Happy Friday, Internet friends!
Today’s volunteerism is brought to you by the letter R. And E. And P. OK, today’s lesson is brought to you by the letters REP – Refugee Empowerment Program. REP is an awesome program that helps 200-400 refugees annually across age groups. A major focus of the program is continuing education including after school enrichment, adult ESL classes and a summer educational program.
I was actually asked to give some words of encouragement to some seniors that were taking the ACT exam the next day. OY. What was I going to tell these kids? I remember taking the ACT but English is my first language. My next thought was candy. Candy makes everything better, right? OK! I’ll make little goody bags! Smarties, for obvious reasons, peppermints help to trigger good vibes in the old noggin and a little good luck index card. At least that’s a start, right? Still struggling with coming up with compelling words of wisdom I decided that I would offer three simple pieces of advice:
1) Get plenty of sleep!
2) Eat breakfast!
3) Trust yourself. You know more than you think you know.
I figured those were solid pearls of wisdom. If nothing else, keep it short and sweet would help them to relax instead of freaking them out more. So, instead of me grandstanding, I was simply going to instead try and talk to each kid about what they’ve been struggling with and offer suggestions to help. If worse comes to worse, the candy will do the talking, right?
So i’m parked outside of REP nervous as can be and there is no one here. I checked all the doors, no one is home. I tried calling the contact number I had, it goes to voicemail. Hmmm. This is weird. I hung out for another 15 minutes or so, then I texted Sarah letting her know what was going on. Definitely not helping my nerves! Luckily a bus finally pulls up and a bunch of kiddos pile out – both Moonas, Ahmed, Serfa, and Nahmin. A woman named Ashley, one of the regular volunteers, and was in charge of wrangling the kids up after school and bringing them to REP. The delay was because of an after-school Student Council meeting. No sweat, lets get down to business!
Only three of the students were seniors taking the ACT on Saturday. Oh, I thought to myself, this was much chiller. I had visions of me standing up on stage with 25 kids in front of me expecting a song and dance. Thankfully none of the above was required! If you were at my Bat Mitzvah you’d be agreeing, my singing didn’t do anyone any favors!
We all ended up just gathering around a table and talking. First there were jokes, of course, and the need for immediate candy gratification. After the dust settled, we had a great conversation about the test. First, we discussed what the test meant to them. All the students are first generation immigrants. Being able to do well on the ACT was certainly a great credential to possess. I was trying to balance a difficult line of stressing the importance of doing well while keeping the test in perspective. A bad score does not equate to a bad life. In no way, shape, or form should this test shape their plans. I think (and hope) that this resonated with them. I shared my mom’s story with them. She never graduated high school, was able to get a nursing degree, work internationally and start her own business in the States. Although she was in France and this was 50 years ago, life provides many paths to success. Funny that I am learning that same lesson now.
From there I sat one on one with each student and asked about their practice exams and how they went. For Moona, she becomes disinterested in the readings then doesn’t do well on the analytical questions. We tried working on reading the questions first and then reading the passages. That way she can really be reading for answers that are already keyed into her mind. Nahmin was worried about time. When I asked how long he took on each question he said “too long” so my suggestion was to move to the questions he knows he can do quickly and then circle back. At least this way, his probable percentage of correct answers has a chance to be relatively high in comparison to questions answered.
Since our time was somewhat shortened, we didn’t get to do much tutoring. I hope I can go back next week and continue talking to the students and hearing their stories. They are all amazing. Although I was supposed to be coming in to give them words of encouragement, I think the roles were reversed. It would be impossible not to be impressed and motivated by these students. They have had, and will have, experiences unbeknownst and unparalleled to any of my own. They continue to want to do well for themselves and organizations like REP can enable them to do so.
I don’t think I could ask for a better Friday.
Catch you on the next safari stop.