Thursday January 5, 2023

Connecting With Kids

Most of us know the Starfish Story. For those who need a reminder, it’s the story of a child walking along a beach after a storm that washed ashore thousands of starfish. The child was throwing starfish back into the water as quickly as he could. An adult walking by told him he couldn’t possibly save them all, or even make a difference. The child kept working, threw another and said, “I made a difference to that one.”

We can learn a lot from that story and we can learn a lot from our children. Our educators and support staffs do so much for our kids, but they cannot do it alone. Our community can and must play a role in making a difference in the lives of our kids. Making real and meaningful connections with kids is a significant way to create change. For far too many, school is the safest place in their lives and the caring adults who show up to build additional relationships through mentoring is a way to make a huge difference.

In Oklahoma City Public Schools, there are numerous programs focused on providing mentoring along with academic support. Whiz Kids, Freedom City and many other organizations spend time with OKCPS students after school. A program I’m most familiar with is the ReadOKC Reading Buddies program, administered by the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation. This program puts volunteers with small groups of students that meet weekly during school hours.

I’m a Reading Buddy at an OKCPS middle school with a group of four sixth grade girls. We call our sessions Book Club, reading books mostly independently, then talking about them during our time together. This gives us plenty of space for other conversations, allowing us to learn and share. As the girls in my group have come to trust me and each other, they’ve shared quite a bit about themselves, their families and home lives. One always plays with her young cousins, because she didn’t have anyone play with her when she was younger. She is so responsible – an old soul in a twelve- year old body. One has shared how excited she is that her mom and dad are planning on getting married. Another shared about how her uncle once shot her family’s dog, but her dad didn’t call the police to report him out of fear he would be deported. And one shares stories about life with her dad in prison, matching the statistic that one in four OKCPS students has a parent or guardian who is incarcerated. She also shared that she doesn’t want anything for Christmas; that her mom doesn’t have much money.  This is a girl who is in the same clothes every week, with shoes coming apart at the soles. All of the girls love to read and talk about their dreams for the future. They all talk about wanting a job that helps kids. We are a team. We started together last year and have plans to continue next year as well.

Being a mentor starts with a connection. It is about building relationships and trust. It is about showing up. It is about giving, but what I learn from these amazing, resilient girls makes a difference in my life. I’m not quite sure if they are the starfish or if it’s really me.

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