Each morning, before my summer-program students arrive, I’m on autopilot as I clip worksheets into binders and review the day’s schedule – one more time. But in the back of my mind, I try to think about what exactly we’re doing here. What is it that makes this program so successful? Is it my innovative curriculum? Could it be my shiny presentation software? Maybe it’s my hard-earned experience as a teacher, both domestically and abroad. Although I’d like to attribute our success to these things I’ve worked so hard on, I know that the real reason is oddly simplistic.
With only hours before our July session is set to begin, I think I am finally on to something. The explanation is broad and sometimes vague. But it needs to be that way. The spirit of our program flourishes when it’s allowed to grow and change with each student’s contribution. Likewise, it suffers when I attempt to quantify its parts and procedures. In other words, the summer program’s success is built upon the belief that people are more important than curriculum; that the most important learning style is simply doing; and the realization that every class will be – must be – different from the last.
My greatest assets are not pedagogical theories or technology – although they are useful tools. Rather, the people I work with and the support they provide are my most highly-prized resources. Without their expertise and experience, the summer program would be one more mediocre attempt to reach a stranded population – one that deserves an opportunity to access its potential. This highly-diverse, extremely-talented staff gives me the courage to become strategically vulnerable to the needs of my students. In short, they allow me to focus on the most important classroom element – trust.
With these riches, I am able to cultivate a program that bridges the gap between supportive high-school environments and that moment when a student achieves enough independence to become a recognized member of their neighborhood. Whether we’re learning how to prepare for a job interview, or how to ride the bus, our mission is to fully integrate our participants with their community. This includes hands-on training and experience that emphasize employment, social immersion, and independence-building activities.
The magic that makes our program truly remarkable is an insistence on character development. Everything we do centers around compassion for our teammates, our group as a whole, and the people we encounter each day. In a world that is trending toward selfishness, we strive to articulate the importance of teamwork and self-fulfillment through helping others.
These aspects – working, living, playing – are not innovative. On the contrary, they are simply elements of the human spirit that must be developed and maintained. Triumph’s Summer Program is a balanced curricula that seeks to nurture each of these parts in an effort to employ a population whose talents and desires are far too valuable to ignore.
-Chad Nichols, Summer Program Coordinator