I was at the beach a few weeks ago and I was doing one of my favorite things: people watching. I watched families play with their children, I saw people riding their bikes and drawing in the sand, I saw people relaxing with an umbrella drink in hand. One thing that kept my attention the longest though was a little boy, knee deep in the ocean with a fishing net. I watched him as he scooped the net through the water and would excitedly check to see if he finally caught anything. Nothing. He would do it again. Nothing. He repeated it with excitement each time until he ended up catching something. I’m not sure what he caught but I could see pure enjoyment on his face as if he had discovered the answer to life’s hardest questions.

This sense of curiosity gets lost as we get older, doesn’t it? We enter school. We are overwhelmed with pre-assessments, post-assessments, one-answer questions, standards, worksheets, and more. We ask questions, not out of curiosity, but so that we get it right on tests. We become easily frustrated. We become unmotivated. Instead of raising kids as collaborative problem-solvers and critical thinkers, we are raising them as independent, by-the-book students and we wonder what is going wrong. Too many kids are falling through the cracks and being passed from grade to grade as schools transition to new “rigorous” standards. As a educator, I understand how it has gotten this way, but as a educator, I’m not okay with it. It’s time to draw outside the lines. And that’s why I’m excited to be the program director for a place that values education. I certainly don’t have everything figured out but that’s what being a life-long learner is all about. When I tell our staff about some of my plans, I’m constantly saying, “I know I’m crazy, but I have a purpose. There’s a reason why I’m doing this.” What is the purpose? To foster intellectual curiosity, to promote academic enrichment, to support our little readers and critical thinkers and problem-solvers outside of school walls…I want to draw outside the lines.

One thing I learned about the Stewart Center is that it has a way of drawing people back. The Stewart Center promotes building relationships with our kids, families, and the community. We learn each other’s story and push each other to reach our full potential. My story with Stewart Center began when I was a 7th grader. I’m now a college graduate and working somewhere that has had my heart from the very beginning. In middle school, I came to the blue center twice with a group to volunteer for a week. A few years passed, and as a senior in high school, I came back to the center with a different group. At the end of our week there, Clayton Davis told us that if anyone was interested in interning the following summer to let him know. Without much thought, I knew exactly what I wanted to do the following summer. I could tell the Stewart Center was a special place and I wanted to be a part of what was happening. Little did I know, I would be back after the first summer. Again. And again. For 2 summers, I worked as a summer camp counselor and then the following summer, I was the Jumpstart leader for our Pittsburgh site. I recently accepted the position as program director.

One thing I can tell you about the Stewart Center is that is has a way of drawing people together. I’m excited about being a part of this special family, to work with this organization, and to grow as an individual, leader, and teacher. If I haven’t met you yet, I look forward to meeting you in person. You are welcome at the blue center any time!

Ashley Hicks