When Teenage Angst Isn’t Enough
Dancing, Volunteering, Working — Some Local Teens Are too Busy to Brood
Colton Orr and his mother Faye Grearson, demonstrate a lean during the West Coast Swing Session at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, NH on April 8, 2013. Orr and Grearson teach the class- to mostly area high school students- together.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Kristen Pearson of Hanover giggles as she and Franky Lapitino of North Sutton, NH work on an under the arm turn during the West Coast Swing Session at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, NH on April 8, 2013.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Kinly Orr of Lebanon learns a new turn while dancing with Kristen Pearson of Hanover during the West Coast Swing Session at Lebanon High School in Lebanon, NH on April 8, 2013.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Mid-Vermont Christian School first grader Sarah Towne, 7, looks over at her mentor, Hanover sophomore Kat Thomas, 15, as they play with her brother Christopher Towne, 9, a second grader, and his mentor Henry Anthony-Duscheid, 17, a Hanover junior, near the end of Kids in Motion near the end of the program at Ray School in Hanover, N.H. on Sunday, April 7, 2013. The Kids in Motion program is a sort of basic skills sports camp where Hanover High School teens involved in Youth in Action mentor grade school kids in physical activities like running and catching.
Valley News - Libby March
Physical education teacher Clare Brauch talks to kids involved in Kids in Motion about their favorite recreational activities near the end of the program at Ray School in Hanover, N.H. on Sunday, April 7, 2013. The Kids in Motion program is a sort of basic skills sports camp where Hanover High School teens involved in Youth in Action mentor grade school kids in physical activities like running and catching.
Valley News - Libby March
Elsie Davis, 9, plays with balloons with her mentor partner, Destiny Donahue, a freshman at Hanover High School, left, during Kids in Motion at Ray School in Hanover, N.H. on Sunday, April 7, 2013. Elsie is a third grader at White River School in White River Junction, Vt. The Kids in Motion program is a sort of basic skills sports camp where Hanover High School teens involved in Youth in Action mentor grade school kids in recreational activities.
Valley News - Libby March
James Murdza and Mikey Fernandez became friends fast. After meeting only 10 minutes prior, Murdza, 19, had learned a lot about 7-year-old Mikey, including that he goes to Thetford Elementary School and he loves to play tag.
Both Murdza and Mikey have shaggy brown hair, and as the duo sat cross-legged on the Ray School gym floor, Mikey looked like he could be a younger version of Murdza.
Each year, Hanover Youth-In-Action, a nonprofit that encourages high school students to volunteer, organizes Kids in Motion and invites youngsters to play and exercise with high school students.
The high schoolers and their new buddies took turns going around the circle and introducing themselves.
When it was Murdza and Mikey’s turn, Murdza said loudly, “This is my buddy Mikey and he taught me a new way to play tag: robot tag.”
Murdza said the game involved mad scientists chasing robots. Once they catch them, the robots have to freeze as if an on switch was just turned off. As Murdza spoke, he waved his arms around and bent over as if he were a robot who had just been shut down.
Teenagers often get a bad reputation for being self-absorbed and standoffish, and today’s technology, from violent video games to social media, doesn’t help. But many teens across the Upper Valley are fighting that stereotype by clocking volunteer hours, starting their own dance club or just socializing with each other at a teen center after school.
“We do spend a lot of time on Facebook and the computer,” Murdza said, “but in high school we do so much of everything. It’s a lot of trying out different stuff. The fact that we manage to be on Facebook for 24 hours a day doesn’t seem to stop us from trying out a million things in high school.”
But that busy schedule can often lend itself to the “I’m too busy” mentality, said Chris Lord, director of Youth-In-Action. At the beginning of each year. about 450 students from Hanover High School sign up to receive emails about volunteer activities through Youth-In-Action, but only about 275 of them volunteer throughout the year. Lord knows he can rely on a core group of about 50 to consistently sign up for events.
“A part of that is pushing back and saying, ‘I know you’re busy, but you have an hour. We all have an hour.’ And we build that into the community and into the school itself,” Lord said.
Lord is trying to instill in teenagers a passion for volunteering so that when they leave high school, they’ll continue to do good work on their own.
“James is a great example of a kid who got hooked,” Lord said.
Murdza graduated from Hanover High last year, but he still volunteers with Youth-In-Action when he’s in town.
Murdza took a gap year after high school and worked odd jobs in computer science and earned his EMT certification. He also spent a month in Haiti teaching English for no pay.
“When I was finishing high school I was definitely trying to look for things to do that would make me feel kind of directed,” Murdza said. “I was looking for some kind of purpose. Volunteering is something I’m going to want to do for the rest of my life.”
At the Ray School gym on a Sunday in April, high school students began making bonds with their younger friends immediately. One little girl sat in the lap of her new friend while they listened to instructions. When the group took a break to snack on popcorn and string cheese, most of the pairs, including Omar Hajajra and his partner, Jonathan, broke off into different corners and talked about the children’s home lives. .
