• Simone Lassar

Day 0: Let’s Rewind to our DC Learning Festival

I know what you’re thinking, “Day 0? I thought we were well into the 20s?” Well you would be right! The only explanation for the tardiness in this blog post is the day before the trip started we were capital ‘B’ Busy. Let me paint you a picture: the day before you plan to leave on a cross country bike trip, you decide to host one more Learning Festival before hitting the road. Your trip members are still arriving in DC the morning of the festival, you have a dysfunctional bike rack, and you still need to visit Budget to register drivers (but then apparently you don’t because Budget is silly). Okay now that you have the picture in front of you, let me tell you about the Learning Festival.

If you were one of our earliest readers you may remember that we hosted a Learning Festival before even leaving on our trip in Westborough, Massachusetts. This festival was hosted in a juvenile justice treatment program, in collaboration with the Department of Youth Services. In DC, we similarly hosted a workshop in a juvenile justice treatment center in collaboration with the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services and the Maya Angelou Academy school program.

The reason for hosting these two festivals in these facilities is because I’ve been involved with incarcerated education during my time at MIT. I took my first “inside-out” class (classes where there are inside/incarcerated students and outside/MIT students) my sophomore fall. This was a class called “Non-violence as a Way of Life” and it is one of my favorite classes I’ve taken. We covered topics like forgiveness, patience, and the course culminated in learning about restorative justice. After taking this class, I TA’d (teaching assistant) the class for two years with Lee Perlman, the professor and cofounder of the Educational Justice Initiate at MIT.

When I told Lee about Spokes he suggested expanding these festivals to youth rehabilitation centers. He helped connect me to Judge Zia Faruqui, a DC district court judge, who in turn connected us with a rehabilitation center in DC.

The teaching here went so well! It was a few of our first times running our workshops, so there was some nervous excitement to the workshops. The students were engaged and excited about our material. A favorite moment of mine was a student excitedly discovering that black Crayola markers are actually a stunning combination of teal and pink pigments! This is sort of a cornerstone of my workshop; we do these chromatography experiments on markers to discover what pigments are actually in our markers.

Another highlight was in Maxwell’s 3D printing workshop he showed the students a medical 3D print of a lung model of a person with Cystic Fibrosis (it is very cool, and was produced on a million dollar printer at Stanford). One student blew Maxwell away by asking a really great question, which was: how would Covid affect this person’s lungs?

A few other highlights were Judge Faruqui bought the team bagel sandwiches from a cafe near his house. It was very sweet and the sandwiches were delish. We also had a funny moment when trying to leave the facility. We needed to be dropped off at a market a few minutes away, but we couldn’t all fit into Judge Faruqui’s car. Sophia and Franklin offered to run to the market (obviously this was pre departure on the biking), so they literally ran alongside the car as we drove to the market. It was quite the scene.

Thank you again to Maya Angelou Academy, YSC, DYRS, and the students for this day!

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