“This I Believe” | Anne Boisvert, Assistant Director of Alternative Admissions, College Now/START Program, 2017
When I was a young child my world was small. I lived in the North End of New Bedford, Massachusetts where there were small neighborhoods surrounding each of the many churches. Each church represented and preserved the language and culture of an immigrant community: French Canadian, Polish, Portuguese. Each church ran a school attended by the children in its community. Each morning I walked to school, walked home for lunch then back to school for the afternoon session and returned home by foot at the end of each day. My life was sheltered and protected from the evils of the world.
One day I was walking to school alone and a younger boy from my school came running toward me from the woods. His nose was bleeding, his pants were undone and he was crying. He asked me to stay with him to walk to school. I brought him to the Nurse’s office. The boy never said what happened and I never heard another word about it. That was the day that I knew that evil lived in my world. It was also the day I learned not to ask questions and not to say anything about “private matters.”
Years later, as I taught Mathematics at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, the “mind your own business” mentality secretly guided me. In and out of class, I spoke to the students about school and math and tutoring but never left an opening for them tell me about themselves. Gradually students slipped out information like “my grandma died” and I found myself no longer content to say “So sorry. Here’s the work you missed.” I began to look them in the eye, connect with them and feel their pain and joy, their hopes and fears. Once I opened that gate, there was no stopping and I found excitement and fulfillment is engaging with students on a personal level. This did not lessen my fervor for mathematics but it allowed me to engage them in a different way.
My heart breaks with them when they talk of being stolen from a Sudanese village as a young child or hiding from gunfire in the woods of the Congo or Myanmar and of their arduous journey through refugee camps to UMass Dartmouth. I admire them when they speak of caring for their families by driving a snow plow overnight or of taking an extra shift at work to help pay the family’s rent that month. I cried when a student said she couldn’t concentrate in class because her dad was in a coma and the family had to decide when to pull the plug. I cried with her again at his wake. I feel ecstatic when they show me a good grade in a class where they had struggled. I rejoice with them when they walk across the stage with their diplomas.
I believe in the goodness that there is in the human race. I believe as individuals and as a group we can overcome the evils out there. I believe in my students and I thank them for the past 41 years and I believe I am the luckiest woman in the world if I am allowed to serve them a little longer.