This year I got a promotion, of sorts, with my volunteer work at City Academy. I went from reading to Kindergartners to tutoring second graders.

It turns out that second grade at City Academy is serious work. The homework is significant. They learn addition, subtraction, multiplication and division all in one year. From time to time, there are word problems that look like they belong on a Mensa quiz. The kids are reading chapter books and writing reflections on their books every week.I work with two girls, just helping them with their homework. I took to these girls immediately. They’re sweet kids, both smart and funny, and they’re really good to each other. I look forward to seeing them every week. Most of the time, I’m simply providing the structure and guidance to keep them focused and moving through the assignments. We work for about an hour and then we play a game for a few minutes.

I wrote a first draft of this post a couple of weeks ago. In that first version, I raved about the teaching at City Academy and how far these little girls have come in just one school year. I waxed poetic about how high expectations can make all the difference in the world. I noted that I was really more of a cheerleader than anything- just getting them to believe in their own intelligence and providing a little structure. I still believe that. But, lately, I’ve come up against the hard reality that not all is rainbows and unicorns when it comes to volunteering. The girls and I have had two frustrating sessions in a row. First one of the girls, and then the other, resisted doing the homework. There were tears (a first!) and protestations that it was too hard (even thought the material was something they had mastered the week before). I watched, befuddled, as these children who were showing so much forward momentum took a few steps backward.

Once again, the kids were teaching me much more than I was teaching them.

I learned that I had to give the girls some room to work through their feelings (and their fears). For someone who is goal oriented and thrives on forward movement, this was hard. I don’t know everything that is going on with these kids. But now it’s easy for me to see that, in order to work through new material, children need a basic confidence that they’re up to the task of figuring it out. Each new skill is a scary new adventure. In order to thrive, kids need to be willing to take it on.

This whole process over the past couple weeks has given me a new appreciation for the day to day work that City Academy does. It’s not all about the photogenic projects that they showcase on buddy day. Sometimes, it’s working with kids who resist the material. Sometimes it’s showing kids who don’t have innate confidence that they can find a way to work through math. There are so many things in society telling kids that they “can’t”. And once that lesson is internalized, it’s very difficult to dislodge. City Academy does great work in getting the kids to see that they really, really can.

I hope to get to the work with the girls again next year. I just pray I’m up to the third grade curriculum!

 Written by Julie Wood, Volunteer and Marketing Committee Chair

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