Summer Intern Series 2014

Fangirls & Fiestas

It's hard to believe that our extraordinary summer interns will be heading back to college soon! Here with the final post in our internship series is Isabelle Danforth Stillman. Isabelle grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and just finished her sophomore year at Middlebury College, majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. This fall she is spending a semester in Nepal conducting independent research on girls' access to education in metropolitan Katmandu and rural Himalayan villages. 

When I joined the LitWorld intern team, I imagined I would learn about global literacy, alternative education, storytelling, and collaborative productivity – and indeed, I have. But I did not predict that by the end of the summer, I would know so much about fangirling.

For those of you who are as out of tune with pop culture as I am, to fangirl (v.) means to exercise enthusiastic fixation on a fictional character or celebrity through internet tracking and communal discussion, usually accompanied by shortness of breath, heightened vocalization, and notebook doodling. (I think.)

While I have yet to delve into fangirl activity myself, I’ve gotten a taste of the culture through the LitClub girls my fellow intern Melissa and I have met throughout the summer. Both the teens and middle school girls, though initially flabbergasted at our fangirl naivete, have eagerly filled us in on the latest Vine sensation’s post or hearthrob’s concert tour, with out-of-the-chair re-enactments and bursts of belly laughter.

Learning how to fangirl with the best teachers imaginable (the middle schoolers of LitWorld's Harlem LitClub).

Learning how to fangirl with the best teachers imaginable (the middle schoolers of LitWorld's Harlem LitClub).

Though it might seem to a third party that these conversations are frivolous or inconsequential, I’ve found that in these moments of silliness and animation lies the true soul of LitWorld. I believe all Seven Strengths are flexed in a moment of talking about something that makes you want to jump out of your chair and hurt your stomach in a fit of giggles. In tasting each other’s joy, we are nourished by the sweetness of another’s spirit; we step farther into their corner, closer to the voice in their mind and the flutter in their heart, and deeper into the maze of their story.

Sometimes joy comes in unexpected circumstances. On Skype a few weeks ago, Melissa and I played Rose, Bud, Thorn with the Power Women, a group of HIV positive women who found each other and LitWorld in Kibera, Kenya. Doreen, Roda, Marla, Mary, and Helen said their Roses were that they were feeling better that week than they had the last. Many of the women said their bud was the political rally that was happening the following Monday; several of them also named the rally as their Thorn because they were nervous about it. The women's Thorns varied, and several of them said they had no Thorn that week. The women were, and always are, so happy - joking with each other, clapping and cheering after each person shares, and hooting in laughter any chance they get.

Dancing with the Power Women Moms LitClub of Kibera over Skype.

Dancing with the Power Women Moms LitClub of Kibera over Skype.

We laugh a lot at LitWorld: in the office over Ana’s latest food challenge woes, via Skype while dancing with the Power Women, or at the Polo Grounds when Melissa and I ask for a clarification of which lead singer belongs to which boy band. And each time we experience laughter together, we express another scene of our own story, and read a passage from someone else’s.

When I picture a “learning experience as an intern,” the image that comes to mind is of coffee-carrying and fax-sending, learning to follow orders and meet deadlines. And while I've had my fair share of runs to the printer, and evolved in my style of work ethic, the deepest and truest moments of learning at LitWorld for me revolve around ear-to-ear smiles, happy-squinting eyes, and doubled-over laughing.

We cannot ring out every drop in every moment of life without breaking open its piñata and dancing in the shower of candy. At LitWorld, these tiny fiestas are constant, and it is through these celebrations of the big and small – the funny faces, the misunderstood song lyrics, the inexplicable inside jokes – that we realize the true gifts we have and the strengths we can share together.

Kids Put the Magic in LitCamp

This week LitCamp Intern Will Campo is taking over the blog to share his LitWorld experience with you. Will grew up in New England and in Hong Kong. He enjoyed exploring parts of Southeast Asia with his family and returned to the United States for high school and college. Will attended St. Lawrence University, where he majored in Government and also played on the squash team. He also enjoys playing tennis and spent a few summers as a tennis coach for kids of all ages. Here's Will with stories from our Harlem LitCamp.

It was another successful week at LitCamp! The theme that guided our activities was “Around the World.” As in previous weeks, all the classes led by the interns, and assisted by the teen counselors, brought fun, variety, and intrigue to the campers.

