Writing teachers remind young writers to show rather than tell. We encourage vivid description, engaging narrative, and revealing portraiture rather than prescribed conclusions. In my pride about what our students accomplish, I often lose sight of this critical advice. Yes, this week we announced that a record number of students qualified for nationals in speech and debate, our robotics team won the world champion design award, we have a record number of students in the junior class who qualified for National Merit recognition, and Downbeat Magazine recognized one of our vocalists and bands as best in nation. But I prefer to tell you a short story about a family who recently moved to Denver from Eritrea.
This is a story of a close-knit family of six living in a very cozy apartment who have made a heartfelt commitment to becoming contributing members of their community. The challenges are many —language, economic, cultural, separation from the familiar – but they understand that through education their family can create a new beginning that will bode well for them and for the organizations that they serve. One daughter was struggling in math and science when the family discovered our Breakthrough program. She applied, was accepted, and enrolled. Still struggling, the family asked if a tutor might be available.
A Kent Denver senior, looking to fulfill his community service hours, volunteered to spend two hours a day over spring break tutoring the daughter. The student was told that he had fulfilled his required hours but he had become so close to the family, and to his work helping them learn, that he joined the family each Wednesday afternoon to tutor. He also got to know a brother who needed help with English. In fact, the father of this family recently wrote of the Kent Denver student: “He has become part of our family. He is teaching my kids what they do not know in order for them to perform better in school. He is teaching Urusalem vocabulary, helping David with his writing, and has started tutoring Yohanas in math. He is truly a brilliant young man and we are so lucky to have him. Thank you Breakthrough!"
This student has done more than tutor. He has learned the joys of sharing meals like Tsebhi (stew), Injera (flatbread), and Hilbet (hummus?) with a family that has adopted him. As he teaches English vocabulary, he learns Tigrinya (one of the nine language groups in Eritrea) in return. The student admits that perhaps his tutoring is more effective than his learning, but it is in the exchange that this relationship has grown and strengthened, well beyond the required service hours.
Authentic, purposeful, and meaningful engagement is what makes for a great education and a strong community, and it builds capacity in an individual. There is no local or national award for this type of activity, and yet this is some of the very most important work that we do.
My best to you for a purposeful, meaningful, and fun spring!