Every Thursday I leave my northwest Oklahoma City home at about 8:30 in the morning. I head up the highway for about 15 minutes, take a left at the light by the stables and continue down some back roads for another 15 minutes. Eventually I see this corner lot with a white fence and beautifully manicured landscape. It’s my first school year at White Fields. I began just a week before school started at the boys’ home. I’m nervous about expectations, hopeful that the boys will like me and excited about the chance to make a positive impact on someone’s life. It’s a long school year so I take a deep gulp entering the single classroom in Piedmont, Oklahoma.
There I was with a roomful of boys: Ages unknown, school year ‘to be determined’, state of mind fragile to say the least. Mr. Andrew, the only teacher at White Fields, paired me with one of the boys. My job was to tutor this boy for the year. Little did I know this boy would become my friend, someone I look forward to seeing every week. I’m a certified English and Journalism 7-12 teacher outside of my TV Producer job, so I was so sure of my capabilities to help my friend succeed. The task proved to be much more difficult than I initially thought. My 11-year-old friend needed more attention than I could have ever expected. He was unable to read simple sentences that contained no more than five words. Math seemed nearly impossible. Even the simplest addition and subtraction that you see first graders conquer with ease required every finger, plus double checking with me before submitting his work. It was tiresome. It was emotional. It was real.
The school year progressed and it was very apparent early on to me that my friend looked forward to game time. It didn’t matter how many more questions we had to finish the lesson, as soon as game time was announced he would exit out of the lesson and go straight to the internet. As my frustration wore on I decided it was time to learn more about my newfound friend. Turns out he shares the same birthday as my mother, history is his favorite subject, he thinks most insects are gross, he’s cautious about what other people think and he wants to be a fireman. He wants to be a fireman so he can save people.
Christmas break came and went and the spring semester was flying by too fast. Game time was no longer a top priority. Now, we finished our current lesson before logging off for games. What were once every question glances my way were now only reviews at the end of lessons. I missed the attention in the chair next to his desk. I missed being needed to read every single question out loud. What I missed, I gained outside that classroom. I was now given hugs before walking out the door, fist bumps before Thunder games, and verbal ‘Thank You’ greetings at every turn. My misses quickly faded as our relationship positively progressed.
The school year came to an end. My friend gave me flowers at the end of the year as a token of appreciation. My Thursdays volunteering at White Fields are now in full summer mode. My friend and I now ride bikes, play cards, color with chalk and talk about the future. His most important goal is to be in public school for the next school year. A thought that makes me both sad, but also brings the proudest feeling I’ve ever felt.
While it may appear I’ve taught my friend the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic those are not the take away notes from my time thus far at the boys home in Piedmont. It my sound cliche, but my friend taught me more about patience, love and understanding than I’ve gathered for myself in the past. While I look forward to seeing my friend every week, my wish is for him to move on from White Fields to be with a forever family. He will make a great fireman who will save many people.
-JaNiece Cranmer, White Fields Friend and Classroom Volunteer