By Colin Binswanger, AmeriCorps member serving on the Bakersville Elementary School Team. 


Over the past two months, I have worked with my students on a variety of problems, both academic and social/emotional. My work with one particular student has led to both an improvement in his abilities as a student, as well as his own self-confidence. This student arrived in the U.S. with his family only a few years ago after fleeing from Syria, thrust into a new country and a new language. These were significant hurdles for him to overcome, but after a little over a year he was mostly fluent in speaking English. His ability to read and write in English, however, is currently far below that which is expected of his grade level.  

In my early interactions with him, it was evident that his capacity for English literacy was something of a sore subject, even an embarrassment. He would be hesitant at times to begin reading or writing, putting his face into his hands and repeatedly stating that he didn't know where to start, but he’d hop to it with a few words of encouragement from either myself or my partner teacher. I began to work with him in daily one-on-one reading sessions, going over each individual word, sounding out parts of each word, drawing from real life connections to reach the correct word, and having him read entire sentences over again to ensure grammatical retention. However, it was regular positive reinforcement that lead to the most significant improvement. When he found himself stuck, a simple reminder of "you've got this" would push him to continue. When he overcame a word or sentence that left him particularly puzzled a "great job!" followed up by a high-five would put a smile on his face and spur him on to read with greater intent and enthusiasm. This student has come so far that at the start of our one-on-one reading sessions, he already has a book in hand and is smiling with excitement to get started.  

The time that I have spent with this student has not only been a source of growth for him, but for myself as well. Watching him slowly build up his literacy skills fills me with a pride I've never known; a sense of satisfaction that he’s reached this point and that I helped him reach it. It has also served to kindle a newfound respect for literacy within myself and has made me realize just how much we take such a vital skill for granted. This past two months have taught me a great deal, and my only hope is that the rest of my time in Manchester will prove to teach me even more.


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