November 2, 2014

The Close Relation of Rabbits and Deer

by Nina Schield

Nina Schield '17 is one of the coordinators for the Swearer Classroom Program, in which Brown students go into William D’Abate Elementary School to tutor kindergarten through fifth graders in reading.


There are so many times when I am teaching for the Swearer Classroom Program that I stop and think, “what in the world?”

Children will come up with the most bewildering things. One student told me that his dog is an airplane. Not on an airplane, not airplane shaped, not named Airplane. No, an actual airplane. I’m still not sure if he just called an airplane his dog, or if he had no idea what either thing was. Regardless, when I actually listened to him talk about his dog-airplane his face would light up, and I am sure that from the outside it looked like he was telling me the meaning of life, or something equally as amazing. Later that year I had a student tell me that nobody should dress up for Halloween because it is a celebration of Satan. I don’t know how I managed to explain the concept of religious tolerance to a group of first graders, but thankfully no one ended up crying. Just last week I had a student explain in depth how rabbits and deer must be related because their poops are similar. This prompted an entire discussion on how the digestive system functions.

Working with Swearer Classroom Program, I get to spend my time with the most creative, imaginative, and amazing humans: children.

Children can create a fantastic story from a single word. They will believe absolutely everything you say. They will love you for just being there to listen to them. Then, they will give so much back. I have never been more inspired to take on every day with a new perspective than when I spend my hour a week in the classroom.

My work with these kids is one of the most challenging and rewarding things I have ever done. I get to see a whole new world with airplane dogs, while I try to describe the world I live in in a way that makes sense to these kids. I question myself and how much I actually know about the relationship between deer and rabbits and how we adults classify animals. I mean, why don’t we base taxonomy on poop?

As a coordinator for the program this year, I got to recruit this fall for our program. As my elevator pitch solidified, I felt disappointed. I would talk about how we go into bilingual classrooms and English classrooms, and I would emphasize how much the teachers needed us to come in and help the struggling students, so they would have the time to challenge the more advanced ones. As I kept saying all of these wonderful things about the Swearer Classroom Program, I felt like I wasn’t actually talking about the experience of going into a classroom. My words couldn’t capture how it really felt. How could I express not just what we do for the students, but all that they do for us? It was as if I was doing the kids a disservice by referring to how much help they needed.

As I work more and more with the Swearer Classroom Program, I realize that this is not a one sided relationship. As students, we often get caught up in the “Brown bubble.” When we get to go to D’Abate, we give our time and expertise in reading, but we also get the joy that can only come from a fresh perspective.



Related Stories