Each quarter Americorps collects “Great Stories” from their 18 members throughout the region telling about their experiences assisting regional youth in their classrooms. Here’s one from 2017’s first quarter:
Just a few months ago I had never even heard of Fletcher Elementary, and they most certainly had never heard of me. Gabe (name changed to preserve privacy) and I had no idea we would be spending an hour together once a week. I certainly could have never imagined that my small amount of time with a fifth grader would make even a fraction of an impact.
I was told about Gabe before I had ever met him. The teacher said to me jokingly, “If you could so much as help him stay awake in class, your year here would be a success.” She continued to explain to me that his homework was never turned in, and his voice was never heard in or outside of class. It seemed to me that everyone wanted for him to do better, but he was simply not receptive to the help. How could I possible do anything more than what’s already been done?
Just a couple of months ago we began meeting once a week for an hour. Gabe was remarkably soft spoken. Most of our conversations were inaudible even when we were just a few feet away. I tried to encourage him with laughter and by talking about things that I knew mattered to him. Our progress together seems drudgingly slow, but I decided to use the time as personal practice in patience.
Pretty soon, we’d now gotten into a rhythm during our time together: We always spent the first half hour discussing how to do the homework he was supposed to have done already. Then I would question him why it wasn’t already turned in, and he’d give the same response, “I dunno”.
I tried to take that opportunity to explain how I used to struggle with the exact same things. I was never interested in class enough to stay awake and I was much more interested in playing outside than turning my homework in on time. I told him how this set me up poorly for the things I knew I wanted to do later in life. Each meeting seemed to have some sort of new rendition of this same barely audible conversation.
A couple of weeks ago things shifted—Gabe decided to engage in that conversation for some reason. It’s almost as if he knew that, for once, he needed to listen. When describing it, this moment seems so small—it wasn’t really any greater than any of the other moments Gabe and I shared—just one moment built upon other moments, but leading to something I could have never imagined.
Last week Gabe and I met first thing in the morning. I knew that he was excited to see me because he was waiting for me in my room. I was surprised to see him there, but we sat at the table as usual and he got out his trapper keeper. I knew something was going on because he had the most genuine smile.
I said, “What do we need to work through today?”
At this, Gabe pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. I was getting ready to give him the newest rendition about turning in homework on time when he said “This is extra credit for science class.”
Why on earth would he be doing extra credit if he hasn’t even done the work for initial credit? I thought.
His face got brighter as he made eye contact with me and said at an audible volume, “I finished all of my other work, so this is all I’ve got to work on.”
I must not have hidden my expression of shock very well, because he continued, “I finished it all on Monday when it was assigned. I was just bored I guess.”
Whatever the reason Gabe finished his homework—it doesn’t matter: This was the first time he had finished his homework on time in 2 years. I’m not sure if it was my extra attention or if he truly was just that bored. Either way, it was great to see this kid finish his homework for the first time, on time.