Teaching to Learn

Never underestimate the potential of a child. Today was the last day of Propeller, a month-long summer program that teaches high school students leadership, teamwork, career awareness, professionalism, and communication. I am amazed by each and every one of the students.

I still remember the first day of the program. We played an icebreaker game where each person had to say an adjective with their name and repeat the name and adjective of everybody that came before him. The students struggled with this activity and could barely make it half-way across the circle. The second day was not much better, we had some activities that required the students to answer questions but our questions were mostly met by blank stares. I prepared myself for a difficult month ahead.

Propeller was a difficult program to teach. We were working with kids whose education has mainly consisted of rote memorization. I realized how lucky I was to have grown up in an educational system that encouraged creativity and individuality. Being able to think my own way through problems has been a core part of who I am. I am someone who will always question if there is a better way to do things. When I am presented with new information I will always ask “why?” (and How? Who? Where? When? What? Sometimes people get annoyed by my questions). I feel like that if something was not fully explained to me I have not really learned it.

With this mindset, we strived to create the opportunity for students to explore a new learning style. We worked hard to come up with lessons that would combine both learning and fun. Some of my favorite activities include a mock UN summit and an entrepreneurship session where students had to write a business plan for a business idea that they came up with. These sessions placed students in situations that they probably never have been in before and I was totally prepared for the lessons to fall flat on their face. However, instead of complaining or giving up, the students engaged with all of these activities whole-heartedly.



Performing a play for the community

I realized that the student’s minds were as sharp as ever and could cut through whatever material was thrown at them. They were also extremely dedicated in the work that they do. There was one student who woke up a 4:30am (sometimes I go to bed at this time!) every day to go to tutoring sessions. Others were willing to stay after class for whatever time was needed to finish the activities planned for the lesson. The challenges that we faced for the first few lessons was not a problem with the students’ intellectual abilities but rather was simply a matter of adapting to a new teaching style. It was like being tossed into a pool when you are learning to swim. At first you are disorientated but as you find your directions you are able to enjoy the refreshing experience of the water. As the program progressed I have seen students gain much more confidence. They simply needed the opportunity to be able to express themselves. We began the program having to tell them to speak up and we ended up with having to telling them to quiet down.


Hand-made key holder

Often success is not simply a matter of skill but also of opportunity. This is how I think that LEAP, by working in small cities where there is a lack of access to new opportunities, is creating social impact. I saw firsthand how given the chance to be creative, the students were able to come up with great projects such as a sugar-cane business, a penholder made entirely of waste material, and a bookshelf hand-carved from wood. LEAP works hard to provide these opportunities to students and to shake the status quo so that people start asking questions. Sometimes all we need is a push in the right direction and we will find our way to the path that we need. Youth have so much energy and if they knew where to use it they would be able to accomplish anything they wanted. The most important thing that a teacher can do is not the knowledge that he imparts but the guidance that he gives and the passion that he is able to inspire.



Farewell party

The Gang

However, after completing the program I feel like I am was a student as much as I was a teacher. Through their constant readiness to participate and their unquenchable for new knowledge, the students have inspired me to always be willing to learn and try new things. The world is an exciting place and it is important to step out of your comfort zone. Too often we get caught up in the routines of life and forget that there are so many new perspectives to explore. We are lucky to be offered so many opportunities so when you are given the opportunity to try something new we should take it as we never know where it could led us. Don’t let where you are limit where you could be.


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About Bill Cao

I am a rising sophomore pursuing a dual degree in Management and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. I am interested in social entrepreneurship and love reading, traveling, exploring.