Thursday, November 1, 2012

Melanoma Goes To The Third Grade

OK. So it's not exactly Mr. Deeds hitting DC! It is what it is and to me it's pretty cool.

Before this school year started, my church decided to adopt a local elementary school...local to them, not to me, btw. This particular school is a few miles beyond church, but this is my church and we're in this together. We bought some of the children uniforms, shoes, socks, and underwear so they could start school. No uniform, no admittance. We furnished school supplies. Some of us took their volunteer training, myself included. We, as a church body, have already voted not to do poinsettias this Christmas, and instead, see what we can do for the children.

I've been going twice a week, for an hour each day, to assist a wonderful third grade teacher and her class with...drum roll, please...reading! It should come as no surprise that I've always loved reading and writing. My first morning she asked me to help a child who was having trouble reading. Before I left that day she asked if I could handle more and told me of a few others who were having trouble as well. She had been listening in to what I was saying to my new little friend, liked what she heard...which was a great deal of talk about phonics...and wanted me to help others. So, ever since then, I have my own table in the classroom, and four young minds that are entrusted to me to help them catch up with their class and increase their reading skills.

I'm finding that my journey into the world of melanoma is helping me go to school, and more specifically, sit down with four third-graders who struggle, in different ways, with reading.

They need confidence in themselves and in their abilities, especially when they are outnumbered by their peers around them who are moving ahead. The five of us kinda stand out in the room. When I walk in, they walk over to our special table. We all know why I'm there and why they are moving. And it's OK. I remember what it's like, as an adult, to dress differently from the adults around me to accommodate drainage. Today my compression sleeve and glove draw stares and comments. I'm an adult though and this has been going on for four years. These are children and they are just now starting to stand out from their peers. Up until this year they were ALL learning to read. Now that they're in third grade, they are all supposed to be reading to learn and my four aren't quite there yet.  So we aren't just working on phonics. We're learning "I can do this!"

They need to learn persistence and not to give in or give up. This is the area my four will "fall seven times" and they have got to learn "and stand eight." That's just the way it is. It's heartbreaking to think that if they truly get left behind now, they will be left behind the rest of their lives. Possibly. Probably? They have hopes and dreams for what they want to be when they grow up. One child shared today that he wants to be a policeman when he grows up. Policemen have to be able to read. We learn very quickly with melanoma that we're in it to win it. Failure is not an option. These children have to take that attitude when it comes to learning to read and read well. And comprehend. I didn't mention that. Being able to sound out a word, as we all know, isn't enough. We have to know what we're reading. So, we're working on synonyms and homonyms also. That's a lot to squeeze in into two hours a week. I'm merely a supplement to what their teacher does and to what, I hope, they are getting at home. But these children are already counting on me and this is a lesson I can teach them and if they learn it...it will stay with them throughout their lives.

They need to set goals, both short term and long term, and be willing to do what it takes to reach them.  And being flexible because sometimes goals have to change, either temporarily or permanently. I want them to have those dreams for their future and I want them to attain them. It won't be easy but nothing in life, worth doing, is easy.That doesn't mean attaining goals can't be fun and enjoyable, but attaining goals takes time, sweat, perseverance, heart, etc. I don't recall having to set such a lofty goal as learning to read when I was in the third grade. My mama's lofty goal was to make me a piano player. I laugh, she cries, life has moved on. These children have to learn early about hard work and its rewards. Their peers are moving on. We're moving too, just not quite as fast. Melanoma will teach the nice and easy does it approach to moving ahead, one step at a time, taking a deep breath, reevaluating the game plan, looking at the short term and the long term and setting appropriate goals for each term. Melanoma is a game-changer that has no rules.

The first day that I had four children I told them that they were already smart, but we're working together on their reading to make them smarter. That really resonated with one of the girls and when she grasps something new that's what she'll say, "We're getting smarter!" Not "I'm getting smarter!" She announces. "We're getting smarter!"

They need to learn to be mutually supportive, teamwork, we're in this together. And they are. That's something they're already getting in class from their teacher. This is something I get to come alongside her and echo. Actually I get to echo everything on this list as she is already doing it. Melanoma teaches us very quickly that we have to have assistance, support, help, people, each other, folks who love us, and folks who understand where we are. This journey is not about "me," it's about "we." It may take a while to get the reading skills of each of these four children up to par, but they are learning team work and to be supportive of each other early and well. That, too, is a skill that will go with them through life.

Melanoma has given me insights I need that I can apply to what I bring to our little table. Who knew?

And, yes,

I am grateful!