By Surumya Bhargava
Imagine you’re in a world with no help to find. Everything you do is confusing and there’s no sign to point you in the right direction. Nothing seems relevant and you make it through everyday just at the minimum to go on to the next task. Everything you do feels like the end of the world. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
According to recent studies, about 1 in 3 of all kids will grow up without a mentor. That means these kids will grow up with no particular direction and just do what they’re told for the simple idea to survive.
I’ve been lucky: after being given the gift and struggle of being diagnosed with Epilepsy, I’ve been fortunate to have wealthy, educated parents, go to every possible therapy I would possibly need, attend a great school, have every accommodation I need to succeed, and find helpful mentors to get me through every bump in the road.
After surpassing (most of) my own challenges, I decided to take my experience with special needs to a different level aside from the typical volunteering I was already involved with. Through a club I created at school, Awareness Club, I and many other classmates began volunteering at Boys and Girls Club of Central Florida.
The Boys and Girls Club Mission
“To inspire and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.”
The Proof is in the Story
When we first walked into Boys and Girls club, those 3rd graders didn’t want anything to do with me. They were so relieved when we’d say we’re leaving and heard “thank god we’re done with tutoring.” Every time we went, we didn’t exactly get the same group of kids. It took about a month that these kids are barely making it in school, but they also don’t care. They weren’t intrinsically motivated to do their best or realize that their knowledge has some gaps.
The first step was to make them excited about learning-not just in school, but first with me. I had a chat with these 3rd graders and I simply asked them “what do you like?” I developed a massive list of toys and candies that would excite them so much they’d do anything for. After a few bake sales at school, we put $200+ towards supplies to donate to the club including items to make a treasure box with.
Once the treasure box was made, it was like we flipped a switch. We’d walk in and all the kids were like “Ooh, what’s that? Can I have some? Can I come with you?”
Since math was the most structured subject I knew how to teach, I thought that would be a good place to start. But testing there multiplication skills wasn’t doing any good- it was time to start at the very beginning and take them all the way back to basics of 1st grade math.
I created a “curriculum,” for these kids- a designated set of worksheets in a specific order designed to teach them how to count and build up on their math skills.
At first we had to tell them if they did the work we gave them, they’d get a prize out of the treasure box. Once they learned how “EASY” the work was, they just started flying through. They wanted to get one prize for each page they did even though they were cheating with each other half the time.
After the kids were very comfortable around us, we explained to them their prize would become dependent on their behavior. This worked pretty well, but not well enough. It was time to “get real” with them. I decided to go one day and simply chat with some of the kids. I talked to them about how education is a right-everyone has the right to be educated and should be educated so we can reach our full potential in life. But if they continue to misbehave or choose to cheat off each other, they are not going to learn, and at that point learning becomes a privilege and they don’t have to if they don’t want to. It was there choice what they were going to do with their opportunity to learn with us. Everything got more serious, but some of them would still ask, “how much do we get for each page we do?”
I decided it was time to create a token economy- a reward system where they’d be given something for doing good and get taken away for being bad.
I got eight different colored raffle tickets- each was going to be worth a different amount and represent either a coin or a bill. This time, they’d get paid each time they complete a worksheet, rewarded for participating in non-math activities, rewarded when they were behaving, and charged when they were misbehaving. It would be up to them to figure out what the right thing to do is in order to earn enough and buy what they want from the treasure box- each toy or candy having a different price.
The kids LOVED the idea of having their own wallet, collecting money, and being in control.
Six months later, the same crowd of kids that once said “thank god were finished” are now sad they have to leave before us. The kids that were struggling to do 2+5 without their fingers are learning what multiplication is and how to do it happily. The same kids we would be giving a pep talk everyday about good behavior, yelling at their classmates, and bullying each other, now know what their expectations are.
When I walk in the door of Boys and Girls club I am pleasantly happy to have them run up to us and ask “CAN I COME WITH YOU?!”
It doesn’t matter what we may or may not have in common with somebody. We should all watch out for each other and create as many relationships we can- you never know, you might be able to change someone’s life.
“Mentoring Impact.” Go to MENTOR., www.mentoring.org/why-mentoring/mentoring-impact/.
“Who We Are.” Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, www.bgccf.org/about-us/who-we-are/.