Her light brown cheeks flushed with pink. Her brown eyes scanned the floor and seemed to focus on my shoes. She dared a glance at my face and quickly averted her eyes when they met mine. It was as if she did not want me to see her. This was my first day mentoring a sixth grader at a Boston Public School in Roxbury.
Right away I knew that all the ice breakers I had prepared were not going to work today. I was instantly grateful that the organization I volunteer with had encouraged the mentors to read aloud to their mentees during their time together. This was something that would help ease anxiety.
“You, nervous?” I asked as we walked out of the cafeteria to the room that we would share with the other reading buddies.
She dared another glance at me and said, “Yeah.” She quickly looked away, but not before I noticed that her eyes were wet. There were tears.
“Don’t worry,” I told her. “I’m a mom. I have a daughter your age. I’m also a teacher. We are going to have fun.”
I saw a little smile. Her eyes looked at me again. Uncertain.
The reading and mentoring were to happen during lunch. My reading buddy had a chocolate milk, a forlorn looking orange, a sandwich that was wrapped like a pop tart on her school lunch tray. We sat at the table. I could feel the nervous energy coming from her. This was not the day to ask too many questions. Other than sharing our names, we spoke very little on that first meeting. I told her a bit about myself and why I was there. I showed her a picture of my dog. Tessie, my white Lab was on her back in the photo. She had a zany smile and was begging for belly rubs. Tessie’s image worked like a charm. The girl laughed. I pulled out a myriad of books including classics, poetry, graphic novels, books with female protagonists, mysteries, etc. Yes, I admit I went to my twelve year old daughter’s book shelves and borrowed some of her absolute faves. The books she visits like friends. Star Girl, The Giver, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Fault in our Stars, and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairy Land to name a few. I told my mentee the premise of some of the books.
“Which would you like me to read today?”
She touched all of the books. “So many books. How do you have them?”
I told her that our family loves to read and that my daughter in particular likes to read the same books over and over again. I asked her if she reads at home and she told me that she does not.
“We don’t have books at home,” she said.
She chose a book for me to read and we got started. I pride myself on being an entertaining reader and I did my best to knock her socks off. I saw her relax in her chair, smile and laugh at the funny parts. Her eyes widened with surprise and curiosity as the main character of the book explained about his life. Our time together ended much too quickly.
“You are coming back?” She asked in a way that told me that maybe some people in her life had not.
“Yes,” I said. “Every week for the rest of the school year. We will read more of this book next week.”
To be continued….