Monday, February 20, 2006

The power of literacy

I found this hunting through some old papers. I wrote it in 1994, but my interest and concern for teaching English and literacy had begun to show signs, even then. It's about the library at my high school, and a memorable student.

Erika took me to the library again yesterday. Although I needed to leave, I went with her because she seemed so eager. I think the stuffy building with its burnt orange carpet holds a kind of magic for her. I showed her the books in Spanish, then stood back as she pounced. After she selected one, I showed her the Spanish dictionaries.

I suggested books with pictures, but warned her that she wouldn't be able to read the English they contained. She lit up at possibly reading in English. I helped her check out a book of short stories in English and Spanish.

Erika arrived from Mexico about two weeks ago, knowing only "thank you" in English. Since the rest of the beginning ESL class is a semester ahead of her, I was asked to teach her the alphabet and begin saying and writing words. Using a mixture of Spanish and English, I learned that she has owned a turkey and that she has six brothers and sisters. She likes everything, it seems. Even after asking if she likes washing dishes or eating spinach, I had to ask if she liked eating soap to find an example to practice answering no.


I don't know what happened to Erika. The school year ended and we both moved on. I think Erika barely knew how to read in Spanish, but I watched and tried to guide as she picked her way a letter and a word at a time through books in English. I hope that her circumstances afforded her the opportunity to succeed. If she did not succeed fully, it was because she had too little food or needed to take care of her younger siblings while her parents worked. Her attitude and persistence were nothing short of inspiring.


Blogger Beryl said...

That's an inspiring story. I hope that Erika was able to continue nurturing her passion for knowledge.

20 February, 2006 21:10  

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