Stories from the Field

The Salad Becomes the Soup

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NatureBridge student, Chadrick

The child you see is Chadrick, a first generation Jamaican-American. 

You’d assume, as did I, that he was a Black child from a Ward 7 Washington, D.C school. That was until Chadrick opened his mouth and a thick, beautiful Jamaican accent poured out as we walked from the arrival field to the dining hall to begin his NatureBridge experience in Prince William Forest Park.

“Dis does not look like any-ting from dee picture,” he said to me as we walked under the newly leafed-out beeches, maples and oaks of spring in Prince William Forest Park. 

“Oh yeah?” I asked, “Well what did the picture look like?” 

“Dere were no leaves in dee picture,” he’d respond, “Dis is beautiful!” 

I smiled wide in agreement and said, “Yes it is.” 

The gifted smile was soon replaced by confusion as my new favorite little human began acting out during our first activity, called “One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish.”  The activity is designed similarly to a relay race, so kids work together to retrieve a prized object, which in this case was a multi-colored bear named Rico (or as the rainbow bear was introduced, ‘un oso de muchos colores y culturas’).

Rico the bear in Prince William Forest Park
Rico the bear

I couldn’t understand why my new pal was not complying with not only the wishes of his teammates, but was also completely ignoring their pleas for him to change his behavior. After one more try I decided it was time to hit pause and pull the group in for a discussion to try to assess the issue. It was at this point that all became clear. 

“Day are not speaking in English,” Chadrick said quietly with one hand gripping his opposite elbow, eyes toward the ground. “Yes we are!” replied a few from the group. “We’re saying it in English too!” 

“Ah, I see.” I said. “OK, so who here speaks Spanish?” 

Cue the hands of only the Latinx children, Mr. Pacini and myself. If realization were a gust of wind it would have knocked us all to the ground.

At this point, if you panned away from our small circle, you would see a pretty accurate representation of America facing each other.
Rachel Figgs, NatureBridge educator

Seven children of Latinx descent, four Black children, one very tall White 6th grade assistant principal, Mr. Pacini, and myself, a mixed-race female who identifies as Black. 

You’d have to pay closer attention to our little band to notice that when I asked the group to circle up, the children had grouped themselves by race.

Chadrick and the other Black children were standing shoulder to shoulder, just as the Latinx youth did with each other. 

Fast forward in time towards the end of our second day (the long hike out into the forest) when Mr. Pacini and I are relaxing for a moment as we allow the children some free play. 

As we supervised the group playing in and around a shallow area of Quantico Creek, we observed the well-known ballet of youth at free time. After packing up and checking to make sure that no water bottles or science equipment had been left behind, we shared a quick word as the students aligned themselves on the trail in preparation for the return trip to camp. 

“This is the first time I’ve seen them accept Chadrick and work as a group,” Mr. Pacini told me. “He’s had a hard time since he arrived and I’m literally watching them come together. It’s amazing.” 

Chadrick and Ranger Ken in Prince William Forest Park
Chadrick was riveted by Ranger Ken's national park talk that took place after the trail day!

I surveyed the line of students, by this point in a relatively straight line, and noticed how the skin color gradient had given way to a collage.

All I could do was utter a “Yeah,” smile wide and look up at the vibrant green leafed out beeches, maples and oaks.

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