Climbing onto the bus he bounced with a gleam in his brown eyes. I smiled over at him and said, “Looks like you had a good day.” He looked over at me and then sat down in the seat next to mine on the Central United Methodist Church bus and said, “It’s Wise Kids day.”
Wise Kids is an afterschool tutoring program started by Nicole Guenther and Marjo Burke on our Church’s Genesis Campus. Mondays and Wednesday s children from Washington Elementary who need a little extra help are bussed to the church, given a snack, some time to play and then receive personal tutoring by phenomenal volunteers. This day I followed around my new friend from the bus and his Monday tutor Ginny Kobe for the afternoon to see what Wise Kids was like. If you ever wonder if mentoring matters to children read the conversations held between this student and his tutor.
“I’m Bruno.” he greeted me, sticking out his hand to shake mine. I introduced myself and asked what his favorite part of Wise Kids was. “Running.” He said matter-of-factly. “You do a lot of running?” I asked. “No. But we do get to go outside if the weather is pretty. And it’s pretty today,” he concluded pointing out the window to the gorgeous autumn afternoon.
Bruno continued talking sharing about his brother being in a play to take place at school; which is why his brother wasn’t on the bus. Then talked a little about his mom and her boyfriend, before heading into conversation with the girl in the bus seat in front of us.
Soon we arrived on the Genesis campus. All the kids energetically climbed down the bus stairs and headed through the glass doors to be greeted by smiling volunteers offering snacks of Jell-O Pudding and individualized packages of pretzels. Sitting at tables everyone talked about their days. The girl sitting next to Bruno crushed her pretzels into her pudding while a volunteer teased her about loving her sweet with salty. She said she liked to eat pretzels with bananas. Bruno went on to explain the best way to eat a banana was “with a stick stabbed through the bottom, chocolate smeared over it and then frozen.” I agreed. That did sound pretty tasty.
Heading outside to play, the children ran around the slides, were pushed on the swings by tutors and some joined in a game of “Find the Button” introduced by Ginny, a retired school teacher. “This is an old fashioned game,” she told them as she recited the words that went with game. As she explained the rules and motions, she shared a memory of playing the game when she was a child with them. They listened attentively. Serious looks covered their faces as they all focused on making sure they did everything correctly. Before we knew it time was up. Walking back into the building Bruno showed Ginny a snail’s shell he had found. Ginny told me how last week Bruno had found her the perfect rock. She placed it in a planter in her home. Bruno beamed.
Inside, children separated with tutors into rooms by age. Tutoring began with a devotional. Today, Bruno and Ginny talked about Adam and Eve eating from the tree in the garden when they were asked not to. Ginny also shared about the sneaky snake and the choices Adam and Eve made.
Afterwards Ginny asked Bruno about his spelling for the week. He said he didn’t have any. With her teacher’s skill she searched his backpack finding some papers being sent home to Bruno’s mom along with work from weeks past. One was a paper showing Bruno had chosen not to do his work. “What happened here, Bruno?” Ginny asked concerned. “Can we do math?” Bruno countered trying to change the subject. “Let’s look at these bridges” she replied placing the worksheet down in front of him redirecting his attention. “Where do they get their strength? How are these bridges held up?” she asked pointing to the questions on the page. “There,” Bruno said pointing to the bridges support columns. “What is that?” Ginny inquired. “The bridges support,” he answered back. After answering a few more questions, Ginny exclaimed, “Now, Bruno, you are smart boy and you would’ve had a perfect score. You knew all the answers.” Bruno answered with, “Can we work on Math now?”
Pulling out a multiplication sheet they began to work on math.
Down the hall other activities were happening with the various age groups. The first graders had just made some groovy hats out of pipe cleaners and were about to start working on their reading. In another room a second grader was working with her tutor on her take home work. Her tutor was asking her to explain the story they had just finished so she could write something down in her journal. Then further down the hall a group of kindergarteners were coloring with their tutors. Each room working at their own pace helping each student receive the individualized attention they needed to accomplish their work.
Bruno completed his multiplication page and was beginning to get restless. Ginny asked if he’d like to go play the piano for a break. Excitedly he jumped from his seat and led the way into the sanctuary sitting on the piano bench. “On some Mondays one of the church’s musicians is playing,” explained Ginny. “So we come and listen. Other times I just let Bruno play the piano. He loves music.” Bruno sat quietly picking out notes on the piano creating his own masterpiece, before heading back to finish another page of multiplication. On the walk back to the classroom Ginny continued sharing how Bruno struggled last year with some anger issues and desperately needed some personal attention and focus with his school work. She talked admirably about how far he had come through the program and how much she’s enjoyed seeing him grow. Then it was time to go.
Heading to the bus, I asked Bruno once again, “What’s your favorite part of Wise Kids now?” He said, “Math… and her,” patting Ginny on the back.
All the children loaded back onto the Central UMC bus to be delivered safely to their homes. Bruno once again sat next to me on the bus. “Ginny said you liked music. What kind of music do you like?” I quizzed. “’Up Town Funk’ and the original ‘Eye of the Tiger’ are my favorites,” he said. “Really,” I replied. “’Eye of the Tiger’ came out when I was in high school.” Bruno just looked at me before saying, “I love ‘Eye of the Tiger’ so much I want them to play it at my funeral.” I laughed and said back to him, “Well, I hope you aren’t planning on dying any time soon.” “Nope.” He said, “I eat all my veggies without ranch so I should live to be a hundred.”
As Bruno headed down the aisle to get off the bus, I thanked him for spending time with me and asked him what he was going to do when he got home. He looked back at me and smiled, “Tell my brother all that he missed at Wise Kids today.” And then down the bus stairs he went, waving goodbye as he left.
Riding back to the church to get my car, I thought about Bruno. His life wasn’t easy in some of the stories he shared, but the tutoring program was definitely making a difference and not just with school work. He knew on Mondays and Wednesday he mattered. Ginny made sure of that. Plus, he was learning he was capable of a job well done and the feeling of accomplishment it produces.
Tutoring and mentoring makes a difference to children. Plus, volunteers like Ginny walk away with bigger hearts as they pour into students who need them.