By Kristin Phelan, AmeriCorps member serving on the Advent International team

He is ten.
He is ruffled brown hair and salsa steps,
he is "ah, se me olvidó" with a wave of his hand he never sweats
his missteps,
he seems to have no regrets.
Every day is an uphill challenge yet he is in the moment, his focus blurs out the past, a continuous vignette.

He is ten.
We are ten between all of us in the class, ten languages spoken ten tongues tango in tandem, pulling each other forward towards mental expansion.
They are often discounted but there are no walls too high for my students to scale,
society shrouds them under “ELL” but lift the veil
and you will find blazing souls not willing to accept the expectation that they will fail.

He is ten,
and he shakes his head with each mistake,
tripping over the English sounds his accent breaks the words and through his straining slurs he cracks a half smile, erases the air where he just spoke and requests a retake.
And sometimes he drops his head because he is tired,
he is continuously running verbal obstacle courses as training,
his persistence is diligent and without complaining,
but when I notice he starts waning we step back and regroup and work on our next plan of attack and I try not to let him have too much slack,
I tell him, “Creo en ti”
I believe in you.

He is ten,
and we are 215, we are much stronger than we seem, we are community epitomized
and though often in lockstep force progressing forward it cannot be underemphasized that we also move with vibrancy.
He is one of two who can barely communicate,
but in this room where you are from and what you speak does not dictate
your right to be and feel included because love is not something you have to translate.

He is ten.
I am twelve years his senior but in stride
I match my pace to his and we walk side by side.
I do not seek to lead, only to guide.
He keeps his head up while he fights to swim upstream
all the while mouth cocked in a confident beam,
he tornado tears across the playground screaming
“Yo soy Relampago McQueen!”

And he is.
He is lightning in a person,
and he rips his way across dark skies
and he’s one of nineteen reasons I am out of bed each day before the first sunrise.

He is ten,
Almost all of my students are ten.
But they are strong beyond their years,
their heads held high while facing jeers from English speaking peers,
they are defiance in their own respect,
their “otherness” so often labeled a defect.
But amidst my worries his smile me da esperanza, gives me hope that one day he will be a bigger version of his ten year old self
who never stopped smiling in the face of adversity.

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