My transfer finally came through, as you’ve been hearing, and my last day of work at the old center was Monday.  I started working at the new center on Tuesday.  I must admit it was overwhelming.  Everything everyone had been telling me about it being “different” was true.  Of course, they were so vague about the “differences”, it could have had a different force of gravity for all I knew. 

Neighborhoods in Philly are very different indeed.  We are still serving needy children, the majority of whom come from low-income families, no matter which center you go to.  The populations are different, however.  My old building had an amazing amount of racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.  Many of the families were non-English speaking, and their home languages ranged from Spanish, Portguese, and Creole to Khmer, Armenian, Urdu, and Pashdo.  The children represented a veritable cornucopia of skin colors and religions.  It was very interesting, and presented its own challenges.  The staff were represented in a variety of backgrounds, too. 

At my new center, the children are almost exclusively African American.  Some are from African immigrant families.  The staff is similarly largely Black.  To say I felt out of place on my first day was an understatement.  I’d heard there were black-white tensions between teaching staff and therapy staff, or between lead teachers and aides.  I’d felt the education divide before.  It can be uncomfortable to have too many letters after one’s name.  I left Tuesday resolved not to judge the people or the work environment until I’d truly settled in.  It was far too early.  I still hadn’t even met half the teachers, and I”d barely spent any time in a classroom because of an administrative SNAFU which was forcing us to run around crazy trying to prepare for an evaluation for a child whom we knew didn’t need speech-language services.  But that’s a story for another day…

Today, we did that evaluation, and over the 2 hours we held the poor child captive, I got to know her very well.  After the kids left, we all had a going-away party for the lady I’m replacing, whose last day was today.  I baked a cherry torte, which is my current bring-along, throw-together, pretty-presentation dessert.  The way into people’s hearts is through food.  It’s just like when I was away at camp, buying friends with my stash of food my mother had sent along, sharing homemade chocolate chip cookies.  By the end of the party the torte was gone, and people were asking questions about the dessert and looking at me in a new way.  Now that they’ve learned I like to bake, I could see them scheming all sorts of occasions (pot-lucks on staff development days, birthday celebrations, holiday parties) to extract home-baked goodies out of me.  I could just tell.  I could also feel my initial apprehension melting away with the quarter-pound of butter I incorporated into the torte.  It’ll be just fine.  I just need to give myself time to get to know the staff, just as I’m allowing the children time to build a rapport with me. 

With kids, though, I can’t use food.  I’ll have to make the best of my charming personality.