The Monkey Room

The quality of Rice’s academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What perspective do you feel that you will contribute to life at Rice?

“I want to go to the Monkey Room!” Slightly exasperated, I look down at the screaming six-year-old child and try desperately to remember the training on “collaborative problem solving.” Step One: Find a place of empathy with the child.“You really want to go to the Monkey Room, don’t you Jordan? That does sound like loads of fun. I really like the Monkey Room too!”“Yeah, I want to go to the Monkey Room right now!” shouts Jordan, still throwing his arms in the air. Step Two: Express your concerns.“The Monkey Room really does sound like fun, but my concern is that it’s art time right now, and we need to stay with Teacher Ben [the therapist].”“But I want to go to the Monkey Room!”Step Three: Indirectly ask the child for a possible solution that meets both his and your needs. “Well, Jordan,” I pause to make sure I still held his attention. “I wonder if there’s anything we can do so we can both get what we want.”“Yeah, we can go to the Monkey Room because I really like the Monkey Room.”Step Four: If unable to reach an acceptable solution, find the underlying cause of the misbehavior. “So, Jordan.” I pause again for another attention check. “What do you like to do in the Monkey Room?” “Well, I really like to play baseball,” stammers Jordan while he picks at his nose.“Oh! Okay! So you really like to play baseball in the Monkey Room. I really like baseball too! It’s so much fun! Hey, so what’s your favorite part of baseball?”For the next few minutes, Jordan spills out all kinds of information about baseball. I learn that Jordan likes to pitch and run around the bases. Sometimes his dad takes him out to play catch, but most importantly, I learn the true reason Jordan wants to go to the Monkey Room.Step Five: Make a plan.When he finishes, I whisper, “Hey Jordan, can we make a plan? How about if we go to the art room right now, then after we can go outside to the park and play baseball. How does that sound?”“Really? Awesome!” Mission accomplished. We had met my concern about going with the group to the art room and his concern about playing baseball. As Jordan scampers away towards the art room, I trail closely behind with a new bounce to my step. Perhaps deterring a child’s attention from the Monkey Room is not worthy of a Nobel Prize, but to me it is a noteworthy feat. For these children, it is a step in the right direction. Many of the children at Old Mill School endure unimaginable hardships. Some suffer from illnesses such as schizophrenia or severe autism. Others come from abusive households or have drug-addicted parents. Although I may not fully understand Jordan, he and the other children at Old Mill School are teaching me the art of communication and negotiation. From my experiences with them, I widen my horizons to realities around me and acquire new perspectives in understanding and relating to all types of people. After finishing his project in the art room, Jordan sprints over to me and clings to my arm. “Can we play baseball now?”“Sure thing, Jordan. Let’s go outside.”Jordan grabs both the ball and the bat and flies out the doors. Again, I follow closely behind. Once we reach the fields, he turns around and hands me the ball. “Here! You pitch to me first.”I take the small white wiffle ball in my hands. The power to improve a person’s day sits in my hands, and I plan to use it. I start by pitching to Jordan.

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