Today's blog comes from Samantha George, an AmeriCorps Member serving on the Rice Family Foundation team at Susie E. Tolbert Elementary School. Samantha shares the story of one of her students and the progress she's seen her student make throughout the year.
At the beginning of the year, I could always count on Delia to fall asleep 6 minutes into the teacher's lessons. It was the "complete shutdown" type of sleep— hood up, head on the desk, book never even opened. I know fifth-grade math isn’t the most fascinating subject, but still, I watched Delia disengage from class each day and I wished she would make an attempt to pay attention. It would have been easy to assume that she didn’t want to try, or that she didn’t care, and for the first few weeks, that’s what my teammates and I believed. However, we were persistent. Every day I would walk over to Delia, lightly shake her shoulder, open the book to the right page and place a pencil into her unwilling hand. And every day, I would receive what I percieved was a groggy look of consternation—eyes squinted against the light, mouth pursed with confusion or anger, I could never really tell what she was thinking. Regardless, she would begrudgingly begin to look at the board, scribble down some notes…and then put her head down and fall asleep again the minute I walked away.
As lethargic as she was during whole class lessons, she was incredibly animated during centers (small group time), even though her energy was not always constructive. I quickly discovered her to be a hypochondriac, who displayed bursts of anger and had a penchant for arguing with anyone who got within two feet of her. At first, I was frustrated by her behavior: why did she always feel she had to fight everyone in the room? However, I stayed objective and paid closer attention to her behaviors. As I kept watching her, talking to her, listening to her, I began to realize that her behavior was less antagonistic and more of a response to how the other students were treating her.
Whenever I would enter the media center in the mornings to help out with fifth grade breakfast, I would see the students spread out at different tables, clustered with their friend groups. And then I would see Delia, sitting at a table by herself in the back of the room, solemnly drinking her chocolate milk. Girls would talk in whispers, look her way and laugh. And Delia's scowl would deepen. But as time went on when she saw me she would smile and motion me over to sit with her. I would ask her about her morning, how her breakfast was, if she had done her homework…and at first that last question would always be met with a sheepish glance toward the floor. However, she would pull out the workbook and start on a problem. As the days went by, though, my question was more often met with a grin, wide and proud. She had started to do her homework more frequently and she was even showing evidence for all her math problems. To see her progress - that was a beautiful thing!
Delia tells me she’s been working on herself. That she’s trying to be better. And I would agree. More times than not she comes to school with her homework already complete and she falls asleep in class much less frequently. When someone shoots a snide comment her way, I see how she tries to calm herself down. We take a deep breath together and countdown “3, 2, 1 *snap* back to reality!” and usually it works. She still has her moments, but she’s trying. And that’s all we can really hope for.
One day, as she packed up her things for lunch, she turned to me abruptly and said in a very matter-of-fact way, “I love you, Miss Samantha.” I think my face must have broken into one of those huge impulsive smiles. “I love you too, lady.”
I never thought I could have so much love for so many people, but these students make me want to love more, love stronger, because I see how much it can change someone when they feel another person cares.