By Serena Elizondo

“Is it time for Literacy Lions yet?” It’s 2:15 and students are enthusiastic to engage in small group instruction around every corner of Garfield Elementary. On this typical Tuesday in Southeast DC, my second graders have just completed their math exit ticket and are squinting at the clock. My students are eager to meet with their literacy group and get that extra academic help I provide every day.

I have to remind them, “We can’t line up until the big hand on the clock reaches the five!” I hear a chorus of sighs as they glance at the clock yet again as if to make the big hand move faster by their eye staring power. Right down the hallway, giggles break out. Ms. Mills and Ms. Cate are engaging their first graders in a small group literacy game of site word bingo, a fun way to get students to build their vocabulary!

Finally the big hand has reached the six. It’s 2:30! I am almost as excited for Literacy Lions as my second graders. The Lions line up and head down to our corner of the auditorium for Leveled Literacy Intervention. Daveon says, “Can I be the note taker today?” My students are thrilled to have various job responsibilities during small groups and take pride in their roles.

We start with a warm-up: charades. Students act out new vocabulary words and provide a detailed sentence. Then it’s time for reading, popcorn style! One student said, “Can I say popcorn conductor this time and I’ll promise to give everyone a chance to read”? They have to pay close attention to the reader and once the conductor says “popcorn” the reader must stop reading and the conductor will call on someone else to read. The four students in my small group work together to earn enough stickers during the week to win a prize from the City Year treasure chest (a box full of school supplies, books and small toys).

3:15 pm. It is Math Money Maker time! Students remember to grab their math workbooks and rush to sharpen their pencils. “Ms. Serena, Ms. Serena can I work out the first problem? I just know it!” said one student. Once we’re all in the library students take turns working out problems and enjoy helping each other reach the correct answer. I overhear loud excited voices coming from the City Year room where fourth and fifth grade small groups are strategically solving math equations on dry-erase boards. Meanwhile, three 3rd grade students are independently working at the ends of the hallways and cafeteria tables creatively writing a summary in their purple notebooks. Students love being challenged and showing off their newly-learned skills!

It’s 6:00. We end our day in a circle sharing joys and appreciations. I share my joy about how two of my students have both jumped up a reading level! Our students’ persistence really does pay off and we may not always see the growth right away but over time the benefits are simply outstanding.

Serena Elizondo, author, is a corps member serving at Garfield Elementary School, sponsored by Horning Family Fund.

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