More Than Reading: Sebastian on Stability

Sebastian is one of Literacy First’s five extraordinary tutor supervisors. Over his years of working in elementary education, he has seen firsthand the persistent challenges faced by students in high-poverty schools. In this blog, Sebastian talks about a lesser-known challenge, a determined tutor, and an inspiring student. 

By Sebastian Wren, Literacy First Senior Program Coordinator

There is quite a bit of research that indicates that one of the most important elements of child development is stability — both in housing and education.

All things being equal, students who attend the same school consistently are much more successful than students who change schools often.  I’ve seen evidence that changing schools corresponds to about three months of lost progress on assessments.  New friends, new routines, new teacher, new curriculum…it takes a young child a few months to adjust.

Our kids move around a lot.  From September through December, 12% of the K-2 students in our schools have either newly enrolled or withdrawn.  A few of them had already changed schools twice.

In past years, I was estimating that about 15% of our students were changing schools during the school year, and another 10% were changing schools over the summer.  I have found that it is probably a higher rate.  If 12% of our students have already experienced a mid-year school transition, it will probably be over 20% by the end of the year.

As I write this, I’m watching one of our tutors, Kelsey, work with a little girl who has been homeless all year.  She has disappeared for days on end, and rarely comes to school on time.  She lives at the extreme edge of instability, but Kelsey is an adamant advocate for this child. A few months ago, she didn’t know any letters at all, and she wasn’t coming to school enough to make much progress. But Kelsey really wanted to keep her in the program.

Today the child was late again, so she is eating breakfast and working with Kelsey at the same time.  She has a nasty cough and a runny nose, but she’s here and she’s working.  Kelsey has 100% of her attention focused on learning to read.

It’s hard to see the challenges this student is trying to overcome because right now she’s just a happy little kid who is just starting to sound out words for the first time.  She’s kicking her pink shoes against her chair leg while she’s reading, and the flashing lights on her shoes are blinking nonstop while she sounds out each word on the page.

And I just saw her trying to read the words on her carton of milk.

And she really wanted me to see all of the stickers she has collected in her sticker book. (There is a pink one that is her favorite.)

And in September she didn’t know a single letter.

I don’t have any doubts at all about where she would be right now if it weren’t for Kelsey.

I know that every one of our tutors has similar stories to tell: the student they advocate for; the student they connect with; the student who might be lost if not for the patient guidance and support they get from their tutor every day.

Some of our students have very unstable lives. We can’t stop that.  But in that context, our tutors are doing some pretty remarkable work giving kids some daily stability and the boost they need to succeed in school.

It’s pretty humbling to watch them every day, and I feel very lucky to be a part of it.

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