Elle de la Cruz is 22 and serves as a corps member, mentoring and tutoring Aki Kurose Middle School‘s 8th grade class. She serves in Seattle because it’s her home. Elle wants to be able to serve in her community and give back to the place where she was raised. “My roots are here and my heart is here,” she says of Seattle.
My first encounter with Andrew* was on the fourth day of school when he strolled late into his first period. There were only 10 minutes left in the class period. I greeted him, but he brushed me off and sat in his seat in the corner of the classroom.
This pattern continued for the next two weeks of school. Andrew was in two of my classes, but he either arrived extremely late, or didn’t show up at all. During every class, I greeted him with, “We missed you in class, Andrew!” I was either met with an annoyed shrug or a full brush-off, complete with eye contact avoidance. By the end of the first month of school, Andrew had accumulated 13 unexcused absences and 24 unexcused late occurrences.
I continued to talk to Andrew during class and help him with his classwork. He rarely finished any of his work and never turned anything in. One day, I asked him directly about his tardiness. He explained that it was difficult for him to wake up in the morning and that he often took the bus, which sometimes ran late.
I emphasized how important it was for him to be there on time and that with proper planning, he could make it to school on time.
“Andrew, I’d be so excited if you were here on time every day!”
“Miss Elle,” he responded, “no one cares if I’m here on time.”
I looked at him seriously and said, “Andrew, I care if you’re here on time. You’re missing out on learning.”
He looked at me skeptically without saying a word. The following Monday, Andrew arrived to school two minutes before the last morning bell. Our team joyfully greeted him as he ran up the steps. He high-fived us as we cheered him on and I just barely caught a rare smile on his face as he slipped through the door.
Last week, I had to miss my first period class for an important meeting.
Andrew came up to me later in the day and exclaimed, “Miss Elle, we missed you in class today!”
I couldn’t help but smile while I explained to him why I was absent. Andrew now realizes that he has people supporting him and people who actually care about his education. He has started his first essay in Language Arts class and gives me daily updates about the development of his main character, a ninja with magical powers.
With the encouragement and support of the City Year corps members and other Aki Kurose faculty and staff, Andrew has begun to attend school consistently. He has been late a few times, but it is no longer a full 1 hour and 20 minutes late. In the past month, he has only 1 unexcused absence and 9 unexcused late occurrences. He comes to school with a smile on his face, ready to learn, because he knows that he has support and people who care about his education.
*Student’s name has been changed to protect his privacy