DC Reads | Jessica McHale

My name is Jessica McHale and I am a first-year student majoring in International Relations. My Community Service Learning Project connects my work in my Spanish class to my work with fourth-grade bilingual students.

I can’t exactly remember what I expected to encounter before my first arrival at Powell, a bilingual elementary school in Columbia Heights. Although I do know that I expected a chaotic environment after I was told that I would be joining an ‘unstructured’ after-school program where I would tutor children and nobody was really quite sure about the day-to-day activities I should encounter. The tutor training session I attended prepared me as best it could for what was to come. I was taught how to engage with and teach children who identify with very different backgrounds than I. I was taught how to respond to awkward situations and how to be assertive. I was taught how to be a good tutor, how to set a good example, and how to properly encourage students to realize their potential. What couldn’t be taught or explained to me, however, were the personal lessons that I was to eventually learn from my own ‘students.’

Throughout my high school experience, I endured a debilitating illness, (which I still currently deal with but at a much more manageable level) and from this experience I have developed an understanding of the significance of what it truly means by “it is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.” I have noticed a similar optimistic resilience in the students I tutor. Each week, I deal with children who come from families with very different backgrounds than me- some children do not have the option to eat dinner once they get home from school, and some children recently came to DC from a foreign country. However, despite the conditions these students encounter, they always greet ‘Ms. Jessica’ with a smile on their face and an eagerness to conquer whatever troubles their homework may bring that day. Not once from the children I tutor have I heard a complaint about becoming accustomed to a new country and new experiences, or about not having a meal prepared once they get home. (I actually learned about these circumstances from the other tutors who have been working with these children for a couple of years.) Rather, each day I find myself having to refocus their attention from singing, drawing, playing games, and telling jokes to math problems and reading logs. It is easy for us to complain about unfavorable situations and dwell in our circumstances; it is hard, however, to be optimistic and appreciative for what we have. It is in the nature of these children to play and laugh and radiate positivity despite what they overcome outside of school, why not make it our same nature as adults? Even though Thanksgiving is approaching and we often reflect at this time on what we are thankful for, perhaps we can learn a lesson from the fourth grade students at Powell and find a way to be grateful and happy each and every day.

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