Space in our lives for learning

This story appears in the Notes from the Field feature series. View the full series.

Notes from the Field includes reports from young people volunteering in ministries of Catholic sisters. A partnership with Catholic Volunteer Network, the project began in the summer of 2015. This is our sixth round of bloggers: Natalia Liviero is a volunteer with VIDES+USA serving in the Middle East, and Janie Rosko is a Humility of Mary volunteer serving within the Ursuline Ministries in Youngstown, Ohio.


The Ward Beecher Planetarium in Youngstown offers plenty of educational shows suitable for a variety of ages, and our Immigrant Outreach Program is beginning to take advantage of the opportunities geared toward children. Samantha Williams, another Humility of Mary volunteer, Courtney Conklin, a mentor volunteer, and I brought four children we mentor to the planetarium Dec. 9 to watch "Let It Snow."

Videos and images are projected on a large dome ceiling at the planetarium. The room must be dark for the best visual experience, so no one may enter or exit the room once the presentation begins for safety purposes.

The Ward Beecher Planetarium is free to anyone who wants to go; however, there are a limited number of seats. "Let It Snow" is a popular show, timely for the holidays, so on the day we went to the planetarium, the staff had to improvise and add some extra slots to accommodate for the vast amount of people. The staff passed out special coins to the people who missed the first show to make sure they could attend the second one. The planetarium is inside the Ward Beecher Building on Youngstown State University's campus, so while we waited, we colored some pictures in a classroom nearby. We also assembled paper ornaments that were designed to look like the universe.

Before the second show began, all of the people in the classroom with coins were instructed to stand in a line outside of the planetarium doors. We waited for about 10 minutes until we were allowed to be seated. Our group sat toward the back of the room. The back of each seat is very high, so the idea is to look at the ceiling at the dome screen. Everyone looks up, like looking up toward the sky.

Over the summer, a larger group of children within the Immigrant Outreach Program had gone to the planetarium to see an exact representation of how the sky would be later that night. The children — and the adults — were fascinated with the technology and how the staff was able to adjust the projections to account for various levels of light pollution. Although viewing the stars and planets is typically expected at planetarium shows, this recent visit was different.

"Let It Snow" included holiday music with varieties of animation and visual styles. For instance, sometimes there were reindeer dancing; other times, there were snowflakes covering the whole screen, rapidly changing color, size and shape. Occasionally, the geometric figures and patterns combined along with varieties of colors made some of us dizzy (we were warned ahead of time), but it was worth it. The animation and audio were engaging and visually stimulating.

Lusila, the child I mentor, sat next to me, and suddenly, I noticed her arms swinging from one direction to another along with the animation of a sled on tracks, similar to a roller coaster. For a brief period of time, I also moved my arms in motion with the animation, and we were both laughing. Learning is certainly essential — it is a major goal of our Immigrant Outreach Program — but building connections among those we serve is also significant.

Samantha and I brought the children we mentor, Stefanie and Lusila, to Subway after the presentation. Although they had limited choices, both children took a while deciding what they wanted to eat. Several times, they would inform us that they had made a decision, only to pause and reconsider. However, I am also indecisive, so I cannot say too much. It is interesting to compare my indecisiveness with theirs: I may not know what I want to eat at a particular moment in time, but I do know the types of food I like in general.

Sometimes, they wouldn't remember if they liked a certain type of meat or dressing, but we made sure they ordered food they definitely knew they liked. Perhaps I am more aware of the food I like at Subway because I am familiar with this place. Perhaps it is because I am generally a picky eater anyhow, so the food I do like is easily remembered. Maybe it is because I have access to more choices of food or simply my life experience thus far. It might be a mixture of all of these reasons.

I try to be aware of how my life experiences affect how I understand the ways in which other people navigate the world. Since I mentor Lusila, I especially try to observe how she sees the world. Of course, I cannot know her exact perceptions, but I can use what I know to help her find comfort in the world. Sometimes life can be intimidating, whether it is school or home, when one does not know all of the answers. As a mentor, I want to inspire Lusila to learn, create and navigate in her world in meaningful ways.

[Janie Rosko is a Humility of Mary volunteer serving within the Ursuline ministries in Youngstown, Ohio.]