The first day at Broad Ripple felt about the same as any first day of high school ever had. The nerves and stomach knots were almost nostalgic, unwanted as they might have been. The only difference walking into the classroom was that the kids I was about to meet had done this particular type of first day before. They knew what to expect, when I didn’t have the slightest clue what I was getting myself into. The knots only grew tighter upon realizing that, but it also simplified the process, which was something of a relief. Going into a situation where the people around you know more than you do sets one clear path out for you to follow: just listen.

That path, it turns out, winds further than I had thought it would. Without exception, every student I’ve worked with at Broad Ripple has wanted someone to listen, and once it’s clear that you’re willing to be that person, wholeheartedly and without distraction, there’s a tangible shift in the interaction between the two of you. Sometimes, showing you’re willing to listen takes longer than you might feel it should; the kids have walls they build just like everyone else does. But also like everyone else, they have stories, and getting to hear those stories is a privilege that’s worth the time it takes to get there.  Whether it’s a piece of writing, something that happened at lunch that day, or a particular event from their past, I’m honored that they trust me with a piece of themselves, no matter how small that piece is.

I always feel like I grow a little every time I go to Broad Ripple, and I leave immensely grateful for the time there. Some days, that gratitude feels like a contradiction to the experience; some days, I can’t explain why I still feel like I’ve learned something even when nobody I’m working with wants to talk much. I can’t explain why even when I feel like I’m not doing nearly enough, I still walk out lighter than I was when I walked in. I can only point to the students there, all the vibrant, diverse life they bring into a room, and say that maybe it’s rubbed off on me.

Madi Blair is a first-year English major.