Late last winter I was contacted by a company called Community Resources. They run a mentorship program through Denver Public Schools. I was asked about my interest in teaching a gifted elementary school student in his or her area of interest. Because of my work in Website Design and Development, I was placed with a 4th grade student at a local elementary school that expressed that he’d like to learn to build his own website.
The first step was to meet with the student, his teacher and his parent to determine if it was a good fit. The student, we’ll call him “J”, was interested in building his own website, but didn’t know for what. He just had a desire to learn. First, I suggested that we utilize WordPress.com to create J’s first blog. Everyone nodded in agreement that this might be a great place for him to start. WordPress allows you to choose from templates, change its colors, upload your own header image and customize it to your heart’s content, create pages and content and doesn’t require any knowledge of programing languages. Since J was 11, and we only had an hour a week for six weeks to accomplish the task, WordPress seemed like the best way to go about it.
J’s teacher was the first one to bring up this question: “how will we protect his identity?”. The fact that J was a child presented an issue with his public image and his personal safety. Someone could learn detailed facts about him from his blog and then use that knowledge for malicious attempts against his little innocent and mostly defenseless self. This was something that I hadn’t even considered. My mind was focused on the possibilities of the unique perspective presented by this intelligent and adorable little guy about his world! I don’t have kids and I generally don’t approach things fearfully, so I hadn’t really considered this.
I was glad that someone said something before his blog got him snatched up on his way to school one morning! Apparently, DPS had some guidelines on this matter and all involved agreed that as long as we followed those guidelines, helping J create his own blog on WordPress would be safe. The guidelines included:
Two weeks later, I arrived at the historic elementary school building to meet with my mentee. I went to the school’s office, signed in, made myself a sticky name tag and slapped it onto my chest. The administrative staff pointed me toward the school’s library where I was to rendezvous with my student. I was really excited to be there. What a gorgeous building! High ceilings, wide hallways, ornate woodwork and big windows. None of the schools I’d personally attended growing up were anything like this, but somehow it made me nostalgic. I made my way past a group of kids working on an after school project on the floor in the hallway, then through the library to the computer lab in the back. J was ready to go! He’d signed in on one of the school’s PCs and was eagerly awaiting instructions for his first step.
This program was designed specifically for children that tested well and had been given the label of being “gifted”. Another factor to qualify for the program was to be labeled as “low income”. English was J’s second language. Neither of his parents speak English. So, I’d shown up with the expectation that we would have some struggles in our communication. During that first meeting with his parent and teacher, he was quiet and I was careful to enunciate every word the best I could. But it wasn’t long after we started talking about what his pseudonym would be that I realized how wholeheartedly J embraced the English language and culture.
At first he was shy. He didn’t really know what his fun name would be. When I mentioned “Little Dragon” as an example, he immediately latched onto that. But I said “Wait, let’s talk about what you want your blog to be about and see if that fits!”. We started with an investigation into what J’s favorite subjects were in school. We soon discovered that his blog would be about his art. Obviously, I thought that was a good choice! Next, I asked him what his favorite animal was. He knew right away that it was a Bald Eagle. I asked him what it was about the Eagle that he liked so much. He listed, “it’s talons and it’s beak”. I asked him, “What about the talons and the beak?”. He said “They’re fierce”. It came so naturally. Fierce Eagle! “And do you know what else is true about an eagle?” I asked J. “It can see things from up high. They often call that an ‘Eagle Eye’. Maybe that will be your perspective on the art that you write about.”
Before we committed to the name, I got excited about the idea of saying it in Spanish instead! I imagined that it would be cool to express his ethnicity in his pseudonym. But J had absolutely no interest. He said “I like it in English”.
I told J not to get too excited yet, because there are many users on WordPress and someone might already have a blog with that name. So, he and I were equally on the edge of our seats when he punched the words in, no space, and we checked to see if it was available. It was, and with a single click of the mouse, J had started his very first blog buy kamagra online.
Since this blog would be about his art, we needed access to his art to take pictures. Luckily, there was one on display in the hallway, a ceiling panel that he’d painted. It was abstract and used bright colors. We tried to borrow a digital camera from the school, but a drawer full of them proved useless as we noticed that each was missing at least one crucial part. No battery. No SD card. No means for downloading images. So, we used my iphone and I took note to bring my digital camera with me to our sessions from there on out.
Over the subsequent weeks I’d show J how and J would make it happen. In choosing an image for his banner, I explained the concept of aspect ratio. I remembered back to the day I learned about that from my dad, when I was little like him. J grasped the concept immediately and demonstrated the aesthetic sense to never make his images too fat or too skinny. He also had a skilled eye for color. In matching the background of his banner image to the background of the banner we’d created, he nailed it! Consistently, J impressed me.
He wasn’t quite as keen on the idea of writing. His teacher had told me that it might be because of the language barrier, but when I explained that it’s good to describe your images and write a little bit about each post, he agreed. He never really knew what to write, but I would say “how about…”. He would listen, and say OK, then busily peck at the letters on the keyboard to write it in his own words. His spelling and grammar in his simple phrases were spot on.
Aside from the digital camera issue, we had a few other obstacles. When we decided that we wanted to incorporate “Fierce Eagle” into the banner image, we needed a design tool beyond the image editing capabilities of WordPress, but even after asking in the main office, none of the school computers included any design software. I suggested that I take care of that part for him, at my office, before our next session. When I got back to my office, I couldn’t bring myself to do even the smallest part of execution for him. I knew how proud he felt about his hand in every aspect of his project and didn’t want to take that away from him. I did some research online and found an online image editing program called FatPaint. It was perfect. But trying to learn how to use something at the same time as trying to teach it is frustrating. There were many 10 minute chunks of time where I was investigating on screen options and saying “I don’t understand”. He was so patient.
The topics of his blog covered all of the artworks of his own that we could get our hands on. His mother brought images that they’d posted on the refrigerator and we even sneaked into the art room to snap a few shots of the weaving project he’d just completed. With one more mentoring session left and no more of J’s art to show, we turned to the art that inspired him. There was a painting of the U.S.A. on the ground in the playground that he loved and so J and I tried to get the highest perspective we could, to get a good image of it. He refused to get on my shoulders. He wished he had an eagle eye view for real! The final image was captured by me, standing on a park bench with the camera held as high as possible over my head.
As we talked about what he liked about the art, he expressed that he was also interested in murals and all kinds of outdoor art. I knew that the annual sidewalk art show in Larimer square was coming up in just one month’s time and so I showed him some online images of sidewalk art, including chalk drawings that use perspective to create a three dimensional illusion. J was in complete awe of the art and the concept.
Once our sessions were complete, he would be presenting his blog and what he learned in the process of creating it to his people. His people included his class and both of his parents. It was a proud day for J. I almost cried! He was so nervous. I hadn’t been prepared for this type of presentation myself. A circle of students sat on the floor in front of a pull down screen where a blue screen projected from the signal of a laptop. J pulled up a browser window and typed in the location of his blog. When his website appeared, a few kids in the class said “wow!” and “whoa”. When he spoke about it, his voice shook a little. It took a bit of prompting from his teacher and the Mentor program organizer to get him to tell us about the project. His parents sat in the back just beaming with joy for their son’s success.
It had only been 7 weeks, but I found myself a little bit attached. I’d really like to watch J grow up, hear about his accomplishments and where that gifted brain of his takes him in this life. I doubt I’ll ever see him again… but if I’m lucky, he’ll keep blogging!