Saturday, February 11, 2012

Reading and Writing

I doubt that I would ever have become a writer if I hadn’t first been a reader. From an early age, I learned to escape into the written word, living in my imagination, taking the ride offered by someone else’s pen.

How limited and dull my life would be if I didn’t have a love of reading. Suppose I’d never really learned to read – suppose it had become a struggle and therefore a chore. That’s why I volunteer thirty minutes a week with the Grand Rapids Schools of Hope tutoring program.

The big picture is that I listened to our Heart of West Michigan United Way volunteer describe the future prison-building plans as based on an area’s current third-grade reading level. Shocking, but it makes sense. Kids who struggle to read in third grade aren’t going to improve their school performance in subsequent years. Imagine a boy or girl who can’t make the grade (literally) and think how they feel about school. If it were me, I’d be looking for, planning for and waiting to escape. Jobs for high-school dropouts with literacy problems aren’t well-paying, if they exist at all. You get the picture.

This is my second year as a volunteer. For a very small time invested, (2 hours initial training and 30 minutes a week) my rewards are rich. Last year, my student was a third grader who wrote me a note after each reading session and hugged me good-bye. She told me about being the youngest child in her mom’s family and the oldest in her dad’s because her dad’s girlfriend just had a baby. I put two and two together and figured (rightly or wrongly) that this didn’t provide a stable environment. Even as a single mother, I spent hours reading with my son, literally from the day he was born. Reading, studies and a stable environment are a priority in our home. I didn’t sense she had this herself.

My current student is a fourth grader. We’ve gotten to know each other over the last couple months and she’s an enthusiastic reader. Last week she came in wearing glasses (new for her) and beaded bracelets and necklaces. The jewelry was a gift for her “friend-a-versary” – a celebration with her best friend. She told me that her friends help her keep her light, that when she’s feeling down, her friends keep her up. All this from a ten year old.

I see the light in her eyes when she adds new learned words to her banner on the wall. In order to get added, the word must be spelled correctly six times and written in a sentence. I love to watch her walk around the room, checking out the other banners, sometimes counting their words and comparing her own. She doesn’t get discouraged by this comparison – I see her strengthen her own resolve.

The highlight was this past week when she had to use the word “valuable” in her sentence. “My tutor is valuable.”

Yeah. I did almost start crying. At the same time, my heart was so full of joy at the impact of my thirty minutes a week. Watching a child develop and grow – seeing a young girl reach for her goals and achieve them – does it get any better?

Readers and writers. I’m keeping my eyes on this girl. We may likely find her gracing bookshelves and best-seller lists in the future. And that’s just so much better than being a statistic for future prison-building.

1 comment:

Patricia Kiyono said...

What an inspiring post! As a former teacher, I know that it's volunteers like you who make the difference between a child who can fall between the cracks and one who makes it despite family problems. Thank you!