Saying Goodbye and Saying Hello

The last week of PAGE has gone by in a flash. Before I hardly knew it we had arrived on the very last day and I was wrapping my arms around every girl and pressing notes I had written to them into their hands. This year, saying goodbye was especially hard because there were so many girls that I had seen both last summers when I worked with the program and again this summer. It was hard to say goodbye because I had gotten so close to some of the participants and had had so many wonderful conversations with them, especially in the week leading up to the end.

On the last day, the girls also presented the projects that they have been working on for the past two weeks. We had many facets of creativity brought to “exhibition day” as it is called. Two of the exhibits were the literature group projects that correspond to the books that we had been reading. For my and Emily’s group, we did a hope chest project. At the beginning of bell hook’s memoir “Bone Black,” she talks about how she remembered her mother giving her sisters and her a hope chest so that they could put things into it that they would like to carry with them into marriage. Traditionally, this would include things like linens or dishware. bell hooks opens her memoir with this scene as a way to juxtapose how she respects tradition in many ways but molds it to define her own very personal experience. She does not want to get married, but still, she takes this model of a hope chest and uses it as a framework to write about the events, the items, and the people that compose her version of the hope chest. My students created something along the same lines when they filled a wooden chest with objects and pictures that were important to them and things that they would carry with them into adulthood and write about in a memoir in the future. For each item, the girls wrote a 3–5 sentence story about why it was important to her, in the style of bell hooks.

The other literature group leaders, Jessica and Mina did a project centered around connections that related to the book they were reading: “Weedeater” by Robert Gipe. In this novel, there are a lot of characters living many multi-faceted lives. For their project, they had their students create character connection maps for the characters in the novel and also connection maps for their own lives. For example, girls would draw themselves at the center of a brain-esq map and then draw outreaching circles of people that were important to them and people that were important to those people. This led to some unlikely connections being noticed and talked about.

Thirdly, there were many projects that had been entered into the PAGE Maker contest. This contest was announced early on at the start of the session and featured several prizes for the girls who came up with the most creative projects. The two that took home first and second prize were a diorama depicting traditional Appalachian stargazing strategies and a shrine to Paul, a moth who was rescued from being eaten alive by ants and became the unofficial mascot of the program.

Another exciting part of this week was the field trip that we took to a local observatory and the subsequent sleepover that we had at the middle school. This was by far the most anticipated event of the programming and everyone talked about it seemingly every day. There was also a lot of hard work and planning on the part of all the interns and staff that made it to be a very enjoyable experience.

We started the morning of the field trip with a fun icebreaker: COVID testing for everyone! This was a learning experience for me because I had never helped younger folks figure out how to self-administer a COVID test, some of who had never done one before. Thankfully everyone was negative so our fun day ahead was in go mode!

We left for the observatory later that afternoon, packed into cars and busses, and departed to the Green Mountain Observatory which was a 30 minute drive away and took us through small mountain towns and up into the clouds. At the top, we were over 4,000 feet above sea level.

While we waited for the sun to set, we hung out and played games up on the mountain. Mimi, our astronomy expert entertained us with stories of the stars that we would soon be seeing. As the day turned to dusk, we observed our first star, a bright spec blinking in the distance. As it grew darker, we saw Maui’s Fishhook and traced how it swept up and threw the Milky Way across the darkened sky. Through the powerful telescope, we observed star clusters like the Duck cluster and Dolphin constellations. And at the very end, nearing midnight, we got to see something very special: the planet Saturn, and one of its moons, Titan. Seeing Saturn was one of the coolest things that I have ever experienced. We also learned about binary stars and how they revolve around each other and got to see some through the telescope which I also thought was pretty amazing!

Even though this week was the end of the programming with the girls, it isn’t goodbye. Last week, the program director introduced me to the superintendent of the county schools and the principal of the middle school, both of whom were impressed with my experience in education so far. The principal told me that there will be an opening for a middle school ELA teacher soon and that she would love to hire me. It would be wonderful to return to a place that is so special to me and have the opportunity to teach girls that I have already been working with for the past two years. Next week, we will still be working, but mostly on clean-up and administrative duties.

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