I started with the Grassroots Education Project 4 years ago, at the beginning of its Reading All-Stars (RAS) program. For the past 3 years, I have tutored the same student, who was entering kindergarten when we started reading together. At the beginning, we spent most of our time together going through the alphabet, learning every letter and its sound(s), and starting to sound out simple words like ‘cat.’ Now, as she finishes 2nd grade, she’s reading chapter books, and reading well above grade level.
More importantly, she likes reading. RAS has turned reading into an exciting and rewarding activity for her: every week she gets to come to a space that’s completely devoted to her, and she uses that space to explore new ideas. Those ideas often come from the shape of the text we read, as we explore how picture books are different from chapter books, how nonfiction books are different from poetry, how authors use different emotions to convey meaning. But more often than not, those new ideas come organically from the conversations we share.
She tells me about her life, and asks me about mine, and together we’ve learned more about the world than we could have done separately. She and I live in the same community in DC, but our life stories are very different: our ethnicities, religions, native languages, ages, our families’ nationalities, and our overall histories have made us into two very different people who wouldn’t have made this human connection if not for RAS. RAS enabled me to connect on a deeper level with my community, and to nourish a child’s growth. Because of this, I think of my experience at RAS as more of a mentoring than a tutoring activity. That her reading abilities have soared sometimes seems like a happy by-product of the time we spend together, reading and talking and sharing our experiences. I’ve received numerous expressions of gratitude from her family for being a part of her life, and I feel the same gratitude toward her and her family for allowing me to be a part of their lives.