By Jonny Yao '13, AmeriCorps member serving with the Mattahunt Elementary School team
“Mr. Jonny, can you please remove me from this madness?” a fifth-grader said to me on my first day of service at the Mattahunt Elementary. At the time, his classmates, who would go on to become students in our extended day program, were playing around in the hallway while he attempted to stand in line properly.
His name is Jeremiah*, and he is a superhero.
Like all great heroes, he has an origin story set in the days before he found his powers within. When I first met Jeremiah, I noted that he was easily overwhelmed. Although he was outgoing in conversations with adults, he became frustrated around his peers, gave up quickly when he met a challenge and openly expressed a sense of low confidence in himself. He would sit on the sidelines during recess out of fear of both looking weak and of losing. His surrender to the slightest bit of stress led him to enter “shut down” mode.
In this mode, Jeremiah would isolate himself away from others, including his teacher, refusing to participate or do work. Silence and solitude became his shell. In order to reach out to him, I brought him out into the hallway and sat with him during these “shut down” periods. I invited him to speak up about what was bothering him, and after some time, he opened up. While he would then describe vivid stories of vengeance, I allowed him to continue as I gained insight into his very creative mind.
When Jeremiah began comparing his hypothetical actions to those of DC Comics’ Justice League, I felt a surge of understanding. In order to calm his thoughts, we began talking about the motives and actions of superheroes. I taught him resilience through the Superman—how Clark Kent felt like he did not fit in with his peers but became their protector anyway. Through Batman, I taught him determination. After all the great, but very human, detective perseveres amidst a series of strong villains and difficult mysteries.
As our explorations into superhero mythos continued, I was able to relate every opportunity of growth with the very comics Jeremiah would read. By the end of the school year, Jeremiah, the once self-exiled scholar, commands the respect of his peers. No longer does he give up when faced with an obstacle.
In learning from his favorite heroes, he exhibits a piece of each of them. When a student is misbehaving, he springs to the challenge of calming them before the teacher resorts to discipline. When two classmates have a dispute on the playground, he acts to mediate it. He performs inspiring speeches to rally the disheartened, his grades have increased and his imagination now focuses on tales of comedy and fantasy, not vengeance. It was a pleasure to watch him grow and a privilege to have been a part of it.
*Name changed to protect student privacy