Friday, April 2, 2010

Back to Sixth Grade

Because the world needs readers, too.

Because the Detroit Science Center where I work is also home to the new University Prep School of Math and Science, because the school is innovative and nurturing, because the teachers work in close-knit teams, because every student has an advisor, because no student is left to fall behind, because English class is called Humanities studies, because I said yes I would volunteer, I now have a student to tutor in reading and writing (and thankgod not in arithmetic). For forty-five precious minutes on Thursday mornings until school lets out in June, Cayla is mine.

A sweet little wisp of a six grader, Cayla puts on a tough exterior she doesn’t really mean. “Oh, she’s my little chocolate marshmallow,” explains Cayla’s Humanities advisor, “I call her that because inside she just melts.” Yes, I see that. Our first day, Cayla barely speaks. I actually work up a sweat teasing out that 1.) she’s good in math, because it’s easy and she likes her teacher, and 2.) she’s “bored” in Science and English (I mean Humanities) because there’s too much work. Bored reading the children’s classic, The Cay? No way. This will not stand. Not on my watch - that is to say, for the duration of 45 minutes each week.

And so we began to read, and I begin to understand: Cayla is a capable student, fluent enough in reading, reasonably astute in puzzling out new vocabulary, competent enough in writing to be earning A’s and B’s - not C’s. Hell, she even corrects a spelling error I make : Baja! What holds her back is a mystery to me. Possibly little more than hormones. Near the end of our session, we find common ground in discussion of American Idol, which elicits a spontenous high five. In return, I present her with a small token of appreciation - or bribe -- a blank journal. “It’s yours. Write in it. Whatever you wish. Just bring it back next time.”

And the next time she indeed brings it back. I see she’s filled the first pages with a draft of her “Survivor Story” -- her assignment for the unit on The Cay. Cool. As for the story? Well, Cayla is 11 years old, her reading of choice is The Magic Puppy. In her story she survives a shark attack on a boat with friends on vacation in Mexico where she and her buds mostly enjoy shopping together. Seems plausible enough to me.

Third session. This week. There’s method to my madness. We begin with an exercise. “This is exercise for your brain,” I explain. “Take out your journal, Calya. Write. And don’t stop until you’ve filled the page.” And I take out my notebook and pen, and together we write. Our first Morning Page. It’s a start. Thank you, Julia!


  1. That's an Artist's Date and a half, Viv! Congratulations!

  2. I've been pondering your post. I have tutored several times in my life. A couple of summers when I was in college for pay. I'm not (I assert) very good at it. I lay all my own rules for success and failure over the process. I can't hear the kid for the roar in my head. Now that I say that, I realize I'm my own worst "tutor." Boing.

    Anyway. Keep writing about this. What you've said about it so far is so engaging. I'm captured and inspired! I want to know what happens next. It's Tuesday's With Morrie with nobody dying. Memoir. And all.

    Hey, CAYla is reading The CAY? Have you guys talked about that?

  3. And I know it's pronounced key, but still....

  4. Ann,

    Yeah, I want to know what happens next with Cayla, too. Will keep you posted.