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Excerpted from a speech written by Tafura Taslima, a senior at a NYC Outward Bound School in Brooklyn, for our 2018 gala

Tafura speaking at the 2018 Gala

When I entered Brooklyn Collaborative, an NYC Outward Bound School in Brooklyn, as a 9th grade student, I truly felt as if I was just attending my sister’s school, not my own.

In New York City 8th graders, have to apply to high schools, that year I had a major orthopedic surgery on my right arm to repair two fractures from a fall. My sister, who was a rising senior at Brooklyn Collaborative, thought it would be adorable for us to attend high school together, so she put Brooklyn Collaborative as my first choice on my high school application while I was in the hospital. So sneaky right? While she was off dictating my life, [probably more laughs here] I was being prepped for the one of the most important days of my life so far. I remember my surgery date clearly, November 21st, 2013.

I was 13 years old sitting in a large doctor’s office translating the doctor’s words from English to Bengali so that my parents could understand the importance of this surgery. When I translated the potential risks of the surgery, my parents both burst into tears, I felt helpless. I was the kid, not the adult. Yet the weight of the entire world seemed to rest on my shoulders and I wanted to cry, too! But I couldn’t. I had to stay strong for my parents and put a smile on my face because I knew that if I showed them that I was scared too then we would all feel powerless. I reassured my parents not to worry and highlighted the benefits of the surgery keeping my own fears hidden away. Surgery went well, but recovery was super challenging.

I spent the last few months of my 8th grade year in and out of the hospital, and I definitely wasn’t concentrating on the high school I would be attending. So I was pretty surprised when my acceptance letter from Brooklyn Collaborative came in the mail. At the time, I imagined an NYC Outward Bound school to have classrooms on the roof or something of that sort. My sister, in her wisdom, refused to disclose much about Brooklyn Collaborative.

I was absolutely terrified on the first day of 9th grade. I had already planned to transfer to another high school. Remember, it wasn’t just the first day of high school, but it was the first day of high school at a school I didn’t even choose. I was afraid that I would be far too behind in all my classes and too dumb to make any friends, or people would befriend me out of pity. I hid my scars from my surgery under my long sleeved sweater and hoped no one would ask me “Aren’t you hot in that?”

But the first day of school was NOT what I expected!

The first day of school was a “crew day,” a day dedicated to getting to know my Crew. Crew is like a super-charged advisory, and every NYC Outward Bound School has it. At Brooklyn Collaborative, my crew has met every day since that first day of school. Sometimes we talk about our feelings, or play ice breakers, or work on college applications, or plan for the future.

Anyway, that first day of school was the most fun I had had in a long time. With the stress of physical therapy and the worry of not being prepared for high school, I was afraid that I had forgotten how to interact and engage with kids my own age. But I was having so much fun my first day that I forgot about my scars and took my sweater off and tied it around my waist. For the first time since my surgery, instead of pretending to be years beyond my age, I was able to unwind and let loose.

The next day was also a crew day, but instead of playing name games and sharing summer stories, we talked about hardships we had faced in life, what they taught us, and how we could take what we learned and apply it to our high school journey. I decided to talk about my injury and how it had not only slowed me down in school, but also brought out insecurities about falling behind academically and being pitied for my scars. When I shared this with my new crew members, instead of seeing pity in their eyes, I saw admiration. Admiration for sharing my story and being vulnerable and for being strong despite my fears.

Hearing everyone else’s stories, I felt less alone. I didn’t have to put on a brave smile and be the strongest person in the room like I was used to with my parents. I was able to be vulnerable, and a room full of people cared, listened, and comforted me. I instantly knew that I needed this support system so transferring schools was completely out of the window.

And after four years, I can attest to the fact that if I did not have crew I would not have the accomplishments and opportunities I have today. I would not have been able to make it through the rigorous college application process without my crew let alone achieve the Posse scholarship, a full-tuition scholarship, to one of the most prestigious liberal arts colleges in America, Middlebury College.

It was exciting for me to learn recently, that NYC Outward Bound Schools is helping other schools outside of its network replicate practices like Crew, so that even more students can benefit from the types of experiences I’ve benefited from. The power, strength, and unity of a crew is one of the many things that allow NYC Outward Bound Schools students, like myself, to face our fears, ask for help, and accomplish the seemingly impossible.

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