The first day of ELT a seventh grader named Cesar walked through my door. I still remember he was very quiet and did not want to look me in the eyes. I started to get to know him through ELT where he always would push back and avoid doing work. He would also make many homophobic comments towards his peers. This continued almost every day. Then when October rolled around I was really excited to see Cesar on my focus list. It soon came to my knowledge that Cesar had Fs and Ds in his classes. His reading was about 70 to 85 words per minute. Not only were his grades suffering but his behavior was a huge distraction to his teachers and peers during class. I slowly started pushing him out of his comfort zone and tutored him during the school day and for hours during ELT. Despite all the time and effort I was putting in I wouldn’t see any changes. Then one day I heard Cesar’s name got called over the intercom to the principal’s office. I remember my heart had sunk in my stomach. He did not show up to ELT and I heard that he had gotten in a fight with some boys in the bathroom. He was suspended for two days and had gotten a police citation. After the two days I pulled him out to talk to him about what had happened. We conversed for a long time and I told him that I see so much potential in him but the way he has been behaving is not making his path to success reachable. I told him that I could see a four year college in his future. He could reach the stars but he was too preoccupied with “acting cool”. I wasn’t sure how much our talk really affected him because his grades were still pretty low.
I finally called home and set up a meeting with his parents. His parents are very hard working individuals that really care about Cesar’s future. We came up with an incentive system for him to bring up his grades. He would get to have his phone if he got his agenda signed from every single teacher over his homework and behavior. He realized that he needed to start becoming more responsible and making an effort to bring up his grades. During ELT Cesar would do homework and make up work. He would also read with me to improve his reading and comprehension. We started to get extremely close even though most of the days I thought he hated me. I started seeing more leadership in Cesar he joined the football team and got selected for the soccer team. I would go observe him in class and he would sit away from his friends so he could get his work done. His attitude has completely changed. He is always smiling and laughing. He says “hi” to all the corps members and helps his peers with homework during ELT.
He and I started having talks about his life at home. He told me how his family has been affected by gang violence, which showed me a vulnerable side to him. We started having discussions over homophobia and how negatively it can affect an individual. I just recently went to check in with all his teachers and found out that he has brought his Fs and Ds to C pluses and B minuses. They aren’t A’s but for Cesar that is a big accomplishment. It makes me so proud to see him come prepared to class compared to when he wouldn’t even bring a pencil to class. I was surprised to hear my TL tell me that Cesar told her “I like it when Ms. Ali pushes me because it means I can’t fail.” I never expected that from him but watching his progression has been so inspiring. There are so many stories I wish I could share about Cesar’s academic and social progression throughout the year but there won’t be enough space. I am so hopeful for his future. He always tells me that because of me he does well in school. When in reality he inspires me and motivates me to be a better mentor/person. He is my little hero.
Written by Sye Ali, corps member at the Applied Materials Team at Lee Mathson Middle School