By Diana Cabrera, 2019-2020 Literacy First Tutor
I have loved science since I was an elementary school student. It wasn’t until 5th grade, however, that I realized that it was something I was truly interested in and perhaps good at. My science teacher was very passionate about science and shared my love for rocks. She even gave me a rock collection of her own after some classmates accidentally discarded most of my own collection. Years passed and my own passion for science resulted in obtaining a degree in biology, which actually has nothing to do with rocks, but living things, non-living things, is there really a difference?
As a literacy tutor, I don’t exactly have the opportunity to talk about the ribosomes of the rough endoplasmic reticulum or the fact that grasshoppers become violent during food-scarcity-caused migration. However, as a Literacy First member, I was required to volunteer with a partnership for further benefit of the community. I chose an after-school academic enrichment program. In September, I began my partnership, where I conduct one-to-one tutoring sessions with students who need extra help in reading, math, or science. Usually, the students have homework they need help finishing. If they finish before the hour ends, they get to read a book of their choice from the library.
There was one 3rd grade student named Oscar who I was able to tutor at least once a week. He was always enthusiastic about reading books on science, so I was equally thrilled. He would choose to read books about sharks, insects, and even cells. He really loved sharks and quickly remembered facts. I made it a point to make reading as fun and educational as possible, so I always took some time to discuss extra information and make it relatable to real life. For example, we once read a book on grasshoppers, which included information on different types of grasshoppers, the colors, their diet, and how they make the mating call by rubbing their hind legs. But, finally having the opportunity to discuss some of my knowledge, I told him about how grasshoppers become aggressive and change from a green color to a brown color when they are in a group of grasshoppers in search for food. I used the example of how the grasshoppers (locusts) in the movie A Bug’s Life were brown instead of green, and they were mean because they wanted food.
I always looked forward to those tutoring sessions because they were about more than reading, or science, for that matter. They were about motivating and encouraging a student’s passion for a subject that some students find too difficult or uninteresting. I tried to be like my 5th grade science teacher, who cared enough about me to help me excel.
One day, my student told me that he would be moving schools within the next couple of days. I was sad. During our last session, he didn’t choose a book on sharks. He chose a joke book, which typically I would not have deemed an acceptable read because even though developing an understanding for mild humor like puns is a good precursor for understanding future literary elements, such as satire, I decided that it would be okay. Fortunately, one of the joke books was about insects. “Why did the girl throw the butter out the window?” He asked.“Hmmmm…because…. OH! Because she wanted to see a butterfly!” I exclaimed, proud that I had finally guessed one out of the dozens of jokes I had been asked. “No. Because she wanted to see the butter-fly,” he said.“Umm… that’s what I said,” I challenged.“Yeah but you had to say it like this, ‘Butter-fly’,” He emphasized as he pointed to the hyphenated words. I faked frustration to make him laugh.
That was our last lesson, and I didn’t see him at school after that, which disappointed me a bit, because deep down I had some hope that perhaps he was wrong and had misunderstood, and he wasn’t moving after all. While I do miss tutoring him, at least I know that for a time I was able to help encourage him to explore his interest in science, even if it was only for a little less than 3 months. I hope that the seed planted in him will grow into a vibrant pursuance of his dreams, just like mine did.