Monday, August 21, 2006

Yes, Mentos really do work...

A hodgepodge of thoughts....

We opened Week III with our very own PFEW science experiment: dropping Mentos mints into three two-liters and seeing which soda shot higher into the air.

Diet Pepsi won.

It might have been the mango-colored shirts or maybe it was the fact that we're all crazy enough to think of PFEW as a vacation, but when 24 grown adults, all in their mango polos, stand around and count down to the Mentos explosion, how can you have anything BUT a good week?

For the first time ever, I had a roommate. Alicia and I hit it off well, though I think a few felt that we hit it off too well. It's always easier to have a Chinese Firedrill with two people, you know.

The hospitality suite boasted its usual assortment of beverages, snacks, and games. This year's hit was a game called "Lightening Reaction." For the un-initiated, this game requires four people to hold onto four handles and then wait for the music -- which is screechy enough to make me wonder where the flying monkey are -- to stop. The VERY MOMENT the music stops, you must push the button on the handle. The last person to press the button gets an electrical shock.

The men loved it. The women who played were pretty content to do a few rounds then quit. The men kept playing. And playing. And playing....

And, no, I didn't play. There's something contradictory, oh gentlemen who mocked me, about your ragging on me mere seconds before you get shocked... and then you release the handle so abruptly that it sails across the table. Telling me that I'm a chicken while you wait for the feeling to return to your hand just doesn't really do much for me in terms of encouragement.

The 418 (or so) teens that came and stayed were amazing. They really were some of the best the state has to offer; they are the sort that make me think that teaching high school again might not be that bad. The 17 that I was a Company Advisor for were a dream. Once the company got itself underway, there was little actual guiding that I needed to do. That means, of course, that they chose well when they elected their CEO. They were a well-organized group, experiencing the usual bumps that 17 strangers run into. Nothing earth-shattering.

What else?

Everything. Nothing. A million memories, a dozen practical jokes, and a few promises of revenge.

It was discovered that a single Mentos in a 20 oz. Pepsi results in the normally reserved Frank running for his life.

(I would have caught him if I hadn't paused to kick off my sandals.)

New company advisors were put through the usual paces. I think they're coming back next year anyway.

Wednesday brough the annual tour of Woolrich's plant. Watching the wool turn into fabric is always fascinating, in my opinion. Seriously! It's the little kid in me, I think. Watching all of those big machines... coolness, dude. The adult in me never gets tired of it, either, because each time I go I end up talking to the second guide, the one who follows our group, and we have some amazingly interesting conversations -- all of them about fabric!

The students seem to enjoy it as well, particularly once we reach the weaving floor. It was hot that day (there's an understatement!) -- so hot that some of us were grabbing bottles of water out of the coolers and leaving our arms in the icy water as long as possible. I discovered that an ice-cold bottle of water on the back of the neck does the trick, particularly when you're riding on a school bus.

Ah, the things you learn!

I think that the most amazing thing about PFEW is the amount of dedication and the amount of volunteerism that we see. Everyone of us volunteers are exactly that: volunteers. We take our vacation time, our family time, and our own money, and head to Williamsport for eight days where we listen to the same training, the same speakers, and the same everything... it's really a recipe for disasterous boredom if you think about it. Yet, I think I can safely say, not one of us finds the week tedious.

Volunteerism itself is a bizarre concept -- think about it: you ask people to give up time and money for total strangers who may or may not thank you and may even give you grief over your goodwill. Then you add PFEW.

We stand there and tell these parents to trust us, that we aren't nearly as simple as we may act. We tell these parents that we're going to teach their children about free enterprise and how to compete and that there will be losers just as there are winners. We go against the popular theory that everyone's a winner. We toss those kids into groups with 16 or 17 strangers and tell them to form a company -- and then make them elect a CEO after knowing each other for barely 24 hours. Then, the very adults who promise to teach, hand it all over to the CEO and his/her team. We sit back and let the kids figure it out on their own, offering guidance only when needed, and then often in private so that the CEO maintains power in the eyes of the others. If we, the CAs, do everything right, it looks like we're sitting in the corner doing nothing. How's that for volunteerism and teaching?

*laughing* It's the best out there. Those kids come in on Sunday and leave on Saturday and, somewhere in there, most of them grow, even just a little bit. They find voices, they discover interests, and they make friends they'd never know otherwise. The person that each one was that Sunday is no longer there, exact and unchanged. It's an experience that no traditional classroom can offer. Watching some of them come into their own in just a week's time... wow.

Maybe that's why we CAs come back each year. Must be.

(Then again, that grilled cheese is pretty damn good...)


Scott Lee said...

Well, Michelle, you really hit the nail on the head. PFEW is one of those life changing, life giving experiences, for the students certainly, but even more so for the advisors. Too bad more people cannot experience this feeling. I have to believe that if they did, our world would be a much better place. Great blog. Keep up the good work. And I agree, some things just cannot be posted! By the way, don't give up your day job. A return to the classroom for you would obviously be predicated on the number of typos in your blog. (You know I couldn't let you get away with that one). Love, Your pal Scotty

Miki Louch said...

Good thing I'm not leaving to teach high school any time soon, eh? I be, like, too busy teachin' grammar an' dat, you know what I mean? :)