By Anu Sharma, MD High School Program Coordinator; Shaima Ahmad, VA Programs Manager; and Ha Nguyen, Development & Communications Associate
Photos courtesy of AALEAD Staff
This week, we visit Anu and Shaima, who are currently working with our AALEAD High School youth in Maryland and Virginia programs. However, did you know that both Anu and Shaima started their AALEAD journey with the Part-Time Elementary School Teachers team?
Let’s follow their favorite AALEAD Moments in this week’s blogpost feature!
“In society we grow up hearing and believing that we learn only from those older than us — a one way process. In AALEAD, I’ve actually seen that dynamic challenged, because our programs’ intention allows room to learn from each other and share knowledge.
This is a story about A, who is in AALEAD’s elementary school program. When I first met them, they were a young 2nd grader. Many of their friends then would’ve probably identified A as bright, smart, listening attentively to and following directions, having solid presentation skills, and active in whatever was going on in programs that day. Sometimes A would be a little too helpful or too excited and end up taking on more tasks than anybody else in the room. A was the kind of person that others might point to when imagining a traditional idea of “leader” or “smartest in the group.”
As A moved onto 3rd grade and joined the older group of youth in AALEAD, I noticed that A was a little hesitant during the beginning of the year and often stepped back. This was not uncommon: other previous 2nd graders also seemed a little shy to speak up in front of their 5th grade friends. I began thinking about different activities that could bring the 3rd graders out of their comfort zone, such as covering leadership styles or collaborating on group projects.
A quickly regained their confidence as the months progressed. However, I saw a different spark in A this time. Although they were still an active participant, they began to make room for others in their group — A would help their peers out without taking center stage, encouraging and uplifting those who needed it. This was evident during appreciations one day where A was the recipient. The entire class recognized A for being kind, always trying to do the right thing, looking out for and supporting others, and so on. As our group continued to place spotlight on A during appreciations, I took note of how A had shifted their leadership style from taking central command to making the group flow.
Sometimes leadership isn’t always about talking in front of a group, taking charge of a project or having the most ideas. It’s also the behind-the-scenes work of how people communicate and build a sense of connection with each other. My favorite memories of working with elementary youth in AALEAD are in fact, of our young people making space and looking out for one another. I felt hopeful and inspired by how A brought leadership to life and deepened its meaning to incorporate empathy.”
“It was my first summer working with AALEAD as a literacy teacher. I recall meeting my group of 3rd and 4th graders and feeling excited yet nervous. Summer flew by and I could not seem to pinpoint where and how I made the strong bonds with my youth, but they were indeed made.
The most memorable part of Summer 2013 was the time spent with B. B was a shy, introverted young boy who was going through many challenges of his own. At first I was overwhelmed with the task of managing the class, facilitating lessons, and also catering to individual youth needs. But soon I realized that it was those interactions with B that made me fall in love with AALEAD and youth work. I realized that the best and only way was to carve out time to work with this youth one on one. After class was dismissed and youth would find their way to the cafeteria, I would find myself having a heart to heart with B in the stairwell adjacent to the cafeteria. This time spent with B was at times challenging but also endearing. I learned to be patient and to listen, because sometime that is all that is needed. My words may or may not have been significant but I do feel that being there for B mattered. By the end of the summer I felt that my journey had not come to an end, I continued working with AALEAD and continued strengthening my relationship with our youth. Although my role in AALEAD shifted and I have not worked with B closely, I have had the honor of seeing him (from the sidelines) grow into an intelligent and strong young man. It is not the work of one single person but rather that AALEAD provides a community and space for our youth to belong.
That summer I learned not only how challenging youth work is but also how rewarding it can be. I am not quite sure what an impact I may have had on B but I am very certain that he had a lasting impact on me and the way I view youth work.”
Stay tuned to see which AALEAD Program Staff we will visit next week!