I returned to my elementary school this past fall. It had been years since I’ve visited, and I was impressed to see the new carpets, lockers, and front desk. However I wasn’t there to see the building, or even to visit my former teachers (which was a real treat); I was there to train a group of 7th graders to be volunteers at the Perkins school in South Boston through a partnership between  GBJCL and the TELEM service-learning program.

When I was in 8th grade at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Boston, I too did literacy tutoring at a school in Boston, the Shaw school. Every week for over a month, my classmates and I took a school bus to the school where we entered elementary classes, and read with students. Growing up in an upper-middle-class community and attending a private Jewish day school, my friends were all white, Jewish, and lived in the suburbs. This was a chance to meet young people whose environment was very different from mine. This opportunity was a source of excitement, but also of trepidation. Those same feelings of anticipation were shared in the group of teens I met last month.

Throughout the training, the group was involved and energetic, asking questions such as “What if my student chooses a book that is too difficult?” “Can we spend our first session just getting to know our student?” and “Will we be teaching the students how to read if they don’t know how?” I could see on their faces and hear in their questions nervousness about meeting a new person for whom they would each have some measure of responsibility.  Yet I also saw great enthusiasm for helping a younger child practice their reading. As the training progressed, covering more information and addressing more concerns, their confidence built. When prompted, the 7th graders eagerly suggested ways to interact with children before, during, and after reading a book together. They knew to scan the pictures in a book before reading, to ask the child to make predictions, to compare those predictions to what actually happened in the book, and to ask the child to use their finger to follow along. In fact, they collectively listed every suggestion I had written in my outline.  I was quite impressed.

I wish the 7th graders at SSDS the best of luck in their work with 1st graders at the Perkins Elementary School. They bring remarkable sensitivity to the needs of younger students, an ability to think critically, and I am confident that they will learn and grow along with their 1st grade buddies just as I did. Kol Hakavod (Well done)!

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