In-person, lively, Socratic discussions in a classroom filled with laughter, shared meals, and plentiful hugs have been at the heart of Odyssey classes for 17 years. What should we do in a pandemic? How can we connect with students at the poverty level lacking computers?
After delivering rented laptops and food to those in need and waving at them from a distance, we held our first remote class on March 25. Students shared their homework answers, discussed a Toni Morrison story, and encouraged each other to stay strong.
One homework assignment asked students to define philanthropist and its word parts (“philo” love of; “anthro” humanity) and imagine what they would do if they had a foundation in their name that could award millions to a cause. Kossiwavi, a single mother from Togo, wrote, “If I became a wildly successful entrepreneur, I would start a Kossiwavi Stop Hunger Foundation in my community. After my dad’s death, my mom struggled to put food on the table, and I had to step up at a young age, dropping out of school and working so my siblings wouldn’t suffer from hunger.” Krista envisioned a new kind of shelter for former addicts, and Nina imagined a foundation bolstering the self-esteem of children (like her son) with an incarcerated parent.
We had been looking forward to launching our second Odyssey Beyond Bars (OBB) class in May but will need to postpone it. In the meantime, OBB Director Peter Moreno and Odyssey Co-Director and OBB Instructor Kevin Mullen have been writing letters to the men who graduated in December from the first credit-bearing course in a Wisconsin prison in over a century.
Odyssey Junior classes have connected online and are working on a newsletter featuring their writing and art. Kas’myr, age 7, had some instructions to keep everyone well: “Be safe, be careful where we go . . . Please wash your hands, always remember not to touch your face because of germs.”
The COVID-19 crisis makes us conscious of economic disparities and the profound power of the arts and humanities to give our lives meaning. We are using Odyssey emergency funds directly to provide food, household supplies, medicines, and learning materials for our families near the poverty level who are hurting disproportionately. At the same time, we continue to discuss literature, philosophy, history, and art while working on writing and reading comprehension, determined to get all our students in the Class of 2020 to the academic finish line.
How can you support Odyssey students and families during these challenging times? For Odyssey families already near the breaking point, the loss of jobs and access to resources, not to mention Odyssey classes, meals, and connections, is overwhelming on both a practical and emotional level. We are using emergency funds to help our students and their children survive this crisis. To join in directly supporting our families, please click below.