Looking for Space
Having space is a rare commodity. It is something that has eluded me, not at home, but in places where I work with students. I am not sure why this is but I do know that it is unfortunate and wrong. Why cannot space be designated for use without a fee, especially when the room is sitting empty otherwise? Why cannot space be donated for those who want to enrich or help or encourage our youth to reach beyond in their personal goals and learning? Why can’t space be owned? Why cannot I find space within our community to hold a student group without contention? These are all questions that have been orbiting in my brain for the last two weeks when once again, I found that I had run out of space.
Some years ago, I led a writer’s circle for third-grade students. For the first three years of the group, we met in the school library. The librarian gladly welcomed our enrichment group that met for thirty minutes in the middle of the school day once a week. I felt, and still feel, that the library was a perfect spot for such a group. We were writers. We were surrounded by books and dictionaries and thesauruses, not to mention the computer lab in which I had the students type their poems at the end of the year. It was a perfect space. And, while I did not own it or have a professional claim to it, I was a community member and a parent of children who had attended this school. I volunteered my time and in return, was able to use this space. The students and I were at home in the school library. We had a lovely space for three years in the library that we claimed as ours. We were never loud, never disruptive, and never left a mess. We laid claim to a table at the far end of the library that became our space.
Then, things changed. Space in the library for “outsiders” became a rare commodity. During the fourth year of our writer’s circle, we still had a space but it wasn’t as welcoming. There were scheduling snafus and difficulty getting in the computer lab to type our poems. The librarian we knew who supported our group retired. The new librarian had a different view about how the library should be used. It became hard to feel comfortable there. I noticed this about our space but the student’s probably didn’t, luckily.
The following year, we were told we couldn’t meet in our former space in the library during the school day. We were told we needed to meet in the cafeteria. If we were to continue to meet, we were to use a table in the cafeteria after the lunch hour as our writer’s circle space. As you imagine, this space was less than optimal. Kindergarteners wandered in for their milk break innocently interrupting our writing lessons with friendly waves and smiles. Trips into the library to borrow a dictionary became a regular part of our meeting time. It seemed as though we were shoved aside and not considered valuable enough to deem an appropriate space in the library. Again, I was a volunteer and had no legitimate claim to any space within the school.
After a year of space in the empty cafeteria, I complained. Wasn’t there another space we could use? It didn’t seem there was! I found this hard to believe! However, space within a school building can be hard to come by. I knew that. We were told we could use a table in the ESL resource room. This space worked better than the library but still was not ideal. I still felt our group had been pushed aside. Space for writing? It did not seem there was any.
So for me, having an appropriate designated space equated with the student group I led having value. If we were valued, we’d have space. There was no doubt about it. Space is made for behavioral issues, space is made for health issues, space is made for remedial issues. But, enrichment space for students already performing above benchmark? There wasn’t any, it seemed.
Space or the lack thereof is a perennial problem. The struggle to find space for student enrichment clarified who I am and what I value.
After four years of not having a writer’s circle, I started the group again this summer. Space in the school was out of the question due to all the logistical problems I experienced in the past. Plus, I knew that being valued for what I was doing was extremely important to me. I considered several options. After the library reopened for group use in May, I inquired about using the study rooms or community room for our small group. I was granted use of the community room for seven of the eight weeks our group would meet this summer. The new library director of our branch placed our group on the time slot in the community room reservation book. We had found a space for an hour a week for seven weeks! I was thrilled.
The other thing I did differently this time around with the writer’s circle was to charge the families for my services. I felt this would augment the feeling of being valued that I needed. The fee I set was nominal — $25.00 for the entire eight weeks of sessions. Our sessions are an hour long and I do prep for an hour or two each week before we meet. My group was open to all. I advertised through a public (sharable) FaceBook post for interested students in our area. I did some word-of-mouth advertisements as well. Three students were interested and two ended up being enrolled in the group by their moms. I had hoped for more students but was content that we had a space to meet, families willing to pay me, and students willing to come.
But, by week four — approximately three weeks ago now, I found that I was not supposed to be using the library space I had found and reserved! Since I was being paid, I was not supposed to be using the space in the community room. I did not know that, nor was I informed when I signed up. What the library staff didn’t know about me was that I am a rule follower and would have never reserved the room had I known I could not be paid while teaching in the library space.
Thus, since I found out, I’ve been back in the space only once. For the last few weeks, we’ve not had a designated space to meet for our writer’s circle. We’ve been shuffled into the study rooms twice and I elected to hold our group outside on the library grounds once. Our last meeting is Thursday, and again, we will not use the space we had reserved. We will celebrate the end of our summer enrichment group by going for ice cream.
It’s been hard to feel displaced again with my writer’s circle students. We ended up not having a space, despite my efforts, just like what eventually happened in the school library. I have become weary of looking for space for it seems, it cannot be held for long — especially if it is for something enriching for our youth AND especially if you do not pay for it. Space is elusive, and it seems it is not for volunteers and not for those who are paid for their services/talents.
Next spring, I’ll be back, however, looking for space.