Promise Fellow Stories
One Wednesday afternoon a new face arrived at Funky Minds Open Gym in Carver, a small town about 35 miles southwest of Minneapolis. Brittany had learned that every week there was a group of middle and high school students that gathered to play dodge ball. She was excited to join us and quickly became a regular — attending every Wednesday and expressing a desire to attend other Funky Minds programs too.
Brittany and I got to talking and I learned that she had just moved to Carver over the summer. Carver is a small city and she was lonely and looking for other kids to spend her time with. When she discovered Funky Minds she was really excited and said, “I thought there wasn’t anything fun for kids to do in Carver! I guess I was wrong!”
Brittany can now be found at most every Funky Minds event– sometimes with her younger sister Maddie, too. It has been fun to build relationships with them and especially fun to see Maddie during the school day at East Union. While we have a lot of fun at Funky Minds we are also really intentional about building relationships. It is great to see kids get excited about spending time together and creating a sense of community in Carver.
A student in my after-school program seemed to have difficulty early on staying on task and bothering or harassing other students in the program. This student has a disability, and I at times think that she behaves in a manner which encourages the other students to laugh in order to gain her own acceptance in the group. I was unsure of how to handle this, but at the advice of some at the Grant Collaborative, I stopped by fifth-grade lunch one day and asked her if she would come and sit down with me for a minute or two. I asked her if she was enjoying Middle Earth, and she nodded yes. We had a brief conversation about how I wanted her to be in the program, but could only allow it if she showed respect to other students. From that day on, things got much better. She is now engaged and enthusiastic most of the time.
I find that firm encouragement, or giving her a bit of extra responsibility goes a long way to help her take ownership in the program. Some of these include things like passing out papers, or leading a discussion on ideas for clubs with the other students. It is my goal to help her realize that she is an incredibly smart, creative, amazing young woman who is more than capable of reaching her goals in life, which she says are “becoming a nurse or a doctor” and “helping out my mom with bills.” It is easy to see already that hers will in fact be a Great Story.
On a more personal note, I just wanted to say that at the beginning of the year, we received a sheet that was full of advice from past Promise Fellows, mostly little quips about taking it one day at a time and remembering that what you are doing will impact someone’s life, etc. I have taped this up in my office and it serves as welcome encouragement at the beginning of each day!
I have been working with one young boy for a year now who’s currently in eighth grade. It has been a challenge to work with him because he seems to have reading and writing comprehension problems. He’s one of the nicest boys I’ve ever met, and his parents are very supportive of him. Each year, he struggles more and more to stay afloat in his classes. He completes all of his school work, yet he routinely gets poor grades. I am frequently at a loss for how to best help him succeed.
One day this fall he came into my room and asked for help writing a paper for his English class. The topic of the paper was to talk about a time when someone said something to inspire and encourage him. He seemed at a loss for how to answer this. I tried to explain to him what the teacher is asking, but he didn’t seem to register it. Minutes went by and he still had a deer-in-the-headlights look about him. It seemed that we were already getting stuck. Just when I thought we had hit a wall, he remarked that his father had recently told him something very encouraging on a hunting trip. I quickly started asking him to describe to me all the details of the experience: the setting, the time, the mood, the importance, the feelings, etc. Before long, we had the whole experience mapped out on the whiteboard.
Next he had to write this into an essay. Once again, he seemed to freeze up. I got the sense that he was afraid to start writing because he might write something wrong and mess up. I really tried to help him see that the paper was already written for him on the board. In order to make him feel comfortable coming up with sentences, I very deliberately validated any attempts he made at verbalizing a sentence. I wanted him to get the sense that in this paper there were no right or wrong things to say. After about 10 minutes he started picking up speed, and he appeared to get the connection that all he had to do was take what was on the board and arrange it on paper. By the end of the class period he had finished the paper, and I felt that he had had a meaningful experience writing it.
Almost a month later he came into my room and excitedly told me that his grade in the English class had gone up from an F to a C. Even I was surprised by this turn of events. We went onto the computer and checked his grades, and sure enough it was true. He had received an A on the paper I helped him write. He pointed to it and said, “It’s all because of that paper we wrote!” He proceeded to jump around the room, pump his fist in the air, and chant “YES! WOO HOO!” I was so proud of him, and I know he was proud of himself.