Reader's Rite: Group Project
By Grace Brown
In seventh grade, I was assigned a video-style project in my middle-school social studies class. I want to say it was a faux immigrant-interview, since we learned about Ellis Island, but I honestly don’t remember, and the video no longer exists. There is, however, still an archival photo of my mom masquerading as a twelve year-old girl because my partner, Paige, stood me up – even after we had planned it all out together. The project was due Monday, and by Sunday night, middle school me was gripped with panic. So, like any loving mother, my mom wrapped herself up in sunglasses, a hat, and a pink feather boa from our household costume box. She looked nothing like a child, and everything like a forty-year old housewife from Beverly Hills venturing out for the mail with a hangover on Sunday morning. She spoke in this ridiculous, high-pitched little British schoolgirl voice – even though Paige wasn’t British – and read from a printed-out script. She sat with her face tilted away from the camera, and we placed my large black lab in the middle of the shot, I remember, to add a distraction factor. Despite the ridiculous outfit and the obvious fact that she was indeed, not a middle-schooler, I earned a good grade on the project; my social studies teacher said he especially liked the dog. The photo remains one of my favorites to this day, because it reminds me how far my mother is willing to go for me.
The source of my stubbornness is a group project I did in sixth grade. The assignment was to write and construct a newspaper. The teacher split us into groups and appointed two co-editors for each. Besides soccer matches, my middle school calendar—and self-esteem—revolved around that award ceremony at the end of each quarter where I would be crowned best student. So I was pretty steamed when I wasn’t picked to lead a group. And neither was my best friend, who often placed second in our year. Our group’s leaders were two girls who competed with us for the top spots. I distinctly remember that my and my friend’s articles were placed on the back page. I swore to myself I would never write for a newspaper again. Oops.
Sequel! Later in that sixth grade year, our class took a field trip to the Challenger Learning Center in Lockport. The simulation we did of a spaceship takeoff was easily the coolest thing I did in my first 15 years on this earth. But the second activity we did was relevant here: we were broken into groups and each group competed to build a “rocket” out of miscellaneous office supplies that would go the farthest when launched from some machine the Center had. I was again grouped with my best friend and the same two girls who had led our newspaper group project. This time though, we were in sync. We built the best darn rubber-band rocket I’ve ever seen. We won; the other groups didn’t stand a chance against the self-named “Dream Team.” I’m pretty sure the rocket was fueled on ego alone.
I must preface with this: I love Canisius, but group projects are the bane of my existence. Maybe I should not say “bane,” but give me the allowance of using a word that comes to the tongue first.
We were tasked to advocate for a social justice cause and I was elated to finally have the chance to leave the confines of the class and do meaningful outreach. Yet my excitement began to wane as I saw certain students scooch their desks and peek into the conversation that I was having with my partner. My group went from two to five in an instant, but being the Griff that I am, I welcomed them with open arms. Little did I know that my embrace was going to be rejected as two peers contributed nothing to the project. I would text the group chat and barely anyone would respond. Three weeks passed and the teacher asked for group materials. I told her that we had none, so she was gracious enough to grant us (my trusty friend and I) an extension. I was driven to hold a meeting with my professor because I was getting to my wit’s end. I love her, but I remember my blood boiling as she told me to give them another chance. In her words, I “should not leave the group because I will still have to see them in class and potentially other classes.” I had to hold back every muscle not to tell her that I have developed an apathy to those concerns.
While the project was successful, I am glad that I had this unfortunate experience because it taught me a valuable lesson: next time, when people scooch their desks and protrude their necks, just pretend that you can not see them. Fake ignorance truly is bliss, but do not regard this story as a cautionary tale. While this group was fascinating to work with, extend a helping hand to other Griffs because you never know who will hold your hand back.
I went through sixteen years of schooling and never escaped a bone-deep hatred for group work. Whenever a professor would announce a group project, I would find myself silenting groaning at the back of the class. I’m a control freak, I always have been, and I work best when I have created every inch of an assigned project. After graduating from Canisius, I decided to do a year of service on the West coast, volunteering for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Northwest, which promotes community-living as one of its core four values. I knew this going in, but it wasn’t until I started doing it that I realized that I am basically living and breathing a group project. Our dinners and grocery shopping trips are always a three to four person task, cleaning and chores are communal, and we even share a bank account. It was a stressful experience to start off and I continue to struggle with it at times, but as the weeks have passed I realized there are some things I cannot do on my own, and I’ve learned that passing some of the responsibilities to my housemates is not only crucial but also a relief.
I see it most in the care of a rooster that appeared in our garden one day. It was actually two roosters, but one was unfortunately snatched by racoons. To spare the remaining rooster (affectionately named Burnt Crispy) of the same fate, we’ve had to make a group effort. Each morning we open the coop and he comes running out and every evening we shut it. We sprinkle oats in the pen and fill his water. And every day on my way home from service, I pass by the coup and see that he is thriving. I am constantly amazed at our group’s ability to sustain this abandoned rooster, and increasingly appreciate that I can rely on my housemates. This makes me wonder how much anxiety I could have saved myself during school had I only had more faith in my classmates. Or maybe this was a lesson we can only learn after the fact, after we’ve graduated and been forced to trust our peers in the workplace or in a community. Or maybe it's just something we learn from roosters that appear in our gardens.
Paige Jones, ‘22