It’s 5:45 a.m. Monday. The fifth time my alarm has gone off this morning. I always wake up on the fifth alarm. I’m a creature of habit. I open my eyes groggily, stretch and then I tiptoe towards the bathroom; sure to not wake up my roommate Alyssa who wakes up 30 minutes after. The bathroom is well lit surrounded by pure white walls, a white countertop, toilet and stainless steel shower head. The buzz of cars and screech of tires as cars hurriedly move along Market Street in downtown Wilmington ring in my ears: a constant reminder that AmeriCorps housing is exceptional. “Alexa play country,” I say to the small circular white box that is plugged into the wall. “Playing top country hits” an automatic Alexa voice says in response. I wet my toothbrush and I apply Crest 3D white toothpaste to its bristles. The music fills my body, preparing me for another Great Oaks day. I mentally apply a “check” next to all the tasks I must complete when entering the school this Monday morning. Mondays are the most important day of the week for a tutor at Great Oaks Charter School. I briefly flash back to the day I accepted the position, where I was made aware through the interview process that our children need more love. Love that I assumed every child was fortunate to acquire from the outside world. However, this happens to not be true. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that in Wilmington’s toughest neighborhoods, 60 percent of children have experienced trauma- a rate nearly three times that of children living in the rest of Delaware,” quoted our TutorCorps Director, Kendra Giardiniere from the news journal outlet The Delaware Outline. This has stuck with me and I think it will for a lifetime.
I quickly shower, dress and walk out of the double doors leading towards the street. Time is the one thing you can never get back and I hate being late. It’s 7:00 a.m and the sun is creeping up from the horizon and there’s a slight breeze on this November day. I’m making great timing, I think to myself. From 8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. tutors are scheduled. The school is no more than a twelve-minute walk. I am grateful.
Great Oaks is on the 8th and 9th floors of the Community Education Building in downtown Wilmington, Delaware. A building that consists of another school on other floors, a cafeteria, an atrium, a dance room, “Champion”: the school’s on duty officer, security monitors on the first floor before reaching the elevators and a number of staff whose responsibilities are to successfully create and offer a world-class educational experience. There are 60 Tutors whose job is dedicated to assist in the flourishing of student success in Great Oaks Charter School in order to close the achievement gap in ELA literacy and Math.
I’ve been a part of the Great Oaks community going on four months strong and I look forward to clocking in daily. I clock in at 7:20 a.m. and greet whomever in the front office with a “Happy Monday!” Mondays are rough for most, but for me they’re everything. I’m thankful that the weekend is over and I look forward to the week that has yet to come. Every morning I make rounds. A round is where I poke my head into every classroom and wish them a “happy day.” I make my way to room 816 which is the ELA 7th Grade Tutorial room. It is decorated with words of encouragement like “inspire, achievement, dream, and succeed” along the windows. Name tags hang from the ceiling revealing the name of each tutor and their tutorial group. There are 120 7th grader students, divided into four cohorts. I tutor 16 students in total, four from each class. Each cohort is classified by a university name which is the theme for this fiscal year. There is Penn State (PSU), Duke, Hampton, and Fisk. Each class consists of students with different stories, personalities and perspectives of school. For some scholars school is their safe haven, for others it’s a headache that they’d rather live without. I enjoy the different dynamics because as an educator it challenges me to meet each child where they are and guide them up the ladder of success.
It’s Monday though, so I’m prepared for whatever may come my way. Mondays are difficult because the children have had a good night’s rest, didn’t receive any sleep at all or were bounced from home to home; couch to couch. I print out weekly Task Cards which are the assignments for tutorial. A task card consists of different levels to allow students to work towards a goal which is set at the beginning of the week and is then submitted at the end of the week as well as mandatory classroom material like an annotation guide. It’s 8:00 a.m and the children will begin arriving in 15 minutes. I walk to my “morning duty post” where I assist with guiding students to their homeroom. Before I know it, the 8th floor of the Community Education Building is buzzing with murmuring voices, laughs, sneakers tapping the floor and baby blue uniform collared shirts with “Great Oaks Charter School” embroidered on the front. “Ms.Brown!” I hear from a kool-aid smiled tutee. “Good morning, Happy Monday! “ I respond with the same enthusiasm. “I’m happy to see you but go to your locker and then to your homeroom,” I continue. With a heavy sigh, the student obliges. It’s 8:30 a.m. and all students must be in their homeroom no later than 8:45 a.m. Homeroom begins at 9:00 a.m. on the nose. I circulate in the hall, physically walking some students to their homerooms, while also giving friendly reminders that no one should be in the halls at that time to other wandering scholars.
Each period is 50 minutes long. By 9:00 a.m. more than 85% of the student body are in their homerooms ready to learn. It’s time for me to prep. During this time, I make sure that I have at minimum 5 “checking for understanding” questions, each student task card has their name written on the top along with their cohort and their individual goal sheets printed out. I move the desk according to cohort. Some of the students can work well in a group, others find it difficult to focus. 9:53 a.m. came quickly and in welcomed PSU. Each class is aware of the tutorial rules but before each tutorial begins, Ms.Thomas, the Corps Leader in the room provides a verbal reminder. The children look over the packet and decide their goals and then immediately get to work. “Mann… I don’t feel like doing this,” one of my tutees exclaims making the others in the group lose focus. “Maybe you don’t but you need to. I can give you a three-minute brain break but that’s it. Then you’ll have to get right back to work,” I say in a Level 1 voice which is no louder than a whisper. After Period 2, I have two tutorials back to back. Within the three minute passing time that is given to the scholars, I go into the hallway and urge students to quickly transition before the hall sweep is announced through the intercom system. If caught, an L2 would have to be issued; a “Lunch Detention” for the day. At 12: 30 p.m. after successfully implementing positive incentives, redirections and a warm/strict manner I make my way to Ms.Flint’s 7th Grade ELA Class.
I am Teacher Assistant for the Fisk cohort which can be a bit of a handful because lunch is right after. I circulate, making sure the scholars are attentive and paying attention, on occasion helping Ms.Flint cold-call. It’s 1:25 p.m. and the children are transitioning from the 8th floor to the 2nd floor for lunch in the cafeteria. The cafeteria is loud. Children go to and fro from the severy to the dining area and eat. I circulate quieting down excessive talking and sit with the students asking them how their day is going. At 2:10 p.m. I escort my last cohort up to tutorial. I give the students three minutes to talk and then get immediately to work. Tutorial goes smoothly and each student earns $5 GoCo dollars which are the positive incentive throughout the school given to students that make good choices.
3:16 p.m. is our mentor meeting. A meeting where the Tutor Corps Leader meets with all of their mentees who are under their supervision regarding proactive strategies to become the best version of a tutor. We begin the meeting mentioning “glows” of our peers and then “grows.” At 4:00 p.m. I gather all of the Performing Arts children to transition them from the 8th floor to room 917 for rehearsal. This year we are showcasing “The Wiz.” Rehearsal lasts from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. and then the children hurriedly leave to go home. 6:05pm I log into my “Great Oaks” email account and submit my tutees’ weekly goals into the 7th grade ELA tracker. The tracker date stamps and records the goals of each child along with their goal accomplishments at the end of the week on Thursday. 6:30 p.m. I begin to write the ELA assessment for the week. The ELA assessment consists of 20 short answer and multiple choice questions which review the material covered during the week. 7:30 p.m. I call a few parents regarding students of concern and task cards to inform them of the goal their child had chosen. Life revolves around options. Every day I have the option to get up, go to work and strive for greatness by changing the lives in the palm of my hand. 7:45 p.m. I clock out and proceed home looking forward to the events of tomorrow.