Making Connections

By Danielle Anderson, 2020-2021 Literacy First Tutor

As we’ve transitioned to a virtual, work-from-home and learn-from-home life, we’re probably all too familiar with saying things like “I’ll just go ahead and share my screen real quick,” or realizing nobody heard that great comment you had because you forgot to take yourself off mute. Navigating through this new “normal” has presented both gifts and obstacles. Through this year, I have learned to approach every situation with grace and patience, to be flexible with unknowns, and to hold onto joyful moments during challenging times.

As soon as I accepted my position with Literacy First, I was eager to serve alongside my new colleagues and build relationships with our students. I was counting down the days until I could move and begin to establish a new community in Austin. Then COVID-19 hit. Obviously there were bigger issues at hand, but I couldn’t help the disappointment I felt as I thought of what a virtual year would take away from the experience everyone expected. I wondered if I would be able to make an impact and serve in the same way.

Technology – while it can sometimes feel like a burden – has allowed us to continue our service and connect with others in a way that would otherwise not be possible. I have realized that just because this year looks different than what we expected, it doesn’t make our service any less impactful or meaningful. 

Small moments throughout this year have reassured me that my service with Literacy First is still so important. One of those moments occurred for me when I was able to connect two of my students, Omar and Arturo, for reading time together over Zoom. Both of these students are in the same class, but learning remotely from home, so they hadn’t seen one another all year.

One day, after a successful lesson with Omar, I was pulling up his online sticker booklet, but accidentally clicked on Arturo’s instead. Immediately, Omar exclaimed, “Wait! Does that say Arturo? That’s my best friend! Can we please read with him?” The next day I asked Arturo if he had a friend named Omar, to which he shouted “Yeah, he’s my best friend!” I figured we could all use some best friend reading time, so I asked Arturo to stay on Zoom a little later and for Omar to log on a little earlier to squeeze a story in between the two lessons.

The two friends were so excited to visit with each other – their happiness was contagious! We took turns each reading a page from Jabari Jumps. As we were reading, Omar and Arturo encouraged each other and helped one another when one was stuck on a word. I was touched listening to their little voices, learning and helping each other read. 

The next lesson I had with Arturo, he said “Miss Danielle, I loved reading with Omar, because I don’t get to hang out with my school friends very much anymore”. I realized then what a gift it is that in our service we can use technology for connection, education, and community. Our students have the same desire for community that we all do. We have the privilege of spending one-to-one time with them and providing them with a sense of community – whether that means rewarding their hard work with their favorite sticker, creating reading time with a friend, or simply listening to them talk about their day.

This year has been a learning process for all of us, and I am thankful for the moments that bring joy along the way. Although the transition from in-person to remote work has presented unforeseen challenges, we have all learned to celebrate small wins and produce creative solutions from obstacles. I am proud to be a part of a team that sees past uncertainties in order to continue our service to the community.

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