50,000 Coaches and Community Resilience

Last week, at the very end of our between semester break, my family and I watched Akeelah and the Bee. I had seen it before, several years ago, but loved it just as much this time around. If you haven’t seen it, the basic plotline is that Akeelah, a middle school student, is enrolled at an inner city school in LA with caring teachers but limited resources. Akeelah is having some attendance trouble, and yet she has a gift for spelling. After she wins the school spelling bee, the principal arranges for her to get some special tutoring from Dr. Larabee, a community member who, we learn later, is going through some significant grief.

I don’t want to give too much of the plot away in case you haven’t seen it and want to, but gradually through the movie we see some family challenges for Akeelah, including some conflict with her mom. At a point in which Dr. Larabee has stopped tutoring her, Akeelah’s mother says “I bet you have 50,000 coaches around here”.

I didn’t tune into that quote the first time I saw the movie, but it was impactful for me now. I teach a lot about resilience, and about the impact that one safe, stable, nurturing relationship on a child’s life. I also teach about community resilience, and about the community level programs and services that help build resilience in children. One of the favorite resources I share is the “Tipping the Scales” game, from the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard. You can access the game here: https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/resilience-game/ I also encourage students to check out this list and see what resilience based work is happening in communities near them: https://www.acesconnection.com/pages/geographic-communities

I usually introduce the resources above to students after they have read this piece on the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences nationally and by state: https://www.childtrends.org/publications/prevalence-adverse-childhood-experiences-nationally-state-race-ethnicity This is a helpful piece to re-visit when we discuss community resilience. What exists in their community to address these most common areas of adversity? What additional resources are needed?

To circle back: After Akeelah’s mother tells her not to be discouraged about losing Dr. Larabee’s help and that she has potential coaches all around her, the movie shows how true this is. It is feel good Hollywood, in this case, but there is truth in it. There are potential “coaches” and supports around us, if only we put priority into developing them.

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