Peaks and Valleys, Journies of Juxtaposition and healing…

I would be remiss in my responsibilities to share all of the positive that goes on amidst the daily struggle. And however real the negative pulls on us we know that if we focus 4 times as hard on the good, we can counteract destructive forces and change our realities. Here are some of the things that helped change my reality today. 

My Wednesday morning at Hawkins began when Ms. Englander handed me this note. She told me that our student Alberto wanted to give this message to me. It could not have come at a better time. Just moments later I would be in front of the entire graduating class of the Critical Design and Gaming School (CDAGS), the last set of students I taught in the classroom at Hawkins, attempting to help them through the healing process of yet another loss. It’s important to understand a little about Alberto. He is high functioning autisic. He is a living embodiment of the mission and vision of the Community Health Advocates School (CHAS). And he encompasses all of the CORE values of Hawkins. He is also a yogi in training, the most committed member of our collaboration with the People’s Yoga. A true CHASvocate. 

I then entered the library where our seniors were again gathered, just having been in the same space the day before to celebrate their approaching graduation with breakfast and friends, only to find out right afterwards about the loss of our friend and student Eric “E” Thompson. Our objective for this meeting was seemingly simple: to communicate that we had their backs and that we would indeed get through this together. When it was my turn to talk, I thought I had it, but was overcome with emotionality. After fighting through the choke and tears I had to dismiss myself from the space. I immediately felt as if I’d dropped the ball, fumbling the drawn up play to demonstrate compassion and strength through resilience and resolve.  I returned too late to show a more composed demeanor, and was about to kick myself again were it not for my crisis team letting me know that our students seized the opportunity and the space to continue speaking from the heart, listening from the heart, and bringing their very best selves – not only for themselves but for the benefit of everyone in the community. Words and embraces were exchanged. People began the healing process together and reoriented and re-energized their efforts on preparing for their own exit from high school, their new beginnings of life. 

Later on in the day I was asked by Ms. LaMar if I could assist with being on the judging panels for the senior defense presentations.  I was so blessed to have said yes. During these presentations, the reasons I teach, the types of learning my pedagogy strives to encourage,  and this was reaffirmed by seniors who demonstrated how they have internalized and expressed their understanding of design thinking, growth (gamer) mindset, systems thinking, and professional comunication. Students took ownership of their own narratives, drawing from the family backgrounds, personal interests, migration stories, and future plans for the world. These students reminded us what is possible with adequate preparation and suppport. These were presentations of possibility. 

My day ended with a celebration that took place at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Justice.   The very location where we first brought together community members to dream with us around what the Schools for Community Action at Augustus F. Hawkins High school would be.  That evening, like many others, we gathered with students, families, friends, colleagues, and community members to acknowledge what’s possible at the intersection of art creation and community organizing in the efforts to educate towards equality and justice. 

I was so honored to share the stage with my students who had once again conceptualized big ideas like “restoration” and “justice” and transformed those ideas into an art piece that touches the soul. It was also an amazing feeling to be able to collaborate with some of my favorite people who have been the most profound and exciting to collaborate with as we imagined so many different ways to unlock the creative and transformative potential of our youth. 

I’ve said it before and it continues to be more true every time. My time dreaming, creating, and working at Hawkins has been simultaneously the most rewarding and challenging work I have ever done. I could not be prouder of this. 

Somewhere in this extremely emotional day I was afforded time to check in with one of the district’s psychological crisis response counselors. She helped me to realize what is most difficult for me personally at this moment. Recognizing the impact one has had on others means understanding what that impact requires. Another way we often talk about impact is in terms of touching someone’s spirit or soul. In doing so, there are actual pieces of ourselves left in these communal spaces. These are pieces of me that I’m leaving behind. Losing parts of me, is proving to be difficult to manage at his time with all the other types of loss. Yet this is the risk we run when we engage others around us in building community.  This is the loss we have to work through, knowing that what we gain through this process will amount to so much more.  This is what we see from the mountain tops. A brighter tomorrow built together. Built by all of us… for all of us. 

2 Replies to “Peaks and Valleys, Journies of Juxtaposition and healing…”

  1. Your words are so touching and profound. I appreciate having this insight that I can look to again and again in times of need. Thank you, Mark. I will miss you dearly and will do all I can to make sure the pieces you’re leave behind are nurtured and grow.

  2. Cynthia. I appreciate that coming from an English teacher! I can’t really begin to imagine how much I’m going to miss all of you. Going to need to build in strategies of coping into my transition.

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