This one small thing

I logged off of Zoom and put my head down on the desk. 

 And cried.  Sobbed even. 

 I was so struck with the contrast of the “last day” I had last year.  In March of 2020, 2 days before the shutdown, I walked down the hallway of a Detroit elementary school with my chest bursting with pride.  I was telling my friend about the tremendous progress the two 3rd graders I worked with had made in the last few weeks.  It was incredible! She and I volunteered as reading mentors with Soar Detroit ( and we had no idea it would be the last time we would see our students. Possibly ever.  We chatted the whole way home about how amazing it was to sit elbow-to-elbow with a child and see the progress week to week from that one-on-one time with a book. 

 Over the summer and throughout this school year, I continued mentoring with Soar Detroit over Zoom.  During the summer it felt flat but we made small progress. But as the school year progressed, I lost count of how many students I cycled through.  Spotty student attendance, jumping in as a last minute sub when a student did show, helping out here and there where I could.  Trying each week to make a connection with a child over a screen that I had never met and might only see three or four times.  It was frustrating, discouraging and exhausting. The obstacles that these students and families face were only exacerbated by the shutdowns. 

 As I picked up my head from the desk with tears streaming down my cheeks, one of my children walked in.  I explained that this precious little girl who had a sweet disposition and a desire to please was heading into Third Grade at a reading level of a Kindergartener.  My heart was breaking.  How many more years (or even months) before she gives up? 

 If you are not familiar with Soar Detroit, I encourage you to check them out.  With over 85% of Detroit’s third graders reading below grade level, the need is great.  Children that are involved in Soar increase, on average, 2.3 grade levels in one year.   


 Think about that. 

 When a child enters 4th grade below reading level, they start to give up.  All of the subjects are harder.  They are 4 times less likely to graduate high school.  Two thirds of such children will end up needing government assistance.  So the effects are economically disastrous, but did you know that over 70% of inmates in America’s prisons cannot read above a 4th grade level?  If they could only have learned to read…would that have changed the trajectory of their lives?!?* 

 With all of the discussion of social justice as a hot button these days, I can’t help but wonder why these statistics aren’t discussed?  If you can’t read, you can’t get a job (or even fill out a job application).  Your options are gangs and crime.  85% of those in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.  

 I thought of these statistics all year as I looked at the various children on my screen as we read books about sharks and oceans, pets and wild animals, music and dance.