–written by Lauren Boritzke
Ever since I was little, I’ve absolutely adored stories—writing them, listening to them, or finding them in everyday objects around me. When I was nine, I wrote myself into the Harry Potter series. I grew up listening to my mom share the adventures of her 7-sibling childhood. I kept writing short stories and random thoughts as I pursued my creative writing degree in college. It seemed natural that during my time at the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute, I was surrounded with the importance of owning one’s own life story—especially beginning when we’re young.
It’s been one month since my year-long service term as an AmeriCorps VISTA at MOI ended. This year, I witnessed 42 ninth-grade students take ownership of their places in their communities and write their hearts onto the page; the finished product became an anthology of incredible poems and essays. I helped MOI welcome Dave Eggers to the Twin Cities for a spectacular fundraiser with Kate DiCamillo. I watched a storytelling podcast grow from a sparked idea to a flourishing summer program. I co-organized a fantastically crazy night of trivia—for cheaters—that raised over $15,000 for the creative writing and tutoring programs MOI offers students for free.
I’m so grateful for the opportunity to communicate MOI’s success and growth to the public throughout the year. In a way, telling the stories of MOI’s students was a fantastic way to solidify who I am and what I want my story to be.
When I started at MOI, as I moved past the “what am I doing” phase that’s always part of a new job, I got to know the students in our After-School Homework Help program, Storytelling & Bookmaking Field Trips, and the other programs MOI offers. I was struck by a frustrating reality I hadn’t ever confronted before: many of these students might already have had their life stories written for them. A young student who recently arrived in the country from a remote African village can’t sit still in class. Yet his schooling and language of instruction before had been completely different. How might the systems of our country discourage his authentic self, his sense of belonging, or his English language learning as he grows? An elementary-aged girl wants to be a scientist with her whole heart and saves her pennies for an at-home chemistry set. She chooses to read books about the body’s cells and diseases after she finishes her tutoring sessions. What kind of obstacles will she face in achieving her dream in this country simply because she wears a hijab? I wish I didn’t have to ask these questions, because these students deserve every chance at a fantastic, fulfilling, and equal future. Yet, the way they look, the language they speak, or where they came from has a significant impact on the educational opportunities they receive.
While it’s easy to be consumed by the negatives and shortcomings in our federal and educational policies, it’s critical for me to remind others of the exuberant, creative, and spectacular goodness that lives inside the walls of MOI. It’s a place where no student’s dream is too big or too far out of reach. As 2017 brings record-breaking hurricanes, horrifying gun violence, and the federal dismantling of America’s values of freedom and equality, it seems easy to forget about something as small as a child’s education. But I urge us all to remember that the students of today become the leaders, advocates, and changemakers of the future. Supporting equal and accessible education for every student is an essential part of improving the present and ensuring the beautiful vision we have for the future of our cities—and our world.
It was a gift to work at MOI this past year. My fellow staff and the volunteers who make everything happen encouraged me to see a future where our students take ownership of and write their own stories. As I’ve moved on to work at Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy, I’m still telling stories myself. As Communications Coordinator, I’m eager to continue to be of service to an issue that I care deeply about and that is, like the work done at MOI, for the sake of generations to come. I’m so excited about the future of MOI as the capacity for more students to walk through their doors grows with each semester. The leadership, passion, and whimsicality are bound for nothing but success, and I hope to volunteer and support our Twin Cities students with any chance I can get.