01 Aug On being in the room where it happens
The past few weeks have been super busy, but now the summer is winding down and everything is moving too fast. I’ve been dreading the thought of leaving Philadelphia, partly because it’s so pretty around here, but mostly because this is such an awesome community of thinkers. Since I’m no longer in school, it’s rare to find environments that actually challenge me and require any sort of intellectual engagement, so I love that working here means being part of a community that’s always pondering and puzzling. Mostly about how to make history interesting and relevant. And since I’ve mostly been working on youth programs, the issue becomes specifically about making history engaging for younger people, especially teens. Sometimes trying to answer that question feels like staring at a brick wall. Most brainstorming sessions include lots of panicked blank stares on my part, but I love being part of the meetings and discussions. And the real fun is seeing everyone’s process. Renee, my supervisor and partner-in-crime, for example, is all about trial and error. Her biggest goal is always for kids to connect with the park in a way that’ll keep them coming back (#everykidinapark), which means she tries to find the fun in everything. And she experiments tirelessly because she’s not afraid of failure (!!!). Then she shows up the day after a program with a complete analysis of everything that went right/wrong, and why. Then we try again. And on days when we’re are totally stuck, we wander over to our friend Mike, who has a habit of throwing out super awesome, creative ideas like it’s no big deal. He’s never anything but encouraging, even in the face of our relentless grumpiness, and our programs always turn out way better when he’s involved. It’s really exciting to brainstorm with him and Renee because I get to see ideas grow and transform and become something really cool. Half the fun of putting on these programs is knowing their backstory: the discussions, collaborations, and exasperated groans. And in the end, no one else will relish a program’s success quite as much as the two or three of people who were involved (or feel the same force of panic when something goes wrong). I’m trying to keep that in mind as we scramble to put together our last big summer camp. My time here might be winding down, but we saved the busiest camp for last, so the bulk of the work is yet to come.