Aaron Lopez-Barrantes, Big Class Volunteer of the Month
Aaron Lopez-Barrantes has been volunteering with Big Class since February 2013, when he joined us for our first Giant Steps Jazz Workshop. Aaron is a regular on Tuesdays at Open Studio, where he helps students with their homework and writing projects. He’s also an incredible illustrator for many of our books.
Since Aaron is one of our longest-tenured volunteers and has been a huge part of the Big Class community, he was a natural fit for our first Volunteer of the Month award. Aaron received a $25 gift certificate from our friends down the street at Shake Sugary.
We asked Aaron a few questions about working with Big Class, and what keeps bringing him back.
-What first brought you to Big Class?
I initially heard about Big Class through a friend who was working on one of the Big Class short story projects. I’m a big fan of art, illustration and drawing, and I loved the idea of being able to illustrate short stories written by kids. Once involved in that, I began coming to the Open Studio after school program and working with the kids. Had a blast, loved the kids, haven’t stopped coming back since.
-What keeps you coming back?
Obviously the kids keep me coming back. It’s great to be able to interact with the kids in an out of school context. It’s a more laid back atmosphere, a lot more one on one help, and you really get to form close relationships with the kids you see every week. I realized how important it was for a lot of these great kids to not only have after school help with homework, Big Class art projects, and writing, but to have an adult that they can look up to and ask for help, and advice with in school and out of school issues.
-What are some skills you have that help you out at Big Class?
I’ve learned how to work with kids one on one. Trying to be a better listener, and trying to find ways for a student to better understand whatever task he/she is working on. Even if it’s not a conventional way of teaching, I want to try to help them figure out ways to complete homework or a project when they feel they’ve run out of all ideas. Also, being a fan of drawing, it’s easy to captivate kids by drawing stuff they like and identify with, I always get a lot of love by attempting to draw Spongebob, and their sports heroes. I like being able to show kids that being creative and artistic is actually something they can do in the future whether it be high school, college, or getting a job in art.
-What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced at Big Class?
Learning how to be patient. Kids are kids, they’re going to be crazy sometimes, especially after school. They have a lot of energy that they need to release, and some days the craziness is hard to manage. I’m not a teacher, but I’m trying learn how to balance my power as an adult and as a friend to create a place where I’m respected but also can be approached as a mentor. Some days you have to let it all go because these kids have harder days than I do, so you have to pick your battles.
-What are some great pieces of writing you’ve helped with? Tell us the story behind them if you can.
I love the Big Class books. It’s amazing seeing what these kids come up with in their stories. I loved being apart of the Zombie Tales book project. It was amazing to read the zombie stories and also help with the illustration side of it. Being a big basketball fan, I personally loved being able to draw zombie Lebron James, who was in a lot of the stories.
-What are you up to when you’re not volunteering with us?
When I’m not at Big Class, I’m with my guitar. I’m a full time musician, singer songwriter in the french quarter. I play five nights a week (Tuesday-Saturday) at the Maison Dupuy Hotel, where I play an acoustic set of my songs and other music that I love. I’m very big into blues, folk, and americana music. I’m really lucky to do what I love. Every now and then I take time off to travel and do little tours all over the country. On August 20th at 8pm I’ll be at the Republic doing the opening set for the RAW artists organization of New Orleans. It’s a really cool event showcasing New Orleans artists, and I’m honored to be apart of it.