By Abby Balmert
Departing from the classroom with my fifth graders on the last day of fall semester’s Take Ten program, I was filled with hope. In the past few months, I have watched with pride as the kids eagerly asked questions about and brain-stormed solutions to violence in their own lives. They shared tender personal experiences involving violence at school and at home and opened up in ways I suspect they never have before. They appreciated and whole-heartedly embraced their own and one another’s cultural and ethnic diversity in a way that would comfort anyone discouraged by the events following the Ferguson trial. Despite their seemingly disadvantaged predicaments, they all demonstrated how they were more than ready to rise above their circumstances and effect positive change in their own lives and the lives of their peers. I was amazed to witness the striking transformation of their demeanors and attitudes as time progressed – for example, the same student who proclaimed during our first meeting that she “liked violence” later presented me with an artistic gift on which she had written “I am kindness.” I had to hold back the tears that welled up in my eyes. The eight individuals whom I love as my own younger siblings possessed some bitterness built up by the day-to-day injustices experienced during negative interactions with peers or the poor example of adults. But they are like Sour Patch Kids – first they’re sour…then they’re sweet. It just requires a bit of time to melt away the tart exterior.