At "Morning Meeting," the LitCampers learned a number of different ways to say "Hello," ranging from “Ni hao” (Mandarin Chinese) to “Aloha” (Hawaiian). In addition, campers were given the opportunity to share customs and traditions from their own cultures. In doing so, the kids and interns received a crash course in the vast cultures of the world. 

Here's a group of LitCampers at Morning Meeting presenting the flag of a new country they made up - Water Candy World!

Here's a group of LitCampers at Morning Meeting presenting the flag of a new country they made up - Water Candy World!

What never ceases to amaze me, during "Morning Meeting" and other periods of the day as well, is how considerate and thoughtful the campers are. No matter who is speaking, whether it is a Camp Director or a fellow camper, every one of the campers from the age of 5 to 14 gives his or her undivided attention and respect. The maturity level of the average LitCamper vastly surpasses that of many high school students that I have encountered. This fact has been embodied in the way the kids act when we are beyond the comfort of our home base at Broadway Housing Communities and Riverside Park.

This week we all had a great time on our field trip to Governors Island. Taking the subway to South Ferry, and then the ferry to the island, all the staff had an easy time because the campers made it that way. Sometimes the campers even took on the role of counselor, as Raj did a number of times with my "bunk" of kids. 

On the ferry to Governor's Island with my bunk of LitCampers!

On the ferry to Governor's Island with my bunk of LitCampers!

Monday begins “Environment and Nature Week” and I’m confident it will be even better than the last three. The kids never stop impressing us, and I can’t wait to see how they’ll surprise and inspire us next week!


Stories Matter

Today's edition of the Summer Internship series comes from Ashley Molina. Ashley is about to start her senior year at Eastern University. She is the President of the Latinos United Club and President and Ambassador of the Multicultural Awareness Advisory Committee. She is pursuing a B.A. in Psychology and plans to be a school psychologist. She loves writing, reading, musical theater and playing soccer. Here's Ashley to share reflections on her LitWorld experience so far.

It was a rainy second week at LitCamp, but the fun never stopped. We spent another amazing week singing songs, reading aloud, cooking, practicing yoga and dance. One of my favorite parts of LitCamp is listening to campers give shooting stars to each other during our morning meetings. Each camper gets a chance to choose someone they would want to send shooting stars to as a way of praising them for something positive that they have done. Seeing the campers praise each other for being a good friend or read-aloud partner, sharing during bunk time activities or simply being nice and giving positive reinforcement to each other is a humble and pure form of celebration.

During one of our morning meetings this week, one of our campers Jayda gave me shooting stars for taking the time to listen to her stories. It was a true honor and the smile on her face was such a blessing. As subtle as it may sound, listening really matters to children and shows them that their stories are being heard and that they matter. It is an affirmation of the core value of LitWorld: Stories matter.

Before starting our journey at LitCamp, all of us interns had a workshop with LitWorld's Founder Pam Allyn. One thing Pam mentioned was that deep listening really, really matters. It is important to be a great listener. While preparing for camp, we all worked on communication skills. A big part of those communication skills revolved around listening. You listen with your ears, eyes, undivided attention and with your heart. When Pam was explaining the importance of deep listening, she mentioned that when you absorb those stories with your own empathetic listening you begin to journey with the other person.

As Jayda was telling me her story, her smile and the excitement in her eyes start to paint a picture of the journey. As I traveled on that journey with her, she knew and felt that her story matters. She knew that the stories others have shared and are remembered today matter just as much. All the kids at LitCamp have a story and each of them matter. Being able to work closely with the kids and to get to know each of them individually has been an experience I will continue to carry with me always. I am excited to continue this journey with all of the staff to celebrate and affirm the strengths of these kids and with each other.  

Finding Home and a Place to Belong in the Read Aloud

LitCamp is officially in session across New York city and Detroit. Here to offer you an inside view of our Harlem LitCamp is our summer intern, Rachael Smith. Rachael is a Junior at Dickinson College studying music composition. She takes every opportunity to make music and is a member of multiple choirs, her own band and an a capella group. She has also been doing improvisational comedy for 5 years, and performs with the Dickinson Improv troupe. And now, here's Rachael!

