By Cat Nwachukwu, corps member serving on the CSX team

By the end of April, corps members will have been in service for over 8 months and are seeing how much progress students have made since the beginning of year, reflecting on their long-term impact.

The first time I tried to work with Mara*, she literally ran away from me, screaming, “No!”

It wasn’t exactly the warmest welcome. Alas, I laughed it off and found my way to help other students with their classwork. The next day, when Mara saw me, she said, “Oh gosh, not you again.”

I smiled and said, “Hi, Mara!” I greeted her with the same welcoming enthusiasm every day, and after weeks of receiving cold shoulder responses, Mara finally let me sit with her in class. Yet when classwork or topic discussion was upon us, she sat in silent protest, staring at assignments in front of her. Her energy level perked up when we stepped back from work and merely talked through her opinions on class topics. I realized that beneath a resistant exterior was a reserved young woman who doubted her academic ability.

So I changed tutoring tactics. I read history texts out loud to her, and we talked about her opinions of Christopher Columbus, the French and Indian War, and several other historical events. We took advantage of opinion-based assignments to build on this, jumping around class worksheets so that we could answer opinion questions first.

The key to her learning style was drawing on her emotions about issues. We put thoughts to paper; her feelings guided us through texts. I would often stop her and ask, “What in the text makes you feel that way?” Soon, she began applying this understanding to a level of empathy—she started decoding authors’ opinions and making predictions about how famous figures in the text might have felt. She was becoming a historian.

In just a few months, she went from completing one assignment per week to completing all of them. She stopped waiting for my guidance to start her assignments. Instead, she wrote down her thoughts as they came to her.

One day, I walked into class a few minutes late after meeting with a teacher. As I shut the door behind me, I was shocked to hear Mara sharing out her answer for a question. She confidently spoke, “I think that 12 Years a Slave was the most impactful thing in the slavery unit because it was crazy to actually see what slavery was like. I would not have been able to survive back then.” My heart filled with pride as I watched Mara comfortably sharing her thoughts with her teacher and classmates. Before this, she would only share her academic thoughts with me or in small-group settings. The days of pulling answers out of Mara were long gone, and we were progressing into a new phase of academic excellence.

I have seen Mara develop the courage to speak in front of her class, even at the risk of making mistakes. She knows it’s just part of the learning process. I imagine that, in her remaining years of high school, she’ll grow into a strong leader. I am so proud of everything she has accomplished this year, and I’m happy that neither of us gave up on one another.

*Name changed to protect student privacy

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