By: Saron Tekie

“Wow! Of course it’s not surprising that you didn’t do your homework or bring your books”, the after school program coordinator yelled at Robert*. I could see in the shame in Robert’s face as he rapidly put his head down. I proceeded to quietly ask him what was wrong and the look of helplessness remained on his face. He then revealed that he does not have a place he can call home because he’s constantly transitioning between residences due to familial circumstances. Constantly on the go, Robert’s personal life is extremely distracting, most particularly being responsible for his younger siblings. Such distractions contribute to his inability to keep track of his school materials, which ultimately has an effect on his overall academic life. By shunning his failure, we present him as an inferior being and remove his personal sense of dignity by publicly humiliating himunmotivated-students1-2. However, what was never acknowledged was that after school program is optional. Publicly punishing Robert criminalizes him in that such punishment is used to make an example of him rather than encourage progression. Rather than shaming Robert for his downfall, the proper approach would be to aid him by showing positivity for his decision to get assistance and helping him become less forgetful with his school supplies.

While helping students like Robert, I sometimes think, “Why don’t you get it?” However, I’ve noticed that such frustration generated from working with unmotivated students is a reflection of our natural selfishness as a community. We should not think of ourselves and our own annoyances when helping students. Students who don’t perform well “bother” us because we compare their actions to how we would go about our education. We gravitate towards selfishly investing more time in students who do well and less time in those who are in the most need because we fail to recognize that helping students is not about us. We are also failing in making the most needy our priority because we are too occupied in comparing their failures to our successes. The tendency of attributing academic failure to personal failing stigmatizes dependence by making students less inclined to ask for help because they are seen as weak. Instead of thinking “If I/they could understand it, why can’t you?” we should work towards manifesting our frustration in the form of compassion to correct failure when we see it.

I noticed that such compassion can be best facilitated by the emergence of transparency within classrooms. As a tutor, I plan to better work towards encouraging students to “tell their truths” while also telling mine. I’ve learned the importance of sharing my life with students because it encourages them to do the same. A “truth seeking” approach may change the environment of ACC in that it would allow teachers to better understand students but also allow students to better understand each other. Thus far, my placement has taught me and continues to teach me that that sharing realities in the classroom can help us all realize that our worlds are a lot more similar than we think.


By Danielli MarzoucaImageWE build towers atop islands. They come barren, a mound of sand in the midst of a hurricane. Four hours a week, I meet them in the eye of the storm and help lay bricks at the Community Based Acute Treatment (CBAT) unit of Franciscan Children’s Hospital. Okay, they’re metaphorical bricks on metaphorical islands. More like teaching behavior coping skills to emotionally and behaviorally unstable children aged four to fourteen. Still, they’re freaking mounds of sand. No one has sculpted them into anything. No one is on their side.

Most often their parents are neglectful or have a history of mental illness or are the ones that physically, sexually or emotionally traumatized them to self-destruct. The writers of their stories were sloppy and careless.  Many were genetically written: bipolarism, schizophrenia, mood disorders, all NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) of course. The power of even labeling them with a hard diagnosis could change the way their illness develops.

They arrive desperate to control the pen that writes their stories. They grasp at it vis a vis eating disorders, suicidal ideations or self harm. Five year olds molesting their younger brothers. Tiny bird-like adorable six year olds literally breaking their mother’s jaw in one punch. Carmen arrived a twelve-year-old taking pregnancy tests after attempted suicide. Thirteen year olds with histories of prostitution to fund heroine addiction. Tornado islands spinning at 200 mph, coming together, to form a community of controlled tornado islands. It feels hopeless at times.

But they’re special, inspiring, wonderful, lovable, perfect tornado islands. CBAT is the eye of the storm, a refuge for them while Child Protective Services puts their families through therapy or finds them new foster families. The eye is everything. It’s where Carmen’s meds were stabilized, where she’s not “the weird one” like at school. They’re all struggling with unimaginable truths stemming from the darker side of life. They didn’t come with the fortress of good parenting. They weren’t even born in the burbs. They’re freakin mounds of sand. In the middle of the ocean, fending for themselves. I teach Carmen to make bricks, to learn to share, to not get violent, that middle school really does suck she’s not crazy, that life gets so much better and that she is a truly amazing individual.

CBAT unfortunately can’t prevent the force of nature that is child abuse, puberty, or chemical imbalances. We’re not pretending the storm isn’t waiting for them once they leave. But we sure as hell aren’t going to let them leave without preparation. They have witnessed horrific, valid life truths. At CBAT, they face them head on, play SkipBo for a couple hours with me and then approach it again tomorrow. More than anything, I feel my role is to help Carmen realize that the ugly truth that brought her to this place and help her let it go. It will not become her truth. She is a tower among towers. The storm will pass. She can let it go.

