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Citizen Schools

Citizen Schools North Carolina

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Abby Whisenant's Page

Three years ago I made a leap from teaching artist to Teching Fellow, and I was eager to make a difference and learn something new. I didn't realize at that time, though, just how much I would learn from my own students.

During my second year as a Teaching Fellow, I led a team of 7th-grade students - the "middle child" group of middle school. Some of my students were natural leaders, some were incredibly challenging - and then there was Ricardo.

Ricardo was unsuspecting - very quiet at first. He was an English as Second Language (ESL) student. Though he spoke English fluently, he did struggle with writing and reading in English. However, that year our program was focusing on English Language Arts, so I worked extensively with Ricardo to improve those skills. He was a motivated student, too, and would often ask me if he could bring his study book from English class to our classroom during after school. Of course, I always said yes!

One day we had a persuasive writing activity during program, and I asked my students to write a letter to their parents, a teacher, the principal or even the President. In this letter the students were to propose an idea or request and provide an argument for the idea or request. I moved around the room throughout the lesson reading their letters and suggesting changes or making edits with them. When I reached Ricardo's desk, he excitedly passed his paper up to me. As I read what he had written, I realized just how much I had underestimated him.

Ricardo's letter was addressed to the President. In this letter he repeatedly asked Obama to "stick to his speeches" in a way that sounded like poetry or one of Obama's own eloquent speeches. He went on to explain that many Hispanic people were being sent away even though they were good people. Ricardo argued that many Hispanics help build the churches and the schools, and he asked Obama to "stick to his speeches" and keep the Hispanic people here. 

Even through the grammatical errors, Ricardo's brilliance and passion radiated through his writing. I was moved by his letter - truly moved. Regardless of any language barrier, Ricardo still had a voice, and he had something powerful and meaningful to say.

After that lesson I started calling him "El Presidente." I did so in a light-hearted way at first, but I told Ricardo that I really believed he would be the first Hispanic president. I added that he already had my vote. He would just smile.

For students like Ricardo more time for learning and more caring adults make such an impact on their trajectory. Though Ricardo was hard-working and very bright, he still needed more time to catch up to others. There are so many other students who are also entering middle school behind the curve for whatever reason, and since those middle grade years are already full of developmental changes and other challenges, it is critical for us to ensure they leave 8th grade prepared for success in high school and beyond.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story. If you are moved to do so, please show your support for our program by making a financial contribution today or by forwarding this story to your friends and families.

Yours In Service,

Abby Whisenant

 

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