A story from Southside Center teacher, Liliana de la Garza,
as featured in the St. Francis Community Services 2016 Annual Report
As the teacher of the youth program no other change has compared to that of Jorge, a student in our 3rd-5th grade program. This young man is ten years old and the oldest of four boys. His mother came in to enroll him in February of this past year because she began to see behavior issues and his grades were slipping. From the beginning he made it known he wasn’t amused with being forced in attending, stating it was his mission to be kicked out of our program. This boy voiced distrust for adults, saying that in the past he was told he could trust grownups but they let him down. “Why should I trust you? You are paid to be nice to me.” I responded, “You are right; I am an employee here. However, I love being here and my job is to help you be better students, and to be here for you.” Everyday a response similar to this would occur, and every day I felt stuck because he would express the same disdain and displeasure. Any activities he expressed as being excruciatingly boring and babyish. Often there was absolute refusal to respond or participate. Which was easy enough, but when other students started to follow him with similar responses to our activities I began to feel frustrated because I was losing control of my group, and the last thing I wanted to do was kick him out—he needed to be in the program.
One day, I decided to change my approach. I had noticed he demonstrated great care and patience when it came to smaller children. He wanted to be part of the community, but from my perspective he wanted to be more of an active participant with responsibilities. That day I had no male volunteers, so I decided to give him some responsibilities to see if that would make a difference. When he came in I told him, “Hey Jorge I need your help. I don’t have any guy grown up volunteers today. Do you think you could help me?” “Wait, Me? Why me?” Jorge asked with a perplexed look on his face. “Well, you are one of the tallest 4th graders and I trust you to help me,” I responded.
It began with small tasks. Getting snacks ready, helping with activity materials, and setting up kickball. Slowly I began to see a shift. I no longer had to ask for assistance; he would just take care of those small tasks. He began to acknowledge me first with hello and goodbye, and then with “How are you today, Miss Lily? How was class? How is your dog?”
During the spring I became ill with bronchitis, and missed a couple days of work. When I returned I was greeted with a hug and a bag of cough drops. “I was afraid you weren’t coming back!” Jorge exclaimed. “I was so worried,” he mustered. This boy worked harder than any volunteer that day. Slowly he began to share with me that he was made fun of at school, that reading was something he struggled with, and most importantly that he hated to be babied. He flourished in our program, offering to assist grownups without question and demonstrating a sense of kindness and patience far beyond his years when working with his younger peers. Most importantly, he began to make great strides in school and at home.
This summer on a field trip Jorge giggled and exclaimed “Miss Lily who is your favorite?” I laughed and said, “Oh I don’t have favorites.” Jorge’s smile grew big and mischievous. “I’m your favorite—I know it—you don’t even have to say it! Don’t worry you are my favorite teacher because you didn’t give up on me when I was being a real jerk.” For me that was a pivotal moment because he was willing to express himself on a personal level without fear. I don’t have favorite children; they have all demonstrated attributes and capabilities that amaze me. However, that moment will always be one of my favorites.