Last week I attended the seventeenth annual National Congress on Rural Education. My role at the conference was as teacher advisor to a team of nine high school ejournalism students from Prairie South Schools. The students were successful; this means I was responsible for frequently refilling my coffee cup.
I sat in on the keynote speakers and the entertainment following the banquet. As well, I made certain to attend all session where one of @yourgeeksquad was sharing their work.
My role was not only to listen to kids, but to offer my students a platform from which to share their experiences.
The conference began on Sunday evening, March 25, and ran until Tuesday noon, March 27. Driving home on Tuesday, my kids and I reflected about what went well and what they would do differently if given the chance to report at another RCEd, or during their next ejournalist gig. The students’ big take-away was: let kids lead more.
Sunday night my students gathered on the second floor common area of the Delta Bessborough. There, we collected and reviewed our interviews and summarized our notes from the first day. The adrenaline was running. We had just met and interviewed and been photographed with Craig Kielburger; also, we had just come from the local coffee house.
A night of collaboration was in full swing. Then the elevator doors opened.
See the Geek Squad were not the only kids who had met Craig. My kids, the-at-first-glance-what-appear-to-be-white kids-from Prairie South Schools were not the only kids who had attended the conference.
Around 11:55 pm, from out of the elevator stepped Jake, “So what are you all doing?”
A few of my students looked up from their pieces and began to explain their role as a team of ejournalists at the event. But deadlines won out, the kids returned to their work and at midnight the hotel security ushered my kids into a private room 30 feet away.
My coffee and I stayed with Jake.
“Have you seen the App for our virtual wall?” I was sitting cross-legged on the floor, and I handed my phone up to him. As he began investigating the wall, he sat down beside me. Instantly, Jake and I were connected.
Jake is a vlogger. He had watched the Geek Squad all night. I had seen him hanging around. My legs tired, I soon curled up into the comfy green sofa. Jake, in his spiffy jeans and sport coat sat with legs a bit too long yet for the rest of him, sprawled out in the common area, in the arm chair at my side. Here, we shared stories.
Like the Geek Squad, Jake too was attending the event. Jake however was also presenting at the congress. With me he shared the story he’d be sharing the next day, the story of the lasting legacy of residential schools in the North. Jake paused, asked me if I understood about residential schools. It was important to Jake that I understood. He shared that what many people fail to understand, that when residential schools were closed, and in the north that wasn’t too long ago, there were few if any financial or educational supports in place for First Nations people. He shared about the results the lack of supports have had on his community. He shared about the challenges, specifically access to educational services and systemic racism, which continue to affect First Nations people, his home community, his family and him.
Jake spoke gently yet passionately relating his narrative. We laughed, and we cried. I shared my story too, being a single mom to a teenaged daughter and the understandings many assume they share of me.
Jake and I also shared that we had never before stayed in such a beautiful hotel.
Jake talked about his sister. Jake shared that he is the first in his family, at the age of fifteen, to have never smoke or drank or fought or have yet had sex, all things to which Jake assigns much worth. Jake shared that he struggles every day in a world that models, albeit falsely, that hero means doing and being something Jake is not, a world where hero means self-harm.
Jake shared that as he walked into the coffee house on his way to the hotel, a stranger grabbed him by the shirt collar and asked, “Hey, hey do you have a smoke? Hey?”
Jake thought about this a while. Then, he looked towards the white painted wooden doors where the Geek Squad worked, “Did anyone stop you?”
“Ya. Someone asked for change.”
“No one asked me for change.” He looked back towards me. “You know why they asked you that?”
Jake and I looked at each other a long time. He looked over my shoulder towards the door again. The door was locked for now; neither of us could enter without a key.
“How do I get that job?”