My first full school year has a REP facilitator has been filled with up and downs, challenges and successes, moments of encouragement and moments of doubt. What’s really kept me going through all of that (and through the general chaos that COVID-19 brought to all of us) is the students we serve! From hand-written note cards and poems from my GMC students, to playing basketball after lessons with my students at Glenview, all the way to the individual moments of advice and encouragement to and from all my students, this year has truly been a blessing. Although we didn’t get a chance to serve as many schools as we hoped this year, it was so exciting to develop our virtual curriculum and still be able to offer it to students in need – nothing stops the REP team from doing what we love!
Time for a little flashback…
Nearly two years ago, I was sitting at home in Maryland looking for a job. Within a few months, I had moved down to SC with no intention of staying – the goal was to complete a nine-month internship, pack my bags, and head back up north with a “complete” resume. As an intern for Safe Harbor in 2018-19, I had a few chances to speak in classrooms with REP. I’ve never enjoyed public speaking – in fact, I normally avoid it like COVID-19 – but I soon realized that what I thought was going to be public speaking… really was more of a dialogue. And not only that, but I soon realized that I didn’t want to leave, or work anywhere else.
So here we are, nearly two years later, at the end of a crazy school year. To celebrate this year and all that’s come from it, I want to tell two brief stories and talk about what I learned from them. In the fall (this is 2019), I was scheduled to facilitate REP at a school called Greer Middle College High School, or GMC. At the start, I was lacking in confidence. After all, it was my first time facilitating a full REP 5 by myself! Within the first week there, I was humbly and gently reminded that the discussions, conversations, and material that I bring is far more important than how I bring it. It was at GMC that I really began to see the importance of building relationships with the students, instead of focusing only on getting the script down pat. With much thanks to the outstanding support of Ms. Furr and Mr. Brilliandt and the engagement and intention of GMC’s students, I learned a valuable lesson: finding a place where you can be true to yourself and still do what you love while serving others is a really, really uplifting place to be – dare I say the best place to be.
Fast forward to Spring of 2020. I find myself in a classroom packed with what had to be at least forty students from Glenview Middle School. As a facilitator who leads dialogue by engaging with students one on one, a full classroom is probably my worst nightmare. Did I mention I don’t like public speaking? The first day ended, and I was emotionally exhausted – I wondered how I would have enough energy to do that four more times, with four separate classes. Shout out to all those teachers who do that Every. Single. Day.
The next week rolled around, and we ended up taking class to the gym. At first, I was overwhelmed – gym acoustics are not the easiest to talk in, and I was worried students would be less focused…
In reality, we had some outstanding conversation, and communication was not an issue… it was honestly better than being in the classroom! But that’s not why I’m telling this story – It just so happened that at the end of that first lesson, we had a few minutes left over. The PE coach, Mr. Abernathy, offered the students time to play basketball as an incentive to pay attention and focus. It ended up being a double blessing: not only did the students engage with the lesson, but I was given the opportunity to build relationships with the students at Glenview. After all, it’s not every day you get a chance to hit a jump shot over your guest speaker. So, you’re probably asking yourself: What’s the lesson you learned, Matt? How does playing basketball really teach you anything?
Here’s what it taught me: in order to genuinely connect with people around you, you have to be true to yourself. You can’t be half of who you are supposed to be, and you have to let yourself out. And, let me add: Glenview’s students taught me this by giving an opportunity to be who I am. Am I bad at basketball? Oh yeah. Do I care? Not one bit. Doing prevention work is more than just flipping through a few Power Points and calling it a day. It’s more than being ‘perfect’. It’s a relationship. It’s moments that students are going to look back on and say, “wow, talking about relationships and violence was actually fun. Wow, someone actually listened to what I had to say.” And for me, prevention work is an every-day reminder that the discussions I’m having with students can happen without me, and I’m honored and encouraged to play a small role in these extraordinary youth’s lives.