At City Year Seattle, our corps members run morning homework programs at many of our schools. Homework club’s goal is to help students from non-English speaking homes. It is a time for corps members to further engage students in their learning as well as ensure they are prepared for class.
Every day at one of our elementary schools, corps member Erica Van Sciver encourages her students to utilize their time wisely – whether it is reading a new book or finishing their homework.
Face closed off, body turned inward toward the door. His posture is as stiff and unrelenting as a soldier’s. He doesn’t react as other children excitedly stream around him and through the doors of our morning homework club. He doesn’t react when I approach him either. His position remains unchanged with his coat and back pack still on – he is a 2nd grade Rip Van Winkle caught in stasis while time moves on without him.
Jeff* and I have been through this song and dance many times before. He knows I’ll ask him where his homework is, and I’ll know by the slight shake of his head that he didn’t bring it. He knows this means he’ll have to read instead, but I can already sense from his obstinate silence that he has no intention of doing so.
Each day, the homework club routine is the same: a standoff with no winner. But today is different- today I have something new in my arsenal. With a book in hand, I begin telling Jeff about the magical world of Louis Sachar’s Holes. I start by explaining that Stanley Yelnats has an interesting name, one that spelled the same backwards as it is forwards. Then I delve more into the story, talking about how Stanley Yelnats is a boy in trouble, framed for a crime he didn’t commit. As punishment, he’s left with the unenviable choice of juvenile detention or Camp Greenlake (a camp for boys). Stanley chooses Camp Greenlake and is launched into a world of mystery and intrigue. As I describe the story with excitement and enthusiasm in my voice, I search Jeff’s face for some flicker of interest. He is impassive – his demeanor betrays nothing, but somehow I sense that he is listening.
Finally, I ask:
“Would you like to read this book?”
He gives an almost imperceptible nod in my direction. A simple exchange occurs – I hand him the book and he takes it. I’m halfway back to my table before I realize Jeff still hasn’t moved. Sighing and realizing that it wasn’t so easy, I turn back and explain to Jeff that he needs to find a table. A few minutes later, I’m helping another student when a movement catches my eye. It is Jeff, sitting quietly at my table, engrossed in his new book.
Since that day, our homework club has a new routine and Jeff has remembered to bring in his homework each time. Because he knows that I’ll always check in with him and that I genuinely care about what he chooses to do with his time, now Jeff’s work is nearly always complete before he comes in and he quietly hands it over to me so I can check his answers.
*Names have been changed to protect the children with whom we work
Text by Erica Van Sciver, City Year Seattle/King County corps member