The most appealing part of the Diller Baltimore Teen Fellows Program, for me, was not only the ability to travel to Israel but also the chance to choose my own community service project – one that really speaks to who I am and my beliefs. Each teen wrote a grant and created a six-week community service project that helped to address issues that each one of us found important. I have been studying the French and Spanish languages and cultures for many years and I chose to focus my project on this interest. I created a program where I had culture classes at an underprivileged elementary school for an hour every Tuesday. I have always found importance in educating a younger generation to understand that there is more to life than what they are living. Many of my students had never thought of the possibility of traveling or even understanding how other people live their lives.
I really wanted to take a more real approach to the cultures because I wanted to find a way for the kids to appreciate everything they were learning. We studied a different country every week including Belgium, Argentina, Spain, France, Senegal and also the American city of New Orleans. We focused on the language, culture and food of each. Our first week was France, where the kids learned some basic French words, painted and learned about the famous painting “Starry Night,” by Vincent Van Gogh. We ended the class by trying croissants with nutella and banana pieces. For the week we focused on Argentina, the kids learned a few words in Spanish, played a game of floor soccer and were able to make their own tacos. Each aspect of the culture allowed the kids to learn in a more personal and hands-on way.
I was nervous to start this program because I had never met these kids and I wasn’t sure how they would respond. I had my group of volunteers, all of whom were familiar with the French and Spanish language, and so began one of the best experiences I had in Diller. As I began to work with these 14 amazing third and fourth graders, I realized how important my project really was for them. I saw a transformation as each one of them began to explore what the world has to offer. I noticed week by week that they asked more questions and craved more knowledge. I heard more and more comments from them about traveling, seeing the world for themselves and learning how to speak one of the languages.
One of the biggest things that stuck with me was on the last day of my project. It hadn’t occurred to me that my kids didn’t understand that it was only a six week program and as I said my goodbyes and wrapped up our time together, one of my students looked surprised and said, “You aren’t coming back next week?” Each of my other students chimed in with the same surprise and I realized how much I had affected them and how the program had helped them to grow. I felt so much pride in my students for opening their minds to learning the new cultures, my volunteers for taking the opportunity to help make a small difference, and even in myself for being able to use my interests for creating a service project.This experience has taught me how easy it is to make a change within my community and how affective one voice, no matter what the age, can be in impacting a group of people.