Day 1 of my internship with PAGE, we are thrown headlong into the roles of instructors and mentors to more than 20 girls.
Juggling numerous responsibilities and trying to remember all the girls’ names, the college interns and I are faced with the enormity of PAGE. As an adult and teacher, I know I have to become something I’m not — enthusiastic, confident, a presence in the classroom.
Just two hours in, the girls have begun journaling stories about their lives, stories which we will soon be delving into, pulling back the layers of their narratives to find the motivation behind each unique story.
Only a few days before, the college interns and I had gone through the process of digital storytelling ourselves, assisted by two incredible story facilitators. It was a surprisingly deep and emotional experience.
How was I going to create an environment of openness and vulnerability like they had?
While the girls are busy writing down their thoughts, I begin to walk around the classroom, looking for girls who may need assistance.
I crouch next to a blond-haired girl with not much written down. When I ask her about her story idea, she speaks so quietly that I have to lean in even closer to grasp her words.
She was writing about how she and her brother were taken away from her parents by DSS.
“Living with my mom and dad wasn’t good for me and my brother.
They fought a lot.
They let us watch things like Freddie and Jason — scary stuff.
My brother got burnt on a grill because they wasn’t paying attention to us.
They threatened each other all the time — and then DSS took us away.”
At first I was not sure how to respond, but I was amazed by her courage. I decided to share an experience of my own, something I had never told anyone before.
Afterwards, I was more than a little shocked that I had done that.
She ended up being paired with a different intern for story development and she and I never discussed her story again. Maybe it was too much too soon.
Throughout the course of the next three weeks, it is the college interns’ job to listen, ask, and probe, to push the girls to go deeper with their stories.
I assure you, it is no easy task. The process of digital storytelling is a collaborative and often deeply personal endeavor. It goes beyond any reflective pieces they may have written, but in the end, some pieces even reach the depth of a college personal statement.
To me it is the open and generative process of storytelling that is the heart of PAGE. Through it, bonds are formed, allowing us to learn about each individual girl: her family, her animals, stories about her siblings, and a few tall tales along the way. In working with the PAGE girls, I am continually in awe of their vulnerability and humility when sharing impactful events in their lives and the stories, good and bad, that make up who they are.
In the last two days of PAGE, all of the girls’ stories were shared.
We watched the story of the girl I had talked to on the first day. She called her story “Gratefulness.”
“If I still lived with my mom I know wouldn’t be here at PAGE today.
She wouldn’t remember to bring me…if she was awake…
Maybe I would have grown up to be just like her…
But I’m not.
And I’m thankful to Nana and Poppa for that.”
The final credit of her digital story said, “thank you Evie for inspiring me.”
I’ve never had a commanding presence within or at the head of the classroom, and I probably never will. But in that moment, I knew that one voice can have an impact, no matter how loudly or quietly it speaks.