-By Ruby Jockers, 2019-2020 Literacy First Tutor

When a Literacy First student graduated for the first time at our campus earlier this year, it was an exciting day for everyone on our team, as we watched this Kindergarten student proudly walk out the classroom holding her graduation certificate. However, when I went to pick up my next student, John, he walked over with his shoulders slumped and head down. He had seen his classmate’s certificate and desperately wanted one of his own.

John cried the entire walk to the Literacy First classroom, not understanding why his peer had received a certificate and he did not. Before entering the room, we had a long talk about what graduating means and how he, too, could earn a certificate and graduate. The emotion and disappointment of not receiving a certificate was still overwhelming for him. All I wanted to do was to snag an extra copy of a certificate and relieve him of his distress. But I could not do that, as he was getting close to graduation expectations, but still had some work to do.      

For the next three weeks, John asked me every day if it was time for his “gradulations”. From the moment I picked him up until our goodbye high-five as I dropped him off at his class, he would eagerly ask for his certificate. We talked about how in order to graduate he needed to follow our “Good Learner’s Chart” that we use as a check-in tool at the start of each lesson, something John had a hard time with in the past. With his own graduation certificate on the horizon, John began consistently sitting up tall, keeping his eyes on the speaker (me, his tutor), his ears listening, and of course ensuring that his brain was “turned on”. John was staying focused and listening intently, and his ability to decode and recode words increased rapidly.      

Another obstacle that John had faced in his lessons was his love of storytelling. When he first began in the program, he would elaborate about every word we read. But as I always reminded him, “we work together to become better readers and must save our story time for the walk to and from the lesson”. With the focus he had developed over time, John began to back-track as soon as he started a story, and would then say, “I have so much to tell you on our walk back.” The first time he corrected his own behavior in this way, I was a bit taken aback. I had given him an alternative behavior, and he had remembered and followed it! This is a big win when working with K-2 students.

Thanks to this hard work we did together, John was soon read for his own “gradulations.” On a Friday morning this Fall, I eagerly walked to his class, knowing how excited he was about to be. As we walked down the hallway toward the Literacy First classroom, he began talking about what he thought we would learn that day. I then told him that it was a “special day.” He thought about this for a moment and shyly said… “is it my ‘gradulation’ day?” I told him it was, and he could not control his excitement. He was giggling and cheering at the same time!

Having the chance to tell John this news and watching his ecstatic celebration is by far the proudest moment I have had as a Literacy First tutor.  John was not only elated to hold a certificate with his name on it, he was PROUD. He couldn’t stop talking about how he would show his mom the moment he got home, and he kept mentioning that he had “waited 5 years for this.” I reminded John that he had earned this certificate, and that he was graduating because of all of his hard work and dedication. I wanted him to know that I did not give into his daily inquiring about the certificate, but that he had truly earned it.

Graduating John reminded me why I serve with Literacy First and how important our work is. Not only did he meet and exceed the Kindergarten reading level, but John learned that with patience and hard work he can do anything. Being able to watch him flourish as a reader and gain a sense of self-pride is an experience I do not take for granted nor will I ever forget.

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