What an exciting and fun first week at LitCamp! We spent our time playing games, singing songs, making crafts and, of course, reading. I enjoyed all of these activities but my favorite was reading aloud. This is a central part of of both LitCamp and LitWorld, and we got to do a lot of it these past few days. 

I was introduced to the read aloud on my first day at LitWorld. After meeting new people, grasping new concepts, all in a new place, I felt a bit overwhelmed. Before we left the office, Yaya read The Gift of Nothing to the interns, and I suddenly felt at ease. Seeing someone take the time and care to read to us gave me a sense of welcome and importance. I was instantly hooked on read alouds.

Five weeks later on the first day of LitCamp, I got the chance to read with Abel, an experienced reader. We were making our way through a book about basketball, each reading an alternate page. Dan, a younger camper, came over and asked to join. We included him in our reading method, and when it was his turn to read a page, we quickly discovered that he was still in the learning process. We switched to repeat-after-me method and when Dan's turn came he echoed what I read. Dan loved this so much that he started repeating after both of us on every page. Instead of getting upset or correcting Dan, Abel welcomed his enthusiasm. He excitedly helped Dan with each word, even the sound effects written in the illustrations. After we finished, Dan, who earlier that day said he hated books, smiled and asked if we could read it again.

Abel's welcoming attitude and excitement to help Dan made the read aloud that morning a huge success. This attitude isn't unique to Abel, it's also engrained in the LitWorld culture. I experienced the same type of welcome listening to The Gift of Nothing on my first day. I've witnessed attitudes of care and excitement in all of the staff members at the office, and they clearly brought these attitudes to camp. The seasoned campers carry the same spirit, and as Abel showed on the first day, are excited to share it with the new faces.

Bananas of the World, Unite!

In our third installment of our summer internship series we are treated to cross-continental stories from Adam Stanaland! Adam attends Davidson College and shares his passion for reading with children at a local after-school program. He was raised in the small fishing village of Little River, South Carolina and is doing his best to convert the LitWorld team into sweet tea drinkers. Read on to hear more about Adam's LitWorld experience.

A Google search just informed me that Nairobi is about 7,354 miles from New York City. Since even the A train can’t take us that eastward, we turned to the magic of Skype to share our Monday morning with the Red Rose School in Kibera, Kenya. At 9am, we logged on to be greeted by a group of about 30 curious third graders. After introductions, questions, and a lot of giggling, we were able to read each other some of our favorite stories. As you can see from Will, Rachael, and Katya’s neck-craning, the kids entranced us with their beautiful reading of “The Emperor’s New Clothes."

After some more getting-to-know you questions, we all decided that it would be fun to share one more song together before goodbyes. We picked one of our favorites to teach them: the Banana Song. (If you don’t know it, you’re seriously missing out.) Just as we had briefly run through the instructions, the kids began singing without any hesitation, “Bananas of the world, unite!” We still aren’t sure if they already knew the song, or if they are just so musically advanced that they picked it up after one go, but both rooms overflowed with laughter at the final “GO BANANAS!”

Later that week after hours of grueling work (evidenced below in the image of smiling/goofy faces, cookies, and coffee), we got to hang out with more kids at the Polo Grounds Community Center. On Wednesday, we headed to Harlem for a LitFest, which was a stellar event of awesome activities, great food, and of course, books, coordinated by the staff and the Research & Development interns, Melissa and Isabelle.

Before the festivities began, Ashley and I were ready to hand out free books, Rachael had her materials to help kids create their own stories, Melissa printed her acrostic poetry writing sheets, while Eve (pictured below) got artsy for the face-painting station. In no time at all, the afternoon air was filled with laughter, smells of summer food, “Mom look at my pinwheel!” and, “Do you have any fairy books?"

Just as our Skype call with the Kibera LitClub girls and boys had to end, the families at the LitFest eventually had to go home. But they did not leave empty-handed: in boxes, bags, and armfuls, they excitedly carried home their newest literary adventures. I was particularly happy to see one kid take home my favorite, "Once Upon a Banana."

In these moments with the Kibera LitClub and at LitFest, I came to realize the importance of literacy in childhood. Even though we were from different cities, different countries, or even different continents, the Kibera students, Harlem children and each of us have this in common: we all go bananas for books.