The Kids Club volunteers who attended Kids Club volunteer training this past Monday met Pat. Pat looks pretty plain, but he has a special power – he can transport people to a different world. After about thirty minutes of making the volunteers listen to only the sound of my voice, I introduce them to Pat.
“This is Pat,” I say. “Pat’s in fifth grade, and he can’t read.” Then I turn to face them, dry-erase marker poised in hand. “Why can’t Pat read?”
Most times when I pose the question, it’s followed by a moment of blank stares. After a moment, someone usually responds like this: “He never learned how?” “Yeah, he probably never learned how! Why didn’t Pat learn how to read?”
From there, volunteers begin to offer freely reasons why Pat may not know how to read. His parents never taught him, he doesn’t have books at home, his parents don’t know how to read, and his parents don’t speak English. He has a learning disorder; the school wasn’t able to address his learning disorder; he doesn’t like trying to read because it’s been so hard for him for so long. Reason upon reason why Pat never learned how to read pour out of volunteer mouths until the circles around his body each contains writing. Next, we draw lines connecting the bubbles to indicate how all of the reasons intersect. Pretty soon, a web of lines and bubbles ensnares Pat.
This Monday, as in most such trainings, we take a moment to admire our handiwork. “Now, how many of these factors can Pat control?” Again, this question almost always receives a pause as we examine the bubbles on the board. Then, someone chirps, “None, well, one of them maybe. Not many.”
As soon as we make this realization as a group, Pat has accomplished his magic. Suddenly, he has given us a peek into a world where learning to read not only can seem unnatural, it can seem truly daunting. Every time I introduce Pat to volunteers, he reminds me that the world he inhabits was not like my world growing up. I have always taken reading, among other things, for granted.
Pat does not invite pity, either. In fact, he inspires me to have more faith in the ability of our kids by reminding me of the obstacles they face. When students come to Kids Club in two weeks, they will not come with bubbles surrounding their heads alerting me and the volunteers to their various strengths, weaknesses, and hurdles. We need to uncover those ourselves. We must remind ourselves of the unseen barriers and communicate the truth that our students are resilient and talented enough to overcome them – albeit with some hard work.
This truth excites me; I can’t wait for Kids Club to start. I hope it excites the Kids Club volunteers, too. I hope that each of them carries a bit of Pat’s spell with them, because he can give us strength.
After a particularly frustrating reading session with one of our students, one of the summer reading intervention volunteers told me, “I felt so upset, and then I remembered Pat. It helped me be a little more patient.”