| by Mirria Martin
My first vivid memory of this Starfish is the day she smiled at me with big innocent eyes and a non-threatening expression, and proceeded to swear at me in Spanish in a very calm, even manner, while her friends snickered behind their hands. Imagine her surprise when I chastised her for using such language.
She had forgotten that I lived in Texas prior to our year together, and so, while not fluent in her first language by any means, I had picked up on some choice phrases.
She and I had a rocky start, even after that time. She often didn’t want to work, and would, in fact, refuse to do so, even in a small-group setting. One-on-one pullouts during class weren’t a great option, as she was bonded very closely to her friend and classmate, and also preferred to stick with the close-knit group of Spanish speakers in the class. I recognized that the latter was a cultural comfort more than one of friendship, so I began to focus on building the relationship between my Starfish and myself.
The more we talked and worked together, the more things began to make sense. Before this year she was an ESL student, and had perhaps been integrated too early. Her family still spoke Spanish at home, and her ability to comprehend academic English was decent, but always a struggle for her. At times, the struggle seemed pointless, as she would work hard and continue to get low grades in return, since she had fallen so far behind.
I championed her with our Diplomas Now team, which started, at my request, by switching her mid-semester into the last-block intervention class so that I could work with her individually during that time.
Getting her to come to her new class was tricky at first, as the idea of extra schoolwork wasn’t something she had bought into yet. But when she finally relented, she even began to beat me through the door. We used that time to work on computational fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary using games and tricks and strategies to pull her up from where she was.
Her teachers began to take notice, telling her things like “Great job today” and noting how much better she was doing in class.
My Starfish is not done, and she still has a long road ahead of her to get caught up to grade level. But the change in her, from sitting and refusing to work to actually helping her group get started on the assignment, is phenomenal. She has made the commitment to go down the road to success, instead of just pulling over to the side and accepting that as good enough. She can and will do so much more.