Feature Blog Post by Program Director, Anna Ojascastro Guzon
The villain, a shiny-headed Mr. Windex, schemes against the Yoda-esque warlock, armed with Bluetooth enabled light sabers. Set in a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world, a warrior-hero tries to save what is left of the population. And John Bond, son of James Bond, sets out to avenge the death of his father. This past week, the students returned to their work on fantasy comic strips after a short Thanksgiving break.
They were led by our highly efficient tutor coordinator and expert organizer, Jennifer Rengachary. She confined their imaginations only by the panels on an otherwise blank page. And for the more spatially minded students, these visual narratives were a respite from the usual words-only assignments. They amused the tutors with their different ideas and challenged the plausibility of each other’s science fiction. “So the light sabers are synchronized?” “Can they be controlled from a remote location?” “Can the light sabers play music?” Two of the students completed just one panel, but their illustration was meticulous. I was surprised by their patient and almost meditative process of drawing.
When working one-on-one with teenagers, I have the chance to be repeatedly impressed by the agility of their minds. Although I’ve received (what could be called) an excessive amount of formal education, since becoming a mother, my mind often comes up as “not responding,” or “error.” Just this morning, I forgot to pour the water through the top of the coffeemaker and instead made a pot of hot clear liquid. Also, I briefly tried using my cell phone as a computer mouse. I know that the morning rush to get out the door can be challenging for many people. I wonder who else has squirted blue toothpaste onto one’s hands instead of hand soap, and vice versa, actually placing berry-scented soap on a toothbrush and into one’s mouth.
When I sat down to help a student with his homework this past week, for some reason I felt I could “magically” help him solve his Advanced Algebra problems. I’ve been able to help other students with math assignments, although it induced tears when I studied the subject, 25 years ago. This student didn’t ask for my assistance, but I noticed him working on the same problem for close to 10 minutes, with a few doodles mixed with just a few numbers in his notebook. Instead of telling him to buckle down and get to work, I started to work on the same math problem, while sitting next to him. I filled up half the page with numbers, trying different ways to find the solution. Finally, I said, “I don’t know how to do this.” I actually rubbed my forehead as if I could feel neurons bursting open from misuse.
“Do you know how to do this?” I asked the student. His homework involved the use of the quadratic equation. Speaking softly, he taught me how to solve the problem, writing deliberately so his work was legible, and using arrows to clarify the order of the steps. Sometimes, he’d make a mistake and have to back up, but he was able to work through it. My eyes widened. “This isn’t easy! If you can teach this stuff that means you really know it,” I said. I continued to work alongside him and continued to be astonished by how impossible it was for me to come up with the correct answer.
But what I found most striking was the students simply working quietly with their tutors, for almost 45 minutes. And as they focused, arching over their papers, one could hear only pencils tapping and scratching. It was already dark out. And sleet was beginning to fall in Florissant.