Fifteen Year Old Kids

What comes to mind when you think of a fifteen year old kid? Some people laugh, remembering what they were like at 15. Others think of their own children at that age and the struggles they went through. Many, especially those who aren’t around fifteen year old kids on a regular basis, roll their eyes, recalling stories of an annoying kid that was being too loud, making awkward conversation, or being rude to them in a store, intentionally or unintentionally.

Over the Christmas break, the UrbanTrekkers staff (and one brave volunteer) took 20 students to Washington, D.C. for four days of exploring our nation’s capital. For many of these students, this was their first Trekker trip. The freshman class at the UrbanPromise Academy was well represented, which is a wonderful indication of the involvement of students in Trekkers. This large group of younger students, however, also meant four days of waiting for them to be quiet before starting a group discussion, asking the same boys to think before they act over and over again, girls with attitudes, and several apologies to other tourists for the behavior of these students. Like, maybe it’s not a great idea to do pull-ups on the doorway of a food court at a museum. Just a thought.

On our annual trip to Washington, D.C. a favorite destination of the students is the Holocaust Museum. Something about that place grips students beyond any other site. The night before we go there, we have the older students prep the younger group-telling them to be respectful, quiet, and attentive in a place that memorializes those lost in such a global tragedy.

The visit to the Holocaust Museum with students is also my favorite, but not necessarily because of the place itself. This year, in the midst of rambunctious freshmen boys and disinterested freshmen girls, the Holocaust Museum was the one place where all of our nagging stopped. The kids got it. Those same freshmen boys who had been a pain all week were following the seniors, reading everything. Those freshmen girls who we had dragged around for three days (despite their aching feet) stayed close to their English teacher, learning and allowing themselves to feel the weight of the pictures they were seeing.

Back at our hostel that night, I asked the students a simple question: “How does the Holocaust, which happened 70 years ago, affect us and current events around us today?” A freshman boy, Carlos, was among those who answered. He said this: “The Holocaust is a story of people with power influencing those around them to forget other people’s humanity. This is still happening. It happened to Eric Garner; it’s happening in Syria. We have to remember that this happens all the time, and it should be our responsibility to do something about it.”

When Carlos said that, I’m fairly certain my jaw hit the floor. This was the same kid who had just finished telling me that his highlight of the week was running up a down escalator at Union Station. A fifteen-year-old kid, who many adults write off as a pain in the neck until he grows up, allowed himself to learn and be deeply affected by what he saw. That doesn’t always happen, but because Carlos had the opportunity to go on the Trekker trip, he was able to make those kinds of inferences. Statements like Carlos’ are why I love trekking.

Keep on trekkin',