It is 7:59 a.m. on a Saturday morning. Yale is quiet. Few college students are outside, even fewer awake. But at 8:00 a.m. on that Saturday, the doors to SSS open and approximately 1,000 middle and high schoolers file in, glowing smiles on their faces, fingers jittery with excitement. The majority of these students come from communities around New Haven. A significant portion travel from the tristate area, often making the trek from New York City. Sometimes, there are even one or two people who fly here.
What are they all doing here? Why are they all ecstatic to be up at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday? Because they are taking classes. And not just any classes. Classes taught by Yale students. Classes taught by you.
What kinds of classes can generate this much excitement? Any classes Yale undergraduate and graduate students want to teach. Some past classes include Introduction to Improv Comedy, The World of Game Theory, Bollywood Dance, The Art of Public Speaking, How and Why You Need to Vote, Conspiracy Theories in the Modern Age, Explosions… the list goes on. Anything Yale students want to teach, they can — with a few exceptions, of course. You probably wouldn’t be able to teach a class titled “Not sure if you’re allergic to peanuts? Let’s find out together!” or “Electricity + Water + Knowledge = Fun! How to Use Water to Turn On/Off Electrical Appliances.”
The time commitment for Yale undergraduates is only a 45–minute teacher training session and the one hour during which you will be teaching your class — and the class can be taught anytime throughout the day, not only in the morning.
With just an hour, you can make an impact. You can do something meaningful.
I have taught for Splash for the last two years, and it is one of my favorite things I do on campus. One of my favorite moments at Yale actually happened in the Splash classroom.
I teach a class on positive psychology, and toward the end of class I have students write gratitude letters to someone to demonstrate the impact of gratitude on subjective well-being. After they finish, I ask if anyone wants to call the person they wrote to. Usually there is an awkward silence of about eight seconds. Someone will usually ask, “You mean… call them?” And I say, “Yes, that’s what call means.” I say it in a less snarky way, though — I think. Someone then usually asks, “Right now?” I smile knowingly and say, “Yes, right now.” Another pause, usually around twelve seconds this time. And, indeed, people do end up volunteering, calling their cherished family members and friends. It is amazing to see how happy they are, and how happy everyone else is, once they finish the call. But something surprising happened during the activity this past fall.
A student volunteered to call, standing up with a radiating confidence. But instead of taking out her phone, she began reading her letter out loud. And as she spoke, she began to cry. At this point I was thinking, “Oh jeez. Those are tears. Definitely tears. This is supposed to be a happiness class!” Yet these tears were not sad tears, though not happy tears either. They were meaningful tears — perhaps even grateful tears. She delivered this letter to her friend sitting right there across the room, thanking her friend for support throughout tough times at home and stressful times in school. She finished by telling her friend how much she loved her. The friend’s eyes sparkled, drops of tears sliding down her cheek, too. I was taken aback. But what happened next shocked me even further. The friend stood up. I anticipated a nice, sentimental hug. But then, the friend picked up her letter, and started speaking. Unbeknownst to either of them, they had written their letters to each other. After the friend finished, they embraced, tightly and powerfully.
Now, the main takeaway here is not to make students cry when teaching for Splash. This moment meant a lot to me because I felt like I had an impact, like I was doing something that mattered. I realized how grateful I was for Splash, because in that one short hour, you can share your passion with a group of young, eager students. You can not only teach them something interesting, but you can light a spark. In that one short hour, you can kindle a passion for learning that will live on after that student leaves the classroom.
People are busy. I get that. The last thing people should do is spread themselves too thin. But there are certain extracurricular activities on this campus that are extremely low commitment and also very impactful. Even if it isn’t teaching for Splash, I highly recommend taking advantage of small-time commitment extracurriculars on Yale’s campus that you find meaningful — whatever you end up doing, just try your best to make a Splash.
Landon Allen is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight College and is co-directing Spring Splash. If you’re interested in teaching a course, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .