The end of the semester brought lots of success for Generation Great amidst the chaos of this crazy time. But I also found myself reflecting on a much larger topic — the importance of early education.
When I first started tutoring in Oak Park, my volunteers and I struggled to address kids’ needs as elementary schools advanced unprepared students who were becoming increasingly discouraged and hostile to learning.
My younger students were never taught the actual concept of addition, leaving them confused and bored. Meanwhile my older kids were adding 23 + 44 with “tic marks,”—yes, 67 lines that they scratched along the side of a paper to count.
And yet, most of them were enrolled in my program, not for math, but reading comprehension. A handful of others were accelerated, but still were becoming extremely uninterested in school because their teachers, in an overcrowded classroom, understandably couldn’t feed their abilities.
One afternoon, a third-grade boy — very capable yet still behind — looked up at me from his worksheet and threw his pencil on the desk while exclaiming, “This is a total waste of time!” And if I’m being honest, in my head, I agreed with him.
The method that this worksheet was teaching him to subtract double digits was completely backwards, forbidding him to form the operation vertically. Even I was shaken at first glance. And if it took me — a seventeen-year-old, capable high school student — multiple reads to fully understand the task at hand, how on earth was a third grader supposed to understand it?
In that moment, I realized that teaching the children their math facts and phonics rules through our program curriculum was only half the battle. Just as important was instilling in them that education was not a total waste of time.
Over the last three years, I’ve seen the power that education has to liberate. Effective intervention comes in the form of helping children build practical skills to form their foundation of future knowledge. As children begin to master concepts, they not only excel in class but also cultivate a new confidence in their own abilities.
I had a first grader who initially entered my program unable to sing the alphabet, write his name or write letters. He used to mumble saddening things like, “I’m stupid; I hate this; I’ll never get it anyway, why does it matter?” And by pushing him and teaching him a new letter every day, within weeks he was writing his name, his first words, and even reading multiple words at a time. That is a miraculous amount of time for a kid to make that much growth.
I still remember the first day he wrote his first word. The smile on his face was priceless. And as he rapidly improved, he would look up at me and, as he shot up and danced, he exclaimed, “I’m too good; I’m so smart..”
My point through using him as an example is that these children are all very bright, yet through such a flawed and understaffed education system, they come to believe they aren’t and, as a result, lose interest in learning at such a young age.
While all the children in our program continue to improve in their academics, several are shining above and beyond.
I had a teacher’s conference in November about one of my kids who came to us in spring of 2019, about to be held back because he couldn’t read. Fast forward to third grade, where not only is he excelling at his proper third-grade reading level, but also, he is the top math student in his class—the only student who knows all of his math facts.
I have also started to speak with parents of two of my students who might be candidates for Breakthrough Sacramento, the program Country Day uses to integrate students from nearby schools into high school. They still have a year before they are old enough to apply, but are eager to learn more information.
It would be great if someday they could call themselves Cavaliers!
Sacramento Country Day senior Briana Davies launched the “Generation Great” blog in 2019 after starting a tutoring and mentoring program by the same name. Country Day students can earn volunteer credit as tutors by enrolling in SCDS’s “Generation Great Elective.” Founded in 2018, Generation Great is a nonprofit public benefit corporation with 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status. For more information, visit Briana’s website: generationgreat.wixsite.com/outreach.
— By Bri Davies