Feature Blog by Program Director, Anna Ojascastro Guzon
This week’s session at Marygrove started with the students arriving early. “Are we going to be doing that rap stuff again?” one teenage boy asked me, while raising his hand. He was taller than me and at least twice my girth. “No, we’re going to change things up this week,” I told him.
“Oh, because I left my notebook in my room and I wrote a song in it.”
“You wrote a song?!” I wanted him to keep talking.
“Yeah, I had like an hour to myself and I just wrote and wrote all this stuff and ended up with this song.”
I could stop right here. I couldn’t ask for much more than a teenage boy, with extremely challenging circumstances, to learn to enjoy writing, and be proud of his work. I regretted not asking him to bring his notebook in right away although I expressed my honest elation over his effort.
We began with the usual homework help. We only had five tutors for six kids this week so I substituted.
We then moved on to the writing assignment which involved a little science and movement in order to inspire language. Off the bat, I asked everyone to participate in two physical tasks, which make the teacher look awkward and silly, if demonstrated correctly. I wanted the students to experience the lack of conscious control one can have over gross motor activity. In other words, I had the kids pat one’s head with one hand and rub one’s belly with the other, then switch back and forth. We also twirled an ankle clockwise while writing the number 6 in the air. If you haven’t tried these tasks before, you’d see that there is a real separation between the left and right sides of the body and left and right sides of the brain.
After a brief overview of these concepts, we moved on to the actual writing, which isn’t often thought of as a physical skill. However, many different parts of the brain are involved in transforming language in one’s mind into symbols, manifested on paper, and organized to mean something. To demonstrate these concepts I had the students write down questions such as, “If you had one superpower what would it be?” and “If you could be a character in a movie who would you be?” They then had to write their answers, but using their non-dominant hand. The result is that a different part of the brain is called upon for the task of writing, resulting in different words and ideas being written.
A favorite answer: “I’d have the power to master any object that I touch so that if I touched food, I would become a master chef. And if I touched a pen, I’d be a master writer.”
“I’ve never thought of that before. Did you just come up with that?”
“How did you think of that?”
” I don’t know.”
Other answers included:
“If I were in a movie I’d be Bruce Lee, who did all his own stunts.”
“If I could go back in time I’d go back and stop Abraham Lincoln’s assassination so we could all see what else he could do.”
The answers sparked debates and extensive reasons for their answers. This exercise also gave the tutors and students a chance to get to know each other better. While male teenagers can often be reluctant to share personal information, every one of them was willing to share their ideas and thinking processes in these imaginary “would be” worlds.
The tutors are courageous, as I’ve said before, in their willingness to participate in something unfamiliar. And of course, when everyone is racing to complete the day’s obligations, these women (all the tutors happen to be women right now) are generous enough to give up their time to tutor kids for free. One tutor is a part-time pediatrician and mother of four young children. Only one of the tutors is retired. And she could be spending her time playing golf, and not driving 40 minutes to teach a young man in North County.
On the other hand, I’m still not certain why we haven’t been able to recruit more tutors, in spite of countless hours of work. Out of six new people who emailed, wanting to volunteer, zero (ZERO) showed up for the training session. To be honest, this week was the first time I felt discouraged.
There have been periods in my life when I didn’t have the time, energy, or plain motivation to volunteer. But am I crazy for thinking that more people would want to help improve their community for their own sake as well as for the sake of others? Maybe it’s the time? The place? The demographics of the people we’re serving? Are we asking the wrong people to tutor?
To clarify, I’m not ranting. Just expressing my concerns, the same kind of concerns as many who have invested a considerable amount of time, money, and effort into something. We could stop here, helping only six young men, couldn’t we?