I went back to school on Wednesday.
Not as student, but volunteering again as I did last year. The teacher was finally ready to open her class to helpers.
This is first grade, in a well-to-do suburb on the San Francisco Bay Area Peninsula. Kids from the east side of town comprise most of its pupils. And on this particular east side, almost all the families have come from Latin America. Some just last week.
Parents speak Spanish. Children speak Spanish too, but only the most recently arrived speak no English. Kids learn very quickly.
I work with them on reading, in groups of four. There are 24 kids in the class. Glad it’s not 40. “Reading” varies as much as the children’s skill levels, of course. Some learn the names of the letters in English, others write a three-sentence short story.
A few anecdotes.
I like to give the kids felt pens and paper and have them draw something they care about. Then I write down a few easy related words they can copy onto their drawings. One little boy told me, with a sideways look and an ephemeral smile, “I am going to draw a shooting house.” “OK,” I said. One-on-one attention is its own gift. He drew a house with what looked like a beam of light shining out a window. “Is the shooting in the house or outside,” I asked? “In the house,” he said. He kept drawing. I talked to one of the other children for a couple of minutes. “Oh,” the drawing boy said, “They are shooting bananas.” Then he drew a stream of bananas in the beam of light. I showed him how to write Shooting House Bananas.
A little girl spoke in a very, very low voice. Luckily she was right next to me so I could hear her.
Another little girl didn’t know what to draw. She couldn’t say what she cared about. “How about your family?” I said. She looked at me. Big eyes, spiky eyelashes. “Your mother, your father…” she interrupted, “I don’t have a father.” I continued, “Your grandmother?” She said, “My father left my mother.” “That happens,” I said, “It’s hard when that happens. “I have two grandmas,” she said, and drew a picture of one of them, in a red dress. “Red is my grandma’s favorite color,” she said, just as her time at my little table finished.
Another little boy looked at me when I spoke, seeming not to comprehend, moving his mouth with my words. “He doesn’t speak English,” the little boy next to him said. “OK,” I said, “Tell him if he doesn’t understand, you will explain in Spanish.” I told the first little boy to draw a picture of something he cared about. His friend started to translate, but my non-English speaker waved him off with evident charisma. “He says he understands,” said his friend. We all laughed.
All these anecdotes are as true as I can make them. I am doing almost nothing. I do not think highly of myself for this, although I’m glad I managed to keep my promise. But the kids, and their teacher, are amazing. She’s from Mexico, came here at 20, has been teaching in the public schools ever since.
I am happy to live in California. I hope you love your home state too. Have a great weekend.