WRITTEN BY: CARL COOK
When I think back on school (not very long ago), what stands out to me isn’t how long I spent learning Algebra, World History or Shakespeare. While they’re all important in their own right, what stands out most in my memory are specific moments with people that left a lasting impact on me. Since beginning to volunteer with CASE, our after school program for middle schoolers, I’ve kept this in mind. Students are more than the grades they receive. They have needs that extend far beyond whether or not they meet educational standards.
I’ll never forget a science teacher that I had in middle school. At the time, I was terrified of speaking in class. I had moved schools and was adjusting to new friends. Everything felt foreign and it was just a difficult time for me. I often held back questions when I was confused because I was too shy to speak up. I remember during one class my teacher was going through a presentation, my class was taking notes, and I was confused. I gathered together some courage and raised my hand to ask a question. She called on me, answered my question, and moved on, but then she went a step further.
After class she stopped me, thanking me for asking the question, and encouraged me. She told me she thought I was a good student, that she was happy to have me in her class, and that if I kept asking questions and trying to understand that I would do well. She told me that I could be an example for other students to ask questions also, and we made a pact that I would raise my hand anytime I was confused. She also told me that she believed all of us students had so much potential. It was like there was light in her eyes, she really cared for all of us. I’ve carried that moment with me even to this day and so many others like it.
When I think back, whether I was learning a hard lesson and someone came alongside me in it, a teacher took the time to speak very intentional words of encouragement to me, an adult helped me work through conflict with a friend, or a coach spent extra time with me to help develop my skills, I learned more than just lesson material, but also life lessons and about having character. I learned the importance of being diligent, how to be a good friend, handle stress, overcome a fear, or how to manage my time. I have those words, memories, lessons, and moments still on my heart. Many of those moments people might not have planned or even remember happening. But I remember them.
Those memorable experiences happened because of people who cared for me. They wanted me to succeed, to keep me safe, to be healthy, to understand a concept, to feel included, or valuable. Those kinds of moments are challenging to include into every lecture or math test during regular school hours. CASE offers time for students to be invested into in a positive way academically, but also practically. Inherent to our name (Character And Skills Education) is our emphasis on the development of character in kids.
What makes CASE special is not only the tutoring or activities (though important), but also the mentor relationships developed between staff and students. There are so many moments where these relationships are developed: from laughing and playing games, learning about friendship, cooking, woodworking, nutrition, or some serious math tutoring. In light of my own experiences as a student and now as a tutor with the CASE program, I’m not asking, “Could this moment make a difference for them?” but rather, “Which moment will it be?”