Over the years in my work at Presencia, I noticed something that surprised me.
Sometimes my most compliant students came from the most abusive, unstable circumstances, and sometimes the students from the healthiest homes were the most likely to talk back, break rules, and do their own thing.
At first, I wrote this off to individual wiring, but when I recognized it as a pattern, I began to rethink how I understood healthy development.
Children all develop at different paces, but kids from homes with good communication and dynamics tend to feel safer expressing genuine emotion, testing boundaries, and showing their personalities. When kids live in unstable or violent circumstances, they often learn to comply or make themselves invisible in order to be safe.
When I recognized this, I began valuing moments when our students and staff acted out. I consider it a breakthrough when some of our students talk back, make jokes, or start communicating what they want or need. Instead of squashing moments of play or arguments, I worked to interact as a curious and connected adult.
Changing my posture from trying to generate good behavior to trying to help our kids be themselves has made an astonishing difference in the health of our culture at Presencia, the joy of our work, and in our connection with our kids over the years.
If you walk into our program space on a weekday afternoon, it might feel a little messy or chaotic. You might wonder why we don't keep our kids in line. But if you see things the way we do, you'll recognize joy, laughter, problem-solving, creativity, open communication, and authentic community.
Our goal is not to create productive, compliant little humans. Our goal is to give our students a safe space to be loved as exactly who they are, and to help them navigate their lives out of that sense of identity and worth.
We want the exact same thing for our team and the community that supports and cares for our work. We're here for the risk-takers, the border crossers, questioners of systems, the cultivators of new life, people who love in meaningful ways across the lines that silly adults have drawn for one another.