By John Urban   
“You can’t spend the entire time sharpening your pencil!” Mike’s* pencil had a knack for never actually being sharp enough to be of any use, or so Mike thought. Miss Smith was on her way to the copy machine and happened to overhear. “Well he can sure try,” she quipped. We both smiled as she went through the hallway door. “Come on now Mike, we need to get back to work.”

            The sheet we’re working on is covering fractions, specifically showing fractions on a number line. The kids will be taking a test later today, and Mike, Luna, and Caroline all need a little extra help. The sheet was handed out yesterday, but none of them had gotten very far. The problems are a little trickier than the ones they are used to seeing, but nothing they can’t get if they pay enough attention, but then again, we’re out in the hallway, so distractions are bountiful.

            The class in the room across from us just happens to be having music this period, and while the door keeps out most of the noise, the distinct sound of “Down by the Station” played by third graders with recorders is just audible enough to keep some minds away from fractions. Other students and teachers, like Miss Smith not moments ago, also make their way down the halls and add a bit of excitement to the otherwise boring hallway.

            The worst is when a whole classroom needs to use the hallway. All hope of accomplishing anything for a minute or two is obliterated. My job quickly shifts from trying to keep distractions away from my students, to keeping my students from being distractions for the army of kids that need to continue in their somewhat orderly lines to their next destination.

            The hallway is empty at the moment, but distractions aside, fractions just are not that entertaining to begin with, or at least not entertaining enough that sharpening your pencil doesn’t seems like more fun. But we need to get through this sheet so on we go. Caroline is trying hard, but it just isn’t clicking. The number line has the fraction 7/6 on it and the problem wants them to figure out where the number 1 would be. “Remember, the number on the bottom tells you how many pieces each group on the number line should be broken into.”

            “I know, I know! But how do I find the 1?”

            “Finding the 1 is easy, just look for the fraction where the bottom and the top are the same number!” That seems to click for everyone, since looking for two numbers that are the same is a lot easier than understanding what the fraction represents. We keep working on the sheet.

            A few minutes go by and Luna asks me to help her with a similar problem. This time it is 5/3, and again the question wants her to find the 1. “Remember what I told you a few minutes ago?”

            “I forgot Mr. John. I’m sorry”

            “It’s okay, nothing to be sorry about. Remember, to find where the 1 is, all you need to do is…Mike are you sharpening your pencil again?”

            He is. As if it wasn’t bad enough that we could only work in this distraction filled hallway, he somehow manages to find another object to keep him from his work. Doesn’t he realize I’m trying to help him? But then again, he’s only in third grade, and I can’t imagine how much time I spent sharpening my pencil instead of listening to my teachers in third grade.

*Names have been changed

I remember when I first signed up for the Prison Ministries Program through my church it sounded like an interesting but intimidating thing to do. Honestly, the main reason I did it at first was to hang out with some of my friends and to build my resume. However, after going there I realized that the experience was worthwhile. The inmates started off by telling their stories of how they ended up in prison and what they have been doing since. Then we actually got a chance to speak to them in small groups which is definitely where I learned the most. The inmate that I spoke to looked very rugged with a ton of tattoos but when he spoke he had one of the most inviting voices I’ve ever heard. He told us about his experiences and how we should cherish what we had because it could all be taken away in an instant. He acknowledged that the reason he was in jail was his own fault; he had been in prison for 7 years on charges for robbery and murder. I believe that he really just wanted to iterate that jail is no joke and how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. After the talk we had lunch with them and after that we left. Our church kept in touch with them through letters and monthly visits where we would check up on them and see how they were doing. They would always seem so overjoyed to see our faces; I think it’s because they wanted to check up on us as much as we wanted to check up on them. Overall I learned a lot from these men in prison and throughout high school they were a constant motivation for me to succeed and stay on the straight and narrow. Now some of these men are out of prison and actually work for our church through a probationary system and I get to see them whenever I visit church. 

Mary’s Story

“And that’s when then told me they had to take the lung out,” Mary* said matter-of-factly. 

“Because of the mold?”

“Yes,” Mary paused, “Well, I think so. I’m not sure how it’s all related. But the day I moved into that apartment is when I started getting sick,” she looked down at her hands. 

“Doesn’t the owner of the apartment have to help you with your bills?” 

“Maybe, but I don’t have the time or money to get into that. And he’s a scary man.” 

Telling the truth is difficult for a number of reasons. Sometimes, telling the truth means hurting others or admitting your own faults. At other times, it means fighting a battle that will not easily be won, and the fear that no one will listen to your story. In these situations, telling the truth is terrifying. Telling the truth means facing the bullies. 

