Mourning the Meaning

By Rachel Clink, 2018-2020 Literacy First Tutor

When I went to work on March 12th, I had no idea that it would be my last day at Ortega Elementary. I knew it would be my last day at work before spring break as I had the next day off to spend with family. That last day before spring break happened just like any other day, though. I came in at 7:30 a.m. and I tutored 5 of my kids before heading to our bi-weekly Leader Academy meeting. I spent time talking to my kids about their plans for spring break. I remember finding it hilarious how my kids could not grasp what a one-week break from school would look like. It does not feel as funny anymore, now that we have been out of school for almost a month and a half due to COVID-19. There is so much that I know now about this current situation that I wish I knew back when schools started closing.

The first school closure was on March 13th, the day before Austin ISD’s scheduled spring break. From there, most of us assumed schools would be closed for another few weeks, but we did not understand that school would be out for the rest of the school year until a few weeks later. When schools first started closing, many of us still had hope that we would be back in school with our kids at some point this school year. Slowly learning that that would not be the case was one of the hardest parts of this situation. 

I remember mentally preparing myself for the last day of school during my first year of service with Literacy First. Knowing with certainty when the last day of school was, I was able to use the last few weeks of school with the most intent. I spent those few weeks reflecting, spending time with my kids, and taking on new opportunities like attending class field trips and splash days. Having that time to prepare myself for the last day of school, I was able to adjust to leaving my home campus, Sanchez Elementary, feeling sad but fulfilled. 

Many people have described this time as a period of mourning, and I think that is an accurate description for Literacy First tutors. At Literacy First, we do our work because we know the meaning and value of helping young students achieve literacy. At the point in the school year when schools closed, we had graduated many of our students, had been close to graduating others, and just started working with some new students on our caseloads. We all have been able to see what it looks like for a student to achieve their goals and master this new skill of reading, when otherwise they may not have gotten that chance. Many of our students were right on the cusp of achieving grade level reading skills. Now, knowing we won’t complete another tutoring session with our kids, we mourn what the rest of the school year would have brought. We mourn the smiles, the laughs, and all the crazy stories in between. 

Most of us will not return to our campus next year. Some of us will return to Literacy First, but many of us will move on to other parts of our lives. Some of us will be teachers, some of us will work for other nonprofits, some of us will go back to our home states and find out what waits for us there. I know I have been fortunate during this situation to still have the support of the Literacy First staff, who continue to find meaningful ways for us to stay engaged. I know that this situation could be so much worse for many of us. I still cannot help but feel like a part of me has been ripped out, that I have lost something that I know I will not get back.  Regardless, we carry on. We find new ways to help. We hope for the best for ourselves, our kids, and our community.