Sunday, May 29, 2005

What's So Funny 'Bout Reading, Writing, and Lordzim?

Tutoring. Sometimes it's the highlight of my week -- and that's not always a reflection on the week. Today, for example, I spent the first hour teaching vocabulary to two unusually smart little brothers named Chris (sixth grade) and Victor (eighth grade). Their dad is a plumber and their mom is a babysitter. Some words Chris and Victor learned today: nonchalant and apathetic (perfect words to teach middle school kids), appraise and apprise (and how they differ), circumspect, palatable, audacity, surreptitious, and reverberate. Charged with using them in sentences, Chris wrote "It reverberated in the bathroom when I flushed the toilet." Meanwhile, another kid who comes in every week just won a spelling bee.

Helping above-average kids optimize their minds is among the best things I've ever done. Chris and Victor's superior intellects might have gone unattended in crowded inner-city classrooms, but they've been benefiting from A.'s tutoring sessions for years. Working with them, I have a very clear sense of changing their lives, however minutely. Even if they are nonchalant and try to appear apathetic, I'm sure the work reverberates. It has to -- we help them one-on-one, instead of letting them moulder in classes of 30 or more.

We were having so much fun today (well, I was, and they played along), that another kid at the same table seemed to want to join in. He'd look up forlornly from his half-dozen addition problems and just watch us. After an hour on vocabulary, Chris and Victor and I agreed we were done -- too much of a good thing -- and once they'd rousted a board game I started working with the other Chris.

The change of pace was startling. He's in fourth grade and way behind in language arts and math. We painstakingly read a very short story -- he needs help with pronunciation and basic reading -- and while the work wasn't as much fun, it was just as challenging and rewarding, if not more.

I've mentioned tutoring a few times here, but never in such detail. I've also told most of my friends how rewarding and easy it is. But none of them -- save K., who tried it a few times but didn't cotton to it -- has shown up. Yet it's conveniently scheduled and located, requires just two hours a week, and provides the invaluable feeling that we're changing the world, one underprivileged kid at a time. It sure beats a beer high.

If you live in LA, you can come to St. Agatha's at Mansfield and Adams, just off the 10 Freeway, any Saturday from 2-4pm or any Thursday from 7-9pm. If you don't live in L.A., improvise or find something online. Most any inner-city kid could use your help.


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