I continue to volunteer in a local first grade classroom, twice a week. I am surprised by how much is expected of the children, and by the good will with which they attempt to comply.
I’m there to help with literacy. What that means exactly has evolved over the year.
There are 23 kids in the class, all but four of them speak only Spanish at home. Two of the Spanish-speakers haven’t yet learned English. And yet they are all starting to read and write in this new language. Can you imagine?
Is this a primary marker of the immigrant experience? Home is one thing, your future in the new country another. And when your family is only marginally literate, and you are learning to read in a language they don’t speak, does the gap grow? I imagine a divide not only between parent and child, but also between the child’s own feelings about her emotional self and her self of performance and participation in society.
I could be wrong. I’m a full-blown amateur.
In any case, two stories from Thursday.
The classroom is set up with small tables and chairs, four kids to a table. Each seated spot has a desk-like cubby for pencils etc., each kid takes the same spot every day. Usually the teacher sits or stands up front. When I am there, I have my own little U-shaped table by the window. I sit inside the U, four kids at a time sit along the outside, looking at me. We can talk quietly, and I have complete freedom to take a half and hour for each group wherever it will go.
When it was her group’s turn, O was first to the table. She said as she pulled out her chair, “The police came and took my mom to prison but she is going to come back. My big sister and me are staying at my grandma’s.” She sat down. She is usually almost wholly silent, whispering her answers when she does respond, occasionally getting caught in a flight of fancy from which she extracts herself with difficulty. That day she participated, chattering away, happily.
When it was time for the next group, J ran up with a little hop, as usual. J spoke only Spanish when he first arrived in September. While his accent still makes him a little difficult for me to understand, his sheer enthusiasm for whatever he has to communicate carries the day. He’s confident.
A note. I usually combine drawing with the literacy work, trying to allow the kids to integrate their emotions and aesthetics with what they are learning about language.
I could be wrong.
When I told this group “Today we are going to draw and write about anything that is your favorite.” J immediately said, “Blueberries,” and began to draw, four blue circles with green hats.
Then I asked the kids for some sentences about why they liked their favorites. J covered his paper, telling me it was a surprise. He wrote, without help, except on how to spell “delicious,”
“I think blueberries is delicious because the blue berries is come the stars”
I asked him why he said that. “Because my mother is tell me this,” he said. “My mother, she call me, ‘Sweetie, time for lunch.”
I don’t really have a larger idea to articulate. We all know children are endearing. We all know children have mothers of one sort or another.
But I have read that a sense of purpose is the strongest component of a happy life, and that’s what I am finding.
Have a wonderful weekend.