I’ve been using a lot of #2 pencils recently—the kind you have to sharpen. The Center has one of those mounted pencil sharpeners that takes me back to my elementary school days of using all my little-kid strength to crank the handle. And those pink eraser shavings from my inevitable mistakes have made me realize just how gross school carpet has to be by the end of the day.
So many eraser shavings.
These pencils and sharpeners and erasers have called me back to another lifetime—one where I did long division and found common denominators before adding or subtracting fractions. I’ve written more math equations on looseleaf paper in the last two months than I have since I was in middle school. And I’m remembering why I stopped enjoying math after fifth grade.
A Place of Resiliency
All of this happens at Homework Center four days a week. As many kids as we can fit in the Center crowd around tables with their Chromebooks and notebooks, scribbling math problems, painstakingly writing the letters of the alphabet, asking how to spell word after word. This is my world for about two hours nearly every day of the week.
Kids come into the center with their backpacks and brothers in tow. “I have three homeworks,” they tell us.
Three homeworks. It’s become my new favorite way to talk about assignments. None of us bother to correct the kids. They have three homeworks, so we will help them with all three homeworks.
After six hours of online school, kids login to their computers again for their homeworks. If you want a case study in resiliency, study the kids and teachers and school administration who are doing online classes day after day after day. You’ll see creativity and problem solving and tired eyes. But you’ll also see kids who are trying to understand. You’ll see the ones who come to homework center as many days as they can because they want to do well. You’ll see the ones with their tongues out, concentrating on writing their ABCs because no kindergartner asked to do school like this.
People of Resiliency
A few weeks ago, I sat with a group of girls, each doing different assignments. Some of the assignments went quickly. Others took awhile. And as I sat with one girl in particular, I was blown away by her determination. After being in America for about six months, she and her siblings started school in Chicago—online. Now she is working incredibly hard in fifth grade—working to improve her English comprehension while her teachers talk about more complicated subjects like fractions and the solar system.
In an hour and half, she and I had filled up page after page of fraction problems. Adding, subtracting, finding the common denominator.
“What’s 7 times 1?” I asked.
I watched her squint at the ceiling, her brain forming words she could wrap her mind around. “7 times 1,” she repeated.
“7!” She said, hitting her forehead.
For an hour and half this fifth grader worked on problem after problem. We both let out a sigh of relief when the fractions already had a common denominator, and we high-fived when she completely crushed particularly challenging problems. With every push of the “return” key, a new problem appeared, and she blinked a little longer. She counted on her fingers and on the imaginary board she must have seen in her mind.
And after an hour and a half, she finished one homeworks. That is resiliency. That is grit. That’s who I want to be when I grow up.
I want to choose to rise to the occasion with every new problem.
Persist without exception.
Stay in the struggle until it’s over.
Live like giving up isn’t an option.
I want to sharpen my #2 pencil one more time and fill up one more piece of paper, because that’s what resilient people do.
Of course, not every day is like this. Some days kids just want the answers, because these kids are human. And some days they have five million homeworks. And some days, I pull out my calculator because long division is hard.
But more times than not, these kids teach me more about beautiful resiliency. Their resiliency might even be more beautiful than the grade on their report card, because at the end of homework center that day, this girl hadn’t just finished a homeworks.
She developed a little more endurance and grit.
And I like to think she learned how to add and subtract fractions a little better.
Friend, may we be people who persist. Tongues poking out slightly, may we engage in the struggle a little more until the very end.