Big Stories from Little People

By: Jess Pesola (Kindergarten Teacher)

We all have stories.  Stories that make us laugh, stories that make us cry, stories that make us laugh so hard we cry. Stories that are so painful we don’t dare say them out loud, and stories we think to ourselves- please never let me forget this one.

During a high school religion class, I remember reading this book, Ultimate Questions by Clyde F. Crews, and being struck by his words, “One of the oldest and deepest of human passions is the need to tell stories, and to hear them.”  And as a Kindergarten/1st grade teacher, it holds true, boy does it hold true.  Stories all day, every day.

So when our Kindergarten class sat down in front of a big empty sheet of chart paper to brainstorm our service learning project, it was no surprise that they filled the page with their stories.  I asked them what problems they see in their communities.  I asked them who they might want to help.  I asked them how they wanted to change the world. My students floored me with their responses –poignant, truthful, and articulate.  I never saw this kind of intention and language when they told me about their Grandma’s birthday or the time they went to Monkey Island.  My students transformed in front of my eyes into mature change makers.  It was like they were thinking about their topics all along and was just waiting for someone to ask them.

There was a heavy theme to the stories they were sharing.  Violence. 
 My Kindergarteners, the ones with 15 minute attention spans (and that’s with the assistance of puppets and other teacher bells and whistles), spent over an hour, -no frills- sharing with one another stories of how violence had affected them and their family.  They each listened with rapt attention that has never before been seen in a Kindergarten class, and probably would be impossible to duplicate.  For each story told, another 5 hands shot in the air.  They had endless stories to tell and had amazing clarity on the situation.  Their stories were powerful, and they knew it.

They told me about seeing a grandma getting robbed at gun point, walking into the burglary of their home, leaving the park abruptly because of gang shootings, watching a loved one consumed by alcohol and drugs.  Their stories kept coming, their eyes were wide, and their minds were open: open to the possibility of change. One student turned to her peers and said, “Hey guys, we should do a campaign to stop the violence.  That should be our project.  That way we could play in our parks and help people stop being shot and killed.”  The students all agreed. Others chimed in, “We could tell people our stories so they would stop and be nice to each other.”  “We can make posters with our faces.”  “We could teach people how to use their words when their angry and maybe they won’t hurt all those people.”  “Or wait, we have to tell people not to be in gangs.”  Tears came to my eyes.  Why did they know this?  How was it that they approached such serious subjects with such maturity?  It was amazing. It was the birth of our service learning project –The Stop the Violence Campaign.  They left that class feeling very powerful and proud.  I left feeling like that too.

Big things are going to come from these little people. I’m sure of it.

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