To say I was terrified of mentoring at Broad Ripple—since we were, in a sense, lab rats in mentoring at a whole new school—is a drastic understatement. We had done so much preparation and yet there were so many unanswered questions that only getting to Broad Ripple could satisfy. Flash forward to the end of the first day, and that last bit of nervous breath left me. Not only had I been able to mentor some smart, creative students, but I hadn’t expected the energy level to have risen so high across the day. Simply put, I was astounded at how much musical and poetic talent there was in the group. A small part of me grew jealous that they had a creative group where their talents could be fostered after classes. But it quickly grew into gratefulness that these passionate students could express themselves freely and had the support they did to either chase a dream or foster a hobby.
I remember being worried that I wouldn’t be able to connect well with some of these students. Indeed, some kids prefer to listen to soft music while they write, or to not to show their work until it is completely finished. But luckily, many of them were excited to get to know every one of us. When I worked with the infamous comedy group Triple Trouble, each member was eager to ask me questions about their works-in-progress. We didn’t really know each other, but they talked to me like we were old friends, like they trusted me with their precious words. When they were writing a rap, and they couldn’t figure out how to split up the words, I suggested they alternate every word. It sounded funny and it took them a while to get it right (because we were all laughing), but it was great seeing them realize new possibilities for performing their work.
But the most gratifying thing is when students hand you their work to read, and they look at you with a sweet combination of shyness and trust. A couple of times, I have worked with a soft-spoken girl named H—, and she talks passionately about her dream of becoming a lawyer and how much she enjoys reading. She is always writing, and every time she handed me her work, just before she turned her gaze shyly away, there was a flicker of excitement on her face. She may speak quietly most of the time, but there is a passion and spirit expressed in her works that is a marvel to watch. It just goes to show you can’t judge a book by the cover, or in this case, a student by how many words they say compared to how many they write.
It is good to see every day how we and these kids are sharing in the collective power of writing and words. Corny as it sounds, we are making a special magic together, and it is made with a little bit of faith, trust, and pencil dust.
Stephanie Anderson is a graduate student in the MFA Creative Writing program.