Hajajra, a 17-year-old exchange student from Palestine, volunteered in his hometown before moving to Hanover. He started an informal volunteer program with his friends in Palestine. They would cook meals and offer them to the poor or knock on doors of older residents and ask if they needed help cleaning their house or running errands.
“We got so many people excited about it, and we showed them how much good you can make by volunteering,” Hajajra said.
Since moving to Hanover, Hajajra has stayed in touch with his friends in Palestine and helped them organize a health clinic. Hajajra, who wants to be a pediatrician one day, said he has spent hours on Skype with his friends helping organize the clinic and designing an informational brochure.
“When I was growing up my parents taught me that doing volunteer work was a really good deed and I just kept doing it naturally,” Hajajra said.
Modern Swing Dance
On a recent evening, about 15 teenagers gathered in the Lebanon High School cafeteria to learn basic swing dance moves. Each teenager watched in fascination as Faye Grearson and her 16-year-old son Colton Orr swung each other around.
The lyrics to Thrift Shop echoed off the walls: “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got $20 in my pocket.”
The students laughed as they watched the mother-son duo shake their hips and Orr tap his hand in the air to the rhythm of the music.
The first Friday of every month the group of students from around the Upper Valley come together to practice West Coast swing, with Grearson and Orr as their teachers.
Grearson calls it modern swing dance because she and Orr make an effort to play popular songs and teach students that these aren’t their grandmother’s dance moves. But the two-hour lesson, which Grearson sees as a way to teach teenagers that every touch isn’t sexual, does not reflect a typical middle school or high school dance.
“I’m not sure at what point someone said let’s turn all the lights out and put a bunch of teens in a gym and pretend we don’t know what’s happening,” Grearson said with a laugh. “People ask how we get them to dance, and I say, ‘Well, first we leave the lights on.’”
As partners become more comfortable with one another, they can give each other more “leverage” space, Grearson explained. Partners can pull apart from each other, which adds more style to the dance, she said as she swung away from her son.
“Leaders, be decisive,” Grearson said. “Even if you think you’re doing it wrong, do it wrong decisively.”
In recent years, a swing dance community has formed throughout the area. There are Second Sunday and Fourth Saturday dances aimed at adults and teenagers, and on Tuesdays, a class is offered at Dartmouth College.
In the last year, 17-year-old Kristen Pearson and her brother, Jonathan, revived a ballroom and swing dance club at Hanover High.
The siblings learned to dance from their grandparents, but for most students, the club is their first exposure to formal dance.
“It think it’s really good for teaching social skills that people don’t have so much anymore,” Pearson said. “I’m much more comfortable talking to all sorts of people.”
Dancers are also expected to have a certain knowledge of social etiquette, Pearson said.
Pearson agreed that teenagers often get a bad rap. Sometimes it’s not deserved, she said. Other times, it is. Pearson doesn’t use Facebook and is against the “age of social media” because she thinks it’s important for people to learn to interact with each another in person.
“At Hanover, there’s an expectation that you’ll be respectful regardless,” Pearson said. “But sometimes people lose that, but I think social dancing is an opportunity to promote that kind of behavior.”
Bradford Teen Association
Jessie Sylvester, 16, is home-schooled, so the Bradford Teen Association has become her haven three days a week. It’s where she goes to see friends and play pool, pingpong, Wii and Monopoly.
The Bradford Teen Association is funded by the town, and sometimes as many as 30 teenagers will fill the teen lounge in the Bradford Academy Building on Main Street. Students also spend their time planning bake sales to help raise money for the association, and most recently, they organized an Easter egg hunt for 60 children. The teen lounge is meant to give teenagers a positive atmosphere after school where they can do their homework or visit with friends.
Sylvester and her friend Kat Reger, 16, are aware of the stereotypes that come with being a teenager. But they would rather spend their time after school at the teen lounge. Sylvester said she chooses not to drink alcohol or do drugs because she doesn’t want to waste her time.
“I think when people see teens hanging out, they think we’re going to do bad things,” Sylvester said.
“But hanging out is all we ever do,” Reger added.
Every Thursday, for three and a half hours, Sylvester also volunteers at a veterinarian clinic. She hopes to one day be a vet tech. She’s learned how to take blood, give shots and she’s watched numerous surgeries.
While sitting on a bench in Elizabeth’s Park, she pulled out her black cell phone and showed a picture of her holding an iguana’s tail.
“They made me feed this huge five-foot lizard by myself the other day. I was so scared,” Sylvester said.
Katherine Rose, director of the Bradford Teen Association, said she doesn’t believe in the negative stereotypes that are often associated with teenagers.
“I fight the stereotype every chance I get,” Rose said.
She has been working with teenagers for eight years. She respects them, she said, and they show respect back. She hears some adults say that teenagers should be working, but she said teenagers need a healthy outlet to socialize. At the end of the day, Rose said, “They just want to be listened to and treated like a human being.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at 603-727-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.