Everyday I Have Felt that I Have Made a Difference in a Child’s Life

Guest Post by: Johana Elangwe, K-3 Tutor at Orr Elementary

My name is Johana Elangwe and my service site is Orr Elementary School in Washington D.C. I am part of The Literacy Lab family that works to help every at-risk child become a proficient reader by the end of third grade. In my position as a Metro D.C. Reading Corps tutor, I have been able to watch my children grow and
gain confidence. I have been part of their success and been there for them when
they needed me. Also, I have been able to reflect on myself and have
internalized that I don’t see the world as I did before my year of service. My
beliefs, needs, and values have changed with the experiences and opportunities
that the program has provided for me.

As a tutor at Orr Elementary School, I
have enjoyed contributing to the improvement of each child on my caseload.
Working with my children, I have come to realize that no two days are the same.
Everyday I have felt that in some small way I have made a difference in each
child’s life.

One child in particular who comes to mind whenever I reflect on these past few
months is my first grader, Tyree*. When I first started working with Tyree he
was soft spoken, shy, and would get easily frustrated whenever I provided
immediate error correction during his intervention. He disliked being corrected
and would gnash his teeth. The only times I would hear his full vocal range was
whenever he said “I don’t want to do this anymore!” words which were always
followed by tears and his body turned away from me. Everyday we would
hesitantly start off well and then six words into the intervention he would
completely shut down for the rest of the session. After days of encouraging
him, giving him praise and positive feedback, and attempting to comfort him
every time he cried (none of which he responded well to), he finally gave me
the reason for his resistant behavior. One Wednesday, as I was preparing him
for our weekly quiz to monitor his progress, he blurted out: “Why we gotta do
this same page everyday? I don’t like this!” And I said, “ So you can become an
even better reader!” and he responded, “ I can’t
read! I don’t like this!“

Although I suspected that his behavior stemmed from his low self-esteem and
inability to read, those words were a hurtful confirmation. In my monthly
data-review meeting with my Reading Corps coaches, I talked to my Master Coach
and Internal Coach about Tyree’s behavior and they gave me wonderful tips on
how to work with him. As the days went by, we were able to accomplish more
during each 20-minute session. In September Tyree could read 21 Nonsense Words
and today that number has increased to 59 words per minute. Equally impressive
is that now, he doesn’t just give me the sound of each letter like he did at
the beginning of the year; he blends the sounds together and makes attempts to
read the whole word. He is consistently making progress through our
interventions and for each little milestone we always take a moment to do our
celebratory “secret” handshake. On the days that he doesn’t quite reach his
goal, although I can feel the disappointment from him, he says, “Ms. Johana, it’s
okay, right? We can practice it and then I can do it tomorrow.” And say, “Yes!
Absolutely! I am very proud of you! You did such a great job. We will review
this page so that tomorrow you can try to pass it.”

Tyree now enjoys coming to sessions
with me. When he sees me, he stops whatever he’s doing and rushes to me.
Even on his birthday when I went to pick him up, he was willing to leave his
delicious birthday cake and friends in class and excitedly exclaim: Let me “show you how I can pass
page 83!”


*Student’s name has been changed to protect privacy.