Alta Vista Elementary School is a wonderful elementary school in Sarasota doing some exciting things to challenge and encourage its students even at their very young age. It is a Title One school with most of the children facing huge challenges at home. Its principal, Dr. Barbara Shirley, started a pilot mentoring program for her students. Yes, even at that young age, mentors are so very important – someone who focuses just on them as individuals, helps guide them and encourages their dreams.
I was invited to be part of this program and assigned three third-grade girls who were selected by the school based on their needs and receptiveness to the idea. It’s been several weeks now and we are working on trusting each other and finding ways to communicate so that we are both comfortable.
One young lady, whom I will call Ni’yah, was indeed having trust issues from the beginning. She did not like being asked “so many questions” so I had to find a different approach. She was always punctual and ready for our meetings but reluctant to share much information about herself. Her way of communicating was to ask me questions which I welcomed because it soon became clear that she felt that she needed to be in control of how information was divvied out during our meetings. Somewhere along the way in her short life she had learned that it was not safe to answer questions from strangers. But I did notice that she was eager to meet me and through the use of her questions to me, my answers to her, and her comments to my responses, I began to get to know her.
This particular week, she came through the courtyard with her class and I could see her smiling and waving at me. I noted that her teacher was carrying pizza boxes. The mother of one of her classmates was hosting a lunchtime birthday celebration for her class. Ni’yah asked if she could stay with them for lunch. My heart dropped a little thinking that she was happy to not be seeing me this day. But imagine my surprise when she asked “Would you like to come with us?” I was further surprised when she did not ignore me to focus on her friends but had me sit next to her and actively spoke to me as well as to her classmates. It was a good opportunity for me to see her interacting with her teacher and classmates. I felt that, in her own way, she was accepting me into her world. It was also fun to engage with the other members of her class as well who were curious about our relationship.
You never know the impact you have on a child by just being there – being consistent in their lives and listening. We move ahead at her speed and that is just fine with me. I am just honored and happy that she seems to be happy that I am there and that I can make a difference in her life. We all can make a difference in the lives of our children, our friends and our families. It just takes a little time, a listening ear and being present.