By Jenn Flemming, Baton Rouge AmeriCorps member proudly serving on the Lamar Advertising team at Democracy Prep.
With varying levels of gentleness, my Impact Manager has been suggesting for weeks that I’m might be too attached to the kids. His favorite phrase has become that I care “almost to my detriment”. On their last day of school, I cried ten times, which was particularly impressive considering it was a half day. Earlier today one of my teammates says, “Oh Jenn, you’re just all up in your feelings.” I’m beginning to suspect that my Impact Manager has a point.
I started thinking about how to close out my relationships with my students in March. Well probably before that since I hate endings in general, but it only became a pressing issue over Spring Break. I bought some yarn in the hopes of resurrecting my old talent for friendship bracelets. I set myself the somewhat impossible task of making fifty of them, and then avoided actually starting until a little before the last week of school. I stayed up late into the night and preyed on the kindness of one of my roommates - also in City Year - to get the job done. With literally no time to spare, I had a bracelet for every fifth grader who came to school that last day, with a few left over even for partner teachers. The joy of giving them out almost made me forget how miserable it was making so many.
Before the bracelets, there were the letters. Most of the letters were the same for every student - a message of love and thirteen pieces of advice - with one personalized paragraph for each child. It’s impossible to cover everything on a single sheet of 8.5” x 11”, but it does take some of the sting out of knowing I won’t have the opportunity to advise them in person anymore. I signed each one with a purple, glitter gel-pen, and in hope that will make them smile. I included my email address in the letter, and hope they use it.
I made a bracelet for myself, and have worn it every day since. It’s a simple woven design that serves as a metaphor that is probably a little too obvious. Red, yellow, and black for City Year, and purple just because I like it. I haven’t gotten sentimental enough to reread the letters saved to my computer, but give it time. It probably is me caring “too much”, but I’m still not sure that I fully agree it’s a bad thing just yet. We care about things that matter, and these kids certainly have and do and will far beyond this single year. Not just to me personally either. If there is one thing I’m certain of it’s my students’ ability to do whatever they set their mind to. In the face of all that potential, caring actually feels like the very least I could do.
“You can’t say goodbye, Ms. Fleming,” says one of my starfish. It’s not the first time he’s told me this. It became something of a mission for him around April. “Goodbye is too final. You have to say, ‘see you later’.” In this case, there’s a possibility that I won’t, but the thought behind it is too nice to ignore. And anyway, for impact to be real it needs to go beyond your physical presence. I certainly won’t be forgetting about my students anytime soon, and I like to think it’s mutual. Maybe goodbye really is too final for this occasion.