Submitted by Bryce Bateman in 2013, while serving with Federal Way Public Schools. Bryce is now serving as WSC’s AmeriCorps Leader, providing support to almost 600 WSC AmeriCorps members statewide.
Before I began my position as an AmeriCorps tutor in the Federal Way school district, I heard all of the statistics about how diverse the community was. I knew that within the district there is a unique mix of students from all around the world, some of whom entered this country as refugees. I knew that my students could be speaking any one of about 130 languages spoken throughout the schools. Most importantly, I knew that if I was to see any success, I would have to exhibit the patience and open mindedness that some of these students desperately need and many not experience anywhere else in their lives.
Stephen was a late enrollee into my ninth grade algebra class, arriving about a month into the school year. Due to scheduling conflicts, this particular class was the only one available for students from our district’s college-bound program (AVID), the Individualized Education Plan students with higher learning needs, and those students who are English Language learners. Having just emigrated from the Marshall Islands, a small Micronesian country with less than 70,000 inhabitants, Stephen fell into the last category. Speaking only Marshallese, he immediately looked like a fish out of water in this classroom full of rambunctious, energetic freshmen.
I could feel his frustration on that first day as he went from hesitantly looking around the classroom to sitting quietly with his head down on his desk.
The image of Stephen socially isolated at his desk stuck with me for the rest of that day. I kept imagining how I would feel given a similar situation, and resolved to figure out a way to connect and help him overcome the language barrier he faced. The next day, as the teacher was writing up notes for the rest of the students, I found an opportunity to engage Stephen. Communicating primarily through hand gestures, pointing and writing out numbers in my notebook, we worked together to figure out how to add and subtract positive and negative integers. It was an exercise in patience for both of us as we tried to develop an understanding of how the other person was communicationg, but by the end of class he was able to look through our notes and work through a problem by himself. As everybody began to pack up before the bell rang, he looked up from his worksheet, smiled, and stuck out his hand to shake mine. Though he couldn’t express it in words, I saw the gratitude in his eyes and hoped that he saw the pride about what he had accomplished in mine.
I now work with Stephen on a regular basis, and whenever we see each other in the halls he walks over and shakes my hand. Developing this kind of connection with a student has made me so appreciative of the opportunity I have been given to meaningfully impact the lives of others. It provides the motivation for me to come into school every day looking for the next person I can influence for the better.