The two of us coach together on the same color team. We partner with Reagan and two Vietnamese coaches to teach our 8th and 9th grade Red Team’s life skills and to lead them on competition day. We spend the most time throughout each day with this group of kids, so the relationships are stronger within our team than with other kids in the camp. However, we can both agree that it was hard to adjust to teaching in a classroom with students who we could not directly communicate with. It was natural to want to have conversations with the students when they were doing individual work, but this proved nearly impossible. But over time we grew more comfortable talking to them regardless of their understanding. With the help of our Vietnamese co-teachers and friends, we were able to build on our relationships with the Vietnamese kids.
While the communication barrier still exists, we were able to make a big leap in week 2 thanks to some activities meant to bridge the distance between us and the students. During life skills lessons, we usually share our stories, play a couple team bonding games, and the students will try their best to find something in our stories that can be related to their drastically different lives but, we changed it up this week. While the students wrote letters to their future selves, we pulled them out of the classroom in pairs to have deeper conversations with them to learn more about their lives. Some of their stories were heartbreaking, but we were honored to have those conversations. Learning about some of the difficulties that these kids face on a daily basis was an incredibly humbling experience for us as Americans. Over this period of two days we got to know our students much more thoroughly, and now we all feel much more comfortable navigating the classroom.
“After building personal relationships with these kids, watching them compete as a group was especially rewarding. It was astonishing how much more invested we were in our team after strengthening our bonds with the students. We watched individual success become team success…”
This comfort showed most evidently during competition day this week. Each Friday our Red Team competes against the other color teams in academics, life skills, and sports. We have been coaching four sports at this camp, and during competition day the teams competes in all four sports. In basketball, the kids competed in a game called Knockout, where everyone starts in one line and shoots until only one person is left standing. For me (Kevin), after coaching basketball to many kids that have never seen or played the game, it was super exciting because almost everyone could make a shot at this point. Khiết, a camp director, described it best: “Knockout was really exciting. Every shot was like the last 2 minutes of a tied NBA game.” We didn’t realize that we were holding our breaths every time a red team player was shooting, leaping into the air if they made it, and dropping our heads if they got out. In life skills, we always try to promote good teamwork, positive attitudes, and communication. After building personal relationships with these kids, watching them compete as a group was especially rewarding. It was astonishing how much more invested we were in our team after strengthening our bonds with the students. We watched individual success become team success, and even though we didn’t win the knockout game, no one could match our enthusiasm!