MOSES LAKE — It was a simple game of Telephone.
A dozen kids, and a few grown ups, standing in a circle in a classroom in the Boys & Girls Club space at Park Orchard Elementary School, whispering in each other’s ears, passing along information.
What began as “Bricen, Joseph and MacKenzie are amazing teachers!” eventually, as it was softly and quietly spoken from one mouth into another ear around the circle, became “spaghetti and meatballs.” And no one was entirely sure how.
“This is how rumors get started,” said Bricen Walker, one of the “amazing teachers” leading this small class.
And what do you do if you’ve started a rumor?
“Go communicate to the person who you told the rumor about,” Walker continues. “Say I started a rumor about MacKenzie. I go to and say, ‘I’m sorry, that’s not what I meant.’”
“That smashes the rumor,” Walker added.
What if every teller of rumors was that kind and thoughtful? Mostly, though, we deal with rumors others tell about us.
“What happens if it’s you?” asked MacKenzie Schroeder. “You don’t know who, and no one’s owning up. You go to staff, or a teacher, tell them it’s not true, and that you need help to make it stop.”
Every Tuesday for the last few weeks, Walker, 19, Schroeder, 20, and Joseph Lowe, 23, have been taking a couple of hours off from the trade classes at the Columbia Basin Job Corps and teaching a group of grade schoolers — mostly 10 year olds — some basic life skills classes. Everything from decision making to dealing with stress to today’s course, communication.
“I like that they can show us what to do and what not to do,” said 10-year-old Harela Ramos.
According Michele Dano, the director of operations for the Boys & Girl Club in Moses Lake, the program is joint project of the Boys & Girls Club, Grant Integrated Services, the Columbia Basin Job Corps.
“It’s practical things,” she said.
Being the example of what not to do comes easy, Walker said.
“We enjoy teaching kids,” Walker said. “I like being able to have a good example, and not make the mistakes I made, not do what I did. We’re leading them down the right path.”
“Because we’re still young too,” he added.
Walker, who comes from Lynwood on the West Side, said he was an angry child who got kicked out of day cares and was told constantly in middle school “you gotta stop” eventually straightened out in high school, but only after his anger almost got the best of him.
“High school friends helped me through it,” Walker said. “I had some bad friends my junior year, but someone took me for a ride and we had a long talk.”
A mother of two whose parents are caring for her small children while she studies at Job Corps, Schroeder said both Job Corps and teaching this class have helped straighten her out.
“I was a rabid kid,” she said. “I got kicked out of a lot of different schools. I never had anyone to talk to.”
“There are people here to talk to,” she added.
Lowe, who has been a little less talkative then either Walker or Schroeder, finally speaks up.
“I had a boring childhood,” he said.
Both Schroeder and Walker are working on becoming Certified Nursing Assistants, while Lowe is working to become a pharmacy technician. All enjoy the work, going over their presentation before the kids arrive, and winging much of it after they do.
A game of charades leads to a lesson in non-verbal communication. Lowe asks the kids to look happy, look bored and then look sad, all to let the kids know we communicate our feelings and moods is many ways that don’t involve words.
“But 80 percent of our communication is talking,” he said.
Walker tells the students how important it is to talk when their angry or upset.
“Don’t bundle it up,” he said. “That’ll blow it up.”
“And you will always have someone around you to talk to, to, to vent, just to talk. That also helps the people around you,” Schroeder added.
So, the young man who lived with anger, an anger that threatened to derail his life, tells these kids to talk it out.
And the young woman who said she had no one to talk to tells them there is someone out there. To listen.
After a short game of Heads Up, Seven Up, the kids put away the chairs and the tables and the Job Corps students put their gear together to wait for their bus.
“I like the activities,” said Sean Brumet, one of the students who has been to every one of these classes.
“I learned...” He goes silent, and looks away. “Important things.”
Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.