By Susie Kaeser
Yesterday on my walk home from Boulevard Elementary School I ran into Hope (this is not her real name but it is what she represents to me), a first grader who I tutored last year as a Many Villages volunteer.
She was late for school but when she spotted me her worried face lit up and she opened her arms for a hug, something she has come to expect as part of our work together. As quickly as we met, we departed on our separate ways. Here was the reward for my work as a volunteer: the smile and affection of a lovely young girl who is facing many hardships in her daily life and in her search for academic success.
Hope and I have a serious relationship. I was there the day she figured out that when you sound out letters slowly and then quickly you can make words. It is a remarkable discovery that made her excited and proud every time we met. Her success touched my life. We are connected forever.
Education is a very human process. The Many Villages tutoring program organized by Reaching Heights, places and supports volunteers in each elementary school in the CH-UH district. By increasing the personal attention to individual learners, Many Villages helps our schools respond to something educators know very well but our legislators seem to ignore: children are individuals. They come to school from different places with different levels of readiness and support, and different personalities. They learn in different ways and at different speeds. Their brains work differently. Something that is obvious and easy for one child can be a mystery to another.
Attention and encouragement and practice help. Patience, time and concern give individual learners some of the fuel they need to persist. Volunteers can provide that extra stuff that allows for individual difference in a policy environment and structure that all too often expects unrealistic uniformity.
Hope, like the more than 350 other children at Boulevard, is special. By volunteering within my neighborhood school I have the good fortune to be an active ingredient in this school’s efforts to treat her that way.