Every Thursday at 2:30 p.m., I make my way to the 1973 Room in Harris Refactory. Often dubbed the “antisocial room” by Conn students, the room is anything but antisocial as droves of middle school students excitedly pour in and greet us members of ENRICH, a program that offers academic, extracurricular and leadership guidance to New London youths.
The students are part of a special leadership program at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School, and despite the seniority of us Conn students, they are often the ones teaching us new ways to think and approach problem-solving. During our last session, we started off with an interview activity. My partner was an ambitious, hard-working sixth-grader who aspired to be “the best student and singer in the world.” Her enthusiasm was contagious, and I found myself wishing I could maintain her level of confidence and energy in my own abilities.
The second hour of the program offers rotating workshops such as keyboarding, singing and songwriting, hip-hop dance, and leadership. My group went into the leadership workshop for the day, where we completed two activities. The first involved making a list of people we recognize as leaders. The middle-schoolers named figures such as George Washington, Gandhi, President Obama and Walt Disney. We then were asked to imagine a scenario where George Washington and Walt Disney would have to work together to raise money for the New London Homeless Hospitality Center. Creative solutions such as a movie screening, a new amusement park and a series of speeches were excitedly discussed and presented.
Our next activity was to make a tower out of straws, but each person would have a limitation: one person could not touch the tape, one person had to build with only one hand and one person couldn’t speak. The room was frenzied for 10 minutes as the students scrambled to assemble the tower, but they ultimately learned to accommodate each other's limitations.
Afterwards, we discussed how these limitations weren’t problems, but assets. Everyone could bring a unique set of skills to their group and contribute in their own way. I was impressed with the maturity it took for these middle-schoolers to understand this concept and how much support they provided to their group members to get the task done.
Our day was now coming to a close, and we said our goodbyes until we all met again. Observing the middle-schoolers engage in this program gives me confidence that they will be the leaders we need someday — in college, in our local communities and throughout the world.