June 24, 2019

The first week of our Upward Bound Summer Academy 2019 went off without too many issues. Starting over with a new team has been quite interesting, but rewarding and exciting. There are seven of us providing supervision and guidance for the 51 high school students in our care. Part of this commitment is planning activities to keep them occupied and out of trouble in the evenings. This week we carried out an Upward Bound tradition of playing “Bigger and Better” on the streets of Butte.

The rules are simple, I give out a paperclip and tell the students that they need to talk to people and trade this paperclip for something “Bigger and Better.” The team must stay together, and they may only offer the item that they have at the time. The winner is then judged on size, value, and creativity of their final item.

As we embarked on our journey, my team immediately ran into someone walking down the street with a backpack (in a weird coincidence it was an EnergyCorps volunteer) who traded us a female hygiene product for our green paperclip. We kept walking and met a lady on her porch and traded our pad for a light up stick. We continued on down the street and met a man on his porch who traded us a lead pipe for our light up stick. After carrying the pipe around town for a while, a lady raking her yard traded us a metal rod for our lead pipe. We then met some men working on a vehicle who traded our metal rod for a larger metal fence post. Eventually we ended up trading the fence post for what I can only describe as a large metal “chimney?” which we then had to carry up Tech hill to the dorm, because we were running out of time.

After listening to the other teams’ stories and seeing what other items showed up, including a dog, a bucket of tacos, a box of chips, a restaurant t-shirt, and hair straightener we were ultimately disqualified because one of my group members was related to the last person we traded with (I warned them we would get disqualified).

It wasn’t so much the items that each group returned with, but the experience of reaching out to others in the community and learning how to communicate with complete strangers. Upon reflection, which I have had a lot of time for, lately being put in a deja vu situation of sorts, I realized how many small but essential lessons I learned while participating in these same activities with the same program. Building self-confidence, learning how to approach what could be uncomfortable situations, and quite possibly being disappointed by your trade are all “hidden lessons” in what we consider a tradition and fun game.

In essence, we weren’t just looking for the biggest and best item, but working with our students to make them the biggest and best they can be by teaching our hidden lessons of communication, confidence, and self-advocacy.