I’ve been reticent to blog about my work with the AdoptMent group because they’re a younger set and I’m more protective of their privacy. This is a transitional year, not just within the program, but also in the lives of each of these young people. In my first session with them this school year, we returned to the tasks of adolescent development, but instead of focusing broadly on the topic of identity, this time we talked about personal values and relationships, especially how to strike a healthy balance between independence and connectedness.
Last spring I used Zits comics to get the conversation started. We returned to two strips that dealt specifically with identity exploration, and was really pleased that they all retained the biggest lesson from last spring’s identity self-portrait activity, namely that at this early stage in life staying true to yourself is overrated, and identity crises are actually a healthy part of psychological development.
From that group review, everyone paired off with their mentors to discuss comic strips treating the developmental tasks related to autonomy, relationships, and values. The mentors had handouts that indicated the tasks displayed in each strip, but the mentees first had to work on inferring the topic from the material. The second step in the exercise was to reflect on how they were progressing in each of those tasks. I got to eavesdrop on a lot of wonderful stories about how these young people set up challenges for themselves (e.g., earning the money and planning transportation for a solo trip to New Jersey), and noted how their relationships to their parents were in transition.
The final part of the workshop had everyone select one particular developmental task that posed a significant challenge to him or her. I won’t go into too many specifics about the younger mentees, but I can speak more freely about Otis and work in the group because he is no longer a minor and because he has written openly and repeatedly about his experience of homelessness in Represent Magazine. As in past workshops, I gave them the option of drawing a comic strip or staging a skit on their challenge. Although we have artists in the group, everyone chose to do a skit. Otis decided to reenact the day that his mother threw him out of the house. He enlisted the help of a bunch of other adults in the room to play the other people in his safety net that he turned to in real life when he found himself homeless. He did not resolve his housing situation in the skit, but there was a definite positive message: Otis recognized that the caring adults around him formed an extended family of sorts, and reached out to them for their support. (And, indeed, with their help along with his own inner strength and resourcefulness, Otis was able to arrange for a new life up in Albany this coming year.)
Everyone else’s skits showed evidence of tremendous resourcefulness and a capacity for reflection and transformation, which really made all the adults in the room happy. This is such a critical year of transition for all of them, and they won’t always make the choices we might secretly wish they would make, but it’s comforting to know they are honing the skills that will help them find their way.
As with all my past workshops with this group, I followed up with (love) letters of evaluation, which I consider an integral part of my work. It is also a very pleasurable assessment practice for all involved. I share details of how I structure those letters to each mentee here, but in short, I make an effort to point to concrete instances of critical thought, social skills (e.g., one of the mentees always goes out of her way to tell me that my workshops are always her “favorite”), evidence of growth, and areas for improvement (e.g., where I think their arguments are weak, where certain thought patterns or habits may be detrimental to their well-being). Finally, I close with my hopes for their future (which are always based on their own hopes for themselves).
This round of letters felt especially poignant because it would be the last I would write Otis, at least in this capacity. Everyone read their letters with their mentors in the following session, which was Otis’ last. He dropped me an email afterward and told me that he really loved his letter and that his mentor read it aloud to the entire group. One of the program coordinators said that my letter managed to capture what everyone in the room wanted to express to Otis, but couldn’t articulate. I really appreciate when the AdoptMent family tell me they appreciate these letters, because I write them from my heart. I feel very fortunate that as an educator I can give honest assessments that are both useful and uplifting.