Bullying comes in a number of forms. In the movie, “Freedom Writers,” the students bullied each other based on their racial identity. They used bully tactics to hurt others while simultaneously pledging their allegiance to their in-group. At the beginning of the film, bully tactics are synonymous with physical violence. However, as the movie progresses, it is obvious that bully tactics are also used on a more psychological level. No matter the implementation, their tactics were always brutal. Bullying filled Mrs. G’s classroom with hostility. No one wanted to speak the truth, because they thought that their words would not be met with understanding.

Mary’s problem originated when she signed a lease with one of Boston’s numerous slumlords. He cares nothing for the health or safety of his tenants. Because of this, he allowed Mary to move into an apartment that was ridden with mold. She asked him to fix the problem but he ignored phone calls. Having no close family or friends in Boston, Mary continued to live in the apartment. Eventually, her health deteriorated. 

Mary’s landlord took her money and in return gave her a stack of medical bills six inches high. Mary is afraid to seek legal action against her landlord. First, she would have to hire a lawyer, which she does not have the money for. Secondly, she fears that nothing would come of a lawsuit. Her landlord is wealthier than she is, and he could defend himself better than Mary could ever dream of.

In Freedom Writers, the young men and women of Mrs. G’s English class spoke their own truth. Their words were filled with raw emotion. You believed with every fiber of your being that these kids really were going through a war. Their words came from the heart. 

The role of a good author is to take on the role of Mrs. G. She opened up a space for her students to tell their stories. She let them know that there was someone who was trying to understand their situation.. She made other people listen. 

As a volunteer in my placement, I want to try to act like Mrs. G. Although those I will be working with are not penning their own story, I see it as my responsibility to make sure that their stories are heard. People, no matter their situation in life, deserve to know that they deserve a good life.

“Mary, we have to do something. You can’t just let him get away with this.


*Name has been changed

UNICEF tap project image

Philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah coined an “emergency principle” which states, “If you are the person in the best position to prevent something really awful, and it won’t cost you much to do so, do it.” This is a minimal demand of social justice. Somewhere between singlehandedly curing world hunger, and refusing to help a grandmother pick up her purse, is the answer to; what do we owe to strangers?

While Boston couldn’t quite make up its mind between freezing rain and snow, a handful of Boston College students and myself were fortunate enough to take our studies to Sydney, Australia for the fall semester last year. The people were cheerful, outgoing and warmhearted. The communities were safe, clean and unfailingly centered around the beaches. Warm food, cold drinks, clouds were few and far between; it was paradise. Accordingly, I expected my experimental economics class to be full of camaraderie, trust and generosity.

Your instincts are correct: this was not the case.

Most notable was an experiment called the Bertrand Price Cutting Demonstration. In this experiment all the students were instructed to write down a price, they would be kept anonymous. In this imaginative experiment, there was one buyer for each of the thirty students in the class. The highest price a student was allowed to put down was five dollars. The imaginary buyers only cared about price. Therefore, if each student put down five dollars, given there were an equal number of students and imaginary buyers, each student would attract one buyer and receive five dollars. However, since the buyers only care about price, one lower price would capture the whole market. Thus if each student put down five dollars except for one student who put down one dollar, he would attract all the buyers (thirty buyers, one for each student), and receive thirty dollars. To ensure accurate results, the professor actually pays students whatever they win in the game.

The most equitable and rewarding situation for the students is for everyone to put down a selling price of five dollars, that way each student receives five dollars from one buyer, and actually gets paid by the professor. However, if someone thinks that someone else in the class will put down a lower price to capture the whole market, he or she will be inclined to undercut him with a lower price. This lack of trust and subsequent greed drives the price down. So much so, that our professor has never paid out more than one dollar per class in twenty years of doing this experiment. Not one class has ever completely trusted one another; perhaps they didn’t have the necessary motivation.

We submitted our selling price to the TA. I desperately wanted to say something, to talk to someone, to have my loyalty in my classmates reassured. I knew given the history of this experiment, that if we didn’t do something different, no one would win. If our class was to re-write history, we would need to be properly motivated. Of course, there was a strict no talking rule and some students went as low as $0.00. The seasoned professor didn’t have to shell out a single penny. Although the stakes were not particularly high, I couldn’t help but feel a little helpless and cheated. And because the stakes were not particularly high, I was certainly disappointed with the results — the lack of trust, the greed.

Next week our professor introduced the second part of the experiment. We would do the same thing, but first he asked for a volunteer to give a speech. I had been thinking about this all week, I shot my hand up (I soon realized this was a little foolish and unnecessary as no else appeared to even consider volunteering).

All week I had been thinking of what I would have said if given the chance, what the proper motivation could have been. I thought that the only way for everyone to put down five dollars would be in the name of a better cause. UNICEF’s Tap Project seemed to fit the bill; five dollars could provide one child with clean drinking water for two hundred days, without which he or she would die from diarrhea. It appeared to be a simple choice, preventing the death of a child, or extra drinking money. Surely, we owe at least this to strangers.

