By Rebecca Pelletier, corps member serving on the Sun Life Financial team
I was standing in the hallway near the 3rd-grade classrooms, greeting students as they arrived for the day. Students smiled as I doled out high-fives and wished them a good day. Megan* came up the stairs dragging her feet, her hood pulled over her face. “Good morning, Megan!” I said with a smile. Megan grunted and continued to slouch down the hall toward class.
After weeks of watching Megan mature and develop a more positive attitude, I was surprised to see her seeming so down. That day in class, Megan kept her gaze locked on the floor, complained loudly during lessons, and ignored the work on her desk. These were behaviors that she exhibited at the beginning of the year, before we started working together. Since then, Megan’s come very far. After so much progress, why would she revert to old habits?
I made my way over to Megan’s desk, and pulled her aside. I told her that I noticed she seemed a little upset, and asked if that’s how she was really feeling. She responded with a nod. When I asked if she wanted to talk about it, she shook her head, and then paused, looked up, and asked quietly, “Could I talk about it at lunch with you?”
Megan is one of my three lunch buddies, we eat lunch together weekly and talk about ways to build her leadership skills. When she came up to our team space for lunch that day, she settled in quickly. After taking a few bites and talking about what we were doing in class, Megan said, “The reason I was sad this morning is because my Grandmother just left to go to the Dominican Republic*, and I miss her.” This was the first time she ever opened up to me without any prompting. I listened as Megan told me about her grandmother, and all the things she would miss about her in the upcoming weeks.
Together, Megan and I talked about things we can do when we miss people. I told her that when I miss people, I try to think about when they’re coming back, instead of about how they’re gone. When I said this, Megan suggested she make a welcome back card for her grandmother. We gathered supplies, and she chose a big piece of pink construction paper to make an over-sized card full of love.
As she wrote and colored, Megan also told me that she had never been to the Dominican Republic, but wanted to someday. I asked her what she would want to see if she ever traveled there. “Beaches! And I would want to eat food just like my grandmother’s,” she exclaimed.
“Why don’t we go there?” I asked Megan.
She flashed me a confused look.
I went to the cabinet where I keep my laptop, and did a quick Internet search for photos of beaches and famous places in the Dominican Republic. As we went through pictures and maps, Megan asked question after question. We researched the climate, culture, and geography of the country in the short time that remained of lunch.
When we returned to class that afternoon, it was time for quiet reading. Megan went back to her seat, took out a book, and settled in. For almost the whole afternoon, she sat quietly to do her work, participated actively in class, and was an all-around role model for her classmates. The shift from her attitude in the morning to her attitude in the afternoon was enormous. When she walked by me in the hallway the next morning, Megan looked up at me and said, “Only two more weeks until my grandma is back!”
Building positive relationships with our students is one of the most impactful things we can do as corps members. My time spent with Megan that day translated into a more personal connection between us, and together we counted down the days until her grandmother would return. And, just as I’m able to celebrate my students’ academic and personal achievements, Megan and I celebrated when her grandmother came back home.
*Name changed to protect student’s privacy
About the author:
Rebecca Pelletier is a 2013-2014 corps member serving on the Sun Life Financial team at Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan.