The miracle of growth is all around us. Tiny seeds grow into towering trees, single sparks turn into rip-roaring fires, and helpless infants become leaders of nations. But there’s a catch: each of these examples require outside support. A young and tenacious Sarah Harris is an example of someone who’s dedicated herself to supporting such growth.
As a student at the University of Pennsylvania, Sarah began volunteering at a student-run organization where she assisted a teacher with his debate class. She couldn’t have foreseen the opportunity that would present itself as a result.
When Sarah was only 20 years old, a middle school from West Philadelphia contacted her about becoming the head coach of their debate program. This tough, inner city school was filled with kids who needed an outlet, and Sarah was instrumental in providing a debate program for these kids.
Sarah quickly found out that it’s not always easy to support growth. During an especially difficult debate practice, one of her students began to misbehave. The one-on-one interaction she had that day impacted both her and her student’s life.
“After one very stressful unsuccessful practice, I explained to a young man named Walter what my role was in the classroom and how his negative actions affected the rest of the class. After, I asked him what suggestions he had as a repercussion for his actions. He told me with tears in his eyes that he did not think that he deserved another chance. What a humbling experience! We sat and talked for another few minutes. I learned more about Walter’s day-to-day life, and how he developed anger management problems through years of being neglected and ignored. Together we developed a plan to help him through these issues; Learning of his troubles helped me to be a better teacher and a more empathetic and understanding person. I am so lucky to be blessed enough to know students like Walter. The children I teach have an incredible light. They are rough kids. They fight, yell, text non-stop, etc. but they are incredible human beings that are children of God. Though I cannot understand the true depth of His love, I have experienced some small understanding through my interaction with my students.”
To be clear, Sarah’s debate students do not win often. Many of their practices are devoted to note taking, reading, and goal setting in order to offset the gaps in their own education. Yet, Sarah sees their potential and cares about their future. She doesn’t see these kids as seeds alone. She sees them as the towering trees they can become.
The Word of God has exhorted us to “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7) To discern the potential in someone’s heart is an irreplaceable gift. It is where growth begins.
May each of us have an eye to see potential and advocate growth.