SEM 300: Mentoring the heart and mind

By Jill C. Hindman
April 5, 2001

Joe Holden

by Jill C. Hindman

assistant features editor

Every Tuesday I board the Cabrini van and ride out the tree-lined entrance of our Main Line school. As the van gets closer to our destination, Central East Middle School, the opulent houses dwindle to close-knit row homes. The well-kept front lawns fade into dirt patches with some sprouting greens and I transform from a student to a mentor.

I am enrolled in the SEM 300 class, Literature and the Common Good, which is a part of Cabrini’s core curriculum. Before my class first started going to Central East I was not exactly prepared for what I was about to experience. Although I was aware that the students that I was going to be working with were in danger of failing the eighth grade, I was not prepared for the amount of help that these kids really needed. These students were in jeopardy of not making it to high school next year.

The first day my class arrived at the school, located on Wyoming Avenue in North Philadelphia, we were welcomed at the front door by the principal. We walked through halls and were led to a stairwell. It was made up of cinderblock walls and cement steps that were not very inviting.

The children ran down them and out the door to the street where they were either met by their parents, walked home or took SEPTA. As I walked up the stairwell to the third floor I kept thinking to myself that I would have been scared as a child to walk this stairwell alone, but the kids seemed not to mind. You don’t give second thought to things you are used to.

When we reached the classroom that we would be working in I was so excited to meet my student. I was finally matched up with a seventh grader named Chris. He was a little shy the first time that we met, but now he seems to be coming out of his shell a little. Each time I go he seems more relaxed than the last.

Together every week we work on his homework assignments for that day. When I first went we would work on things together until I had to leave and I just assumed that Chris would finish it when he went home. However, I quickly learned that if I did not sit there and watch over him as he did his homework, it was not going to get done. I realized that I was the only reinforcement that he has. It was up to me to see that he did his homework.

I did not realize what an important role I was going to be playing in this child’s life. I knew that we would form a friendship, but I did not realize that my influence on him had to be strong. It was up to me to make him want to succeed. It was up to me to make him believe that he could do well. At times it did get frustrating when he did not seem to care, but I reminded myself that if I let him slack off I was doing exactly what everyone had done, which was the result of his being in this tutoring program.

Every week on the ride home from Central East I think about Chris, I wonder if he really will finish the last few problems that we could not squeeze in. I wonder if he got home safely and I wonder if he realizes that there is someone who cares about how he is doing.

As I look out the window I watch the crowded city streets turn back into well-kept suburban roads. I watch the houses grow larger and farther apart the closer the van gets back to school and I, myself, transform back into a student.

I do not know how much of an impact I have had on Chris, but he has had an impact on me. I don’t know if he’ll remember the rules of algebra that we went over or any of the little rhyming sentences that I taught him to remember how to get through his work. The simple fact that he would smile when he got one problem right or giggle at some dumb joke I would tell him made my experience worthwhile.

Usually classes challenge your mind, they make you think and make you walk away learning something that you did not already know. This class made my heart smile. That is the best education of all.

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Jill C. Hindman

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