I proposed, and all agreed (including the professor), that if we all put down five dollars the professor would donate (thirty students x five) one hundred and fifty dollars to UNICEF. It was time for the blind vote. Thirty kids in the class. 28 put down $5, one put down $1.49, one put down zero. The professor did not have to pay a penny once again. A silenced, suspicious class couldn’t believe the results.

It is statistically and morally impossible to know exactly what the basic obligations are of each human being to strangers. When faced with impossible demands and goals it is all too easy to quit in disgust. But on the whole, we are not overwhelming ourselves with such efforts, the obligations we have are not out of reach, they entail clear-headedness, not heroism. At my placement at the Bird Street Community Center the children do not need much from us. We do not have to give them our laptops and textbooks because they could not otherwise afford them, but we at least need to be willing to talk to them and help them when they want.

I was certainly disappointed with the results, the lack of trust, the greed. In twenty years of doing that experiment, the professor never paid out more than a single dollar. We were two away from a perfect score. Later that day I received an e-mail from the professor. He wanted to let me know he contributed one hundred dollars on his own to UNICEF’s Tap Project; he even forwarded me the receipt.

                                                                                           By Loic Assombo

Since most of us have only experienced the dreadful hospital waiting rooms, let me take you behind a hospital emergency room from the point of view of a doctor. Rushing back and forth from patient room, to patient room, to computers; dealing with each patient and updating your progress on a computer. Constantly being depended on to be accurate and fast, and managing your time efficiently. Having little to no breaks because you are constantly depended on. In this fast-pace environment, how can a hospital foster an atmosphere for trust to be built between a doctors and patients?

Most of us do not see this reality as we sit impatiently in the waiting rooms, wondering why our turn can’t come up faster so that we can get on with our day. After watching “Freedom Writers,” I noticed several interesting things that I had missed during my first 3 times watching the movie. In specific, the movie incorporates lessons which can be applied in a hospital setting to allow individuals to transcend in order for patients, doctors, and everyone to develop their empathy, intuition, and grow together as a community together.

Although my first few times watching the movie I always admired the teacher for being able to change her students, educate them, and spread positivity in a deteriorating community, I never really understood what contributed to her success.

Essentially, in the movie, the lives of the characters are controlled by a history they do not completely understand but which guides their perspectives and actions. There are several times when characters joined gangs and hate others because that is what they were taught by their parents. They are born into a certain gang which means their fates are sealed. The clothes they wear, the places the visit, and the people they associate with are automatically determined by where they are born. And so for them, every day they are not killed, is a victory. This battle does not end when they come to school. And so they rebel because the system does not understand this and the teachers stereotype and judge them. The students are never able to express their own truth, the reality of their circumstances, and thus they cannot connect with each other, the education, or the teachers. They are silenced.

Erin Grunwell takes over the class and is able to turn it around. Her method includes lessons that can be applied at a hospital setting. There is a key moment in the movie when she yells at her students for passing around a racist image. In this moment, the students realize that she, unlike the other teachers at the school, cares for them as people. This moment, along with several others, allow the students to realize they mean a lot to her. They enter into a phase of mutual understanding and respect for each other. From then on, the barriers of distrust begin to break and the relationship between the students and the teacher begins to develop. As soon as respect and a safe space is established, the education of the students begins to grow exponentially as they engage in the material, share their truths, allow it to develop them, and enables it to develop their community.

It is clear that the key to Erin’s success is her ability breakdown the wall of distrust between her and her students. This allows us to see the irony of how lack of trust can exist even between two parties who are each serving each other. Nonetheless, the movie essentially points out that in order to reach Erin’s success, hospitals need to complete the challenge of establishing trust between doctors and patients. This means mutual respect needs to be established between the hospital employees and the patients. This can be done through honest conversations, attitude, and expressions. Because of the fast pace of the hospital environment, the challenge is achieving this goal in strict time management and limited doctor to patient interaction.

However, taking advantage of waiting rooms may be key to increase patient interaction with hospital staff, creating a safe space, and allowing truth to be developed even before patients move in the emergency room.

This empowerment will allow trust to develop, relationships to grow, and issues resolved. This will allow the patients to transcend and develop a relationship with the service and service provider. This will allow everyone to look inside, develop empathy, grow their intuition, and explore the subject material critically. Just like in the movie, this will lead to better outcomes where things will be explored in depth and patients will grow through that connection.

Overall, truth telling can be implemented in our service work and in many other things we do in life. The process is simple yet somehow complex because it goes against the ideals society has caused us to develop. However, one thing is certain, the first step is empowering everyone to have a voice so that a truth can be developed and heard. Only through that, will the stage be set so that we can grow as a community, gain empathy, break down objectivity, and help advance each other and the world.