I recently had the chance to volunteer at LaGuardia’s annual Pi Day celebration in the E-building Atrium. Since I have spent many years working closely with students, and am now in a position mostly removed from students, it was a refreshing and eye-opening experience. It was also a good reminder about the importance of connecting with students.
I was asked to work at what turned out to be a high-traffic station: the prizes! At first, I thought students would be indifferent to the range of prizes-school supplies, soda, and chips. I knew our students would want food (in any form) but wondered if they would really want a notebook, a binder or a multi-colored pen. Wow, was I wrong! Once students figured out how many red, yellow, or green tickets they needed, their determination kicked in and off to the math stations they went.
There were two students who were especially driven. One came back and forth to collect prizes immediately after acquiring the requisite tickets, the other saved up all of her tickets to cash in at one time. The interest in the prizes suggests a couple of things. LaGuardia students, albeit 21st century ones, want the traditional school “utensils”. Either for current classes, to save for the future, or to perhaps give away to a friend or family member who might need them. It could also mean that students’ enthusiasm in the “rewards” indicates an excitement about and interest in challenges, like the ones posed at Pi Day, likely resulting in an experience of winning.
Another student lingered near me, too. He, however, wasn’t the least bit interested in the prizes; he was completely focused on solving a math problem. He struggled for a long time, without success. Instead of giving up, he came over to me and shyly asked where he could get some help in figuring out a solution.
Whether LaGuardia students are driven by seemingly insignificant prizes, by the challenges of a math problem, or the need to find the right guidance, I think it is crucial that staff find opportunities to connect with students, to better understand who they are and what moves them. If we meet students where they are, it will be easier for us to be responsive to their needs and goals, and ultimately support their dreams of academic and professional success.