By Yuby Hernandez
Attendance Mentor in a Baltimore City Public School
When I first started my Repair the World fellowship in Baltimore, I had no idea where I would be serving. I knew that I would be doing service, but figuring out what or where was part of the journey. However, when I was asked to volunteer within the schools here in Baltimore city, I was a bit reluctant. I have always worked with children and I wanted this to be a growing experience. I was in for a surprise, thinking at first that this would be an easy task.
Working in a school can be very challenging. When we become invested, we take our children’s problems home with us, and become attached to our kids, even the ones with whom we were not assigned to work. It can be really frustrating, after planning an initiative or event for a month, then discovering it may not work out due to other priorities in the school. It can be challenging to keep plugging along, working for weeks and months mentoring students, and not seeing big changes.
Yet some days one small experience can change it all and make it worthwhile. I try to hold on to these experiences as a reminder that one small thing can truly make a child’s day, or even change how he or she sees him or herself.
Right before spring break, I had planned and designed a new bulletin board. On the board I posted essays by two students from each class about why they came to school every day. Slowly, as teachers return their work, I put it up.
One little boy, who was usually worried and sad at school, was one of the students whose work was highlighted. I had noticed that he did not know his work was on the board, and so I pulled him aside and pointed it out to him. And his reaction melted my heart … for the next 20 minutes he proceeded to stand in front of the bulletin board, looking at his work, his face full of joy and pride. That boy knew his work was a job well done, and he reveled in it. This was a new experience for him.
I also think about the student who began to attend after school every day, after she had a peculiar metaphor explained to her. She was compared to being a car, and the teachers and school as her drivers, but no matter how hard they pushed the gas, the car would not move. She was told that because she had a huge rock in front of one of her wheels, no matter how much gas you put in the car, the wheels would not turn. And so, once she decided to stop being a rock to herself, her grades improved; in one semester she improved her grades by 30 points, not a small feat.
I myself feel the satisfaction of knowing that I brought a smile to these children’s faces, and that I have made a small impact. Each child is different and constant supportive interactions can make all the difference. You never know what a child needs until you try. So if you have an hour or two, once a week or once a month, think about what kind of impact you could make volunteering and mentoring a child.
Want to help change the world? Get in touch with Jewish Volunteer Connection and Repair the World.
Repair the World works with Jewish Volunteer Connection, a program of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, to recruit volunteers needed to address Baltimore’s most pressing issues.