The Phantom Tollbooth

and Other Unexpected Instances of Epicness


Ok kids this is it! The first post of the summer. I’m sitting in my room the day after my second week at Project Transformation, and my first full week with our students. The first week here was training, and Monday-Thursday this week we were running the program we created. I knew this whole thing was going to be a wildly fun, deeply challenging, and probably surprising experience, and it really is. The land of Expectations is one I have most certainly left behind.

I drove to SMU from my great aunt’s house an hour away, and I got there at about 9 in the morning. I was really proud of myself because I had navigated Dallas traffic without dying. So upon arrival, I was expecting a boring, quiet registration process where I walked up and signed some things and picked up a room key and parking pass or something.

That was not how it went down.

I could tell which house I was supposed to go to by the noise. There was music playing from inside somewhere, and there were a few people outside wearing the same t-shirt. So I steeled myself, fished out the tiny extroverted part of myself from deep in my soul, and tried to put it on my face instead. It looked like this.

Hello please like me!

I walked up to the house and received what I perceived to be extremely enthusiastic greetings of welcome. I was wrong on that too. They were quite mild on the enthusiasm scale compared to what happened next. A guy had me follow him into the registration room, which turned out to be where the loud music was coming from. Then, he stood on a chair, placed his hands around his mouth to amplify his voice, and yelled “HEY PT, LET’S ALL SAY HELLO TO RACHEL!” And the room erupted into cheers and applause at a level of enthusiasm perhaps rivaling that of the audience of Miss Hendrix (minus drunkenness).

So yeah those are my friends. There are about 90 of us. Everyone is (at least pretending to be) intensely extroverted and charismatic and friendly. You know how I hate being alone? Yeah that’s not true anymore. I like it a lot and I value it and need it, because I get so much social time every second of always that I can’t even handle it anymore. I have met someone who I would describe as myself, except in the form of a large black man. His name is Marshall and he is great. We are going to write musics together sometime.

I work in a team of 11 interns at St. Mark’s UMC. We bonded very quickly and strongly, and we all work together really well. We are split into Youth and Elementary. The four of us on youth are me, Timmy, Cole, and Tess. It’s awesome because our strengths and weaknesses kind of compliment each other, so we work very well together. Also we all like folksy music. (Winners.) Training week was very intense, and I won’t even go over everything that happened in it. Just know that it was full of really long days and lots of meetings and bonding and good and bad, but mostly good. It left me feeling confident. That was probably wrong too. Oh but here is a picture of a 5 foot long shark I drew. Because we are the St. Mark’s Sharks.



So our first week with the kids was… interesting. They are adorable little hellions. To set the stage, let’s keep in mind that Timmy, Tess, Cole, and I completely create every activity of every day of every week. We have to be creative and put in a lot of energy to coming up with games and lessons and things to keep them entertained. And it… well, it’ll go better next week.

Here is how Monday started: The morning went pretty well. We could tell we were going to have a lot of issues with attitude with the older kids, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. Then lunch happened. Or rather, it didn’t. We had them set up the tables and sit down, and then we got news that the food wasn’t there yet and it would be about 20 mins late. We handled that alright, coming up with games and songs (which they hated because they were starving) to keep them occupied. Because we kept being told that it’d just be another ten minutes, that cycle went on for over an hour. A FULL HOUR OF 11 STARVING COLLEGE STUDENTS PULLING RANDOM SONGS OUT OF THEIR ASSES TO ENTERTAIN 102 SCREAMING MUTINOUS MIDGETS. We felt like we could handle anything at the end of that day, because even though it was horrible, we made it through and it couldn’t get any worse. The next day, it got about 40 minutes worse. It’s really hard to pretend to be positive and energetic when you haven’t eaten since that banana you had at 7 in the morning.

So we have kids going into 6-9 grade. Kevin and Marvin are our youngest. They’re twins going into sixth. They’re flipping insane. They can’t sit down, they can’t pay attention, they can’t raise their hands, and they can’t be any more adorable. I love them to death. Until Wednesday, they thought I was a pushover. They were wrong. Here is a little story about Kevin. I’d been having trouble with him all week, especially Wednesday morning. He wouldn’t listen to me, and kept doing things just because he could get away with them. For afternoon enrichment we were having a talent show, because it was Hobbies Day, and Kevin goes up on the stage and says “Yo soy Kevin, y mi talento es hacer chistes.” He starts telling this joke, and I’m super pumped because I’m following it and it seems funny. Then, starting with “hijo de puta,” he lets out this string of swears, because he thinks no one in charge can understand him. I was pissed. I jumped up and got him off the stage immediately and went to sit him down in the back with another intern. I thought he’d be all giggly, but turns out he was actually really really upset. Poor Kevin was almost crying. I talked to him for a few mins to make sure he understood why he was in trouble, and I basically ended up not having to give him any consequences because he was so ridiculously embarrassed. I was afraid he would probably hate me after that, but when I asked him to mess up my Rubik’s cube for my act in the talent show later, he brightened back up. I think he just wanted to know he was accepted again. He’s my favorite one. Oh and also all the kids think I’m insanely cool now because of the Rubik’s cube.

Story number two: Alba. Alba is going to be in sixth grade, but she shares the defiant attitude of the 8th and 9th graders. She’s very sweet at first, but then turns extremely whiny and obstinate as soon as anything doesn’t go her way. She is bold and funny in a small group of friends, but extremely shy in front of new people and large groups. Except when she’s talking about art. Alba brought her portfolio from art class for Hobbies day, and she is very talented at different types of drawing, painting, and collage. So, it should have been totally awesome for her to participate in our afternoon enrichment activity, which involved making an outline of yourself on a large piece of paper and adding various stuff about yourself throughout the week. She messed up the first day and crumpled up her paper to throw it away, but we were short on paper and didn’t have extra, so we made her keep the one she’d trashed. On the last day of programming for the week, I noticed that she hadn’t worked on it at all. I asked her why and she told me it was already messed up. So I decided it was pep talk time. I told her that I knew she could probably make it really awesome, because she is such a talented artist. I told her that artists are people that make something out of nothing, and that I knew she was creative enough to do it. Then I let the subject drop and left, because she didn’t seem very responsive to it. Oh well.

At the very end of the day, I heard from another intern that Alba was looking for Ms. Rachel, and that she wouldn’t talk to anyone else. When we found each other, she handed me the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She had folded her paper into a large book, with each of the assignments from the previous days on a separate page, plus some extra stuff. Not only did she decide to participate in the activity, but she did so in a creative, overachieving way. I am so proud of her.

That’s what I call rewarding.

So anyway, I’m going to sign off now. Oh, the reason for the title of this post is that we have book club every day, and my group is reading The Phantom Tollbooth. I hope you guys know that book, because it’s amazing. Book club was kind of a shitshow for our first day, but I have high hopes for next week! I’m working with the kids with the lowest reading skills, and I know the’ll improve a lot this summer. I am going to leave you with a picture of the view from my dorm room window, which received those lovely “improvements” at about 7 this morning. Did I mention it was my day to sleep in? Yeah. Nope.

TTFN kids! I hope you enjoyed reading about my little bits of fail.

-Raquelita