tears of pride well up in their eyes - this was such a powerful and transformative experience for us all!

Once we were home, we received thank you letters from our students, letting us know they would like us to return next year.  (And, of course, we would like to do so!)  In their letters, they told us:

  • "Y'all brought me out of my shell... this poetry made me believe in anything I can do."
  • "You're a good person... I hope to see you again."
  • "This past week that y'all were here with us, I've never felt so special because I've never been so proud of myself like this."
  • "I didn't really like poetry or think I could write a poem, but you helped me think positive and pushed me to realize I could."
  • "I thank you for this experience because my voice was heard."
  • "You made me think real hard. I used to have trouble following a script, but this time it was about whatever I wanted and however I wanted it. I thank you for helping me want to write."
  • It meant a lot to me that with all the surrounding areas, you chose Bamberg. We may live in a small town, but we all have big personalities and even bigger hearts."
  • "All of you opened of a new world of poetry for me and presented me with a new gift, letting me know something I never knew I had. I think I might want to pursue poetry in college. I'm writing more poems and starting to get better at speaking now. My future seems bright."

Cohort A posing in parking lot
Right to Left: Rebekah Wales, Jacob Schlachte, Kendrick Brown, Jordanne Harpster, Reagan Bachour, Kayla Davis, Tamika Smith 

The week as a whole was a rewarding experience. It was a great opportunity to gain more experience as a future educator, but also it was incredible to be able to reach the students. They all have exemplary potential, but they simply need a few teachers and other authority figures who believe in them, and then, they will be unstoppable. We can't wait for the next opportunity that we will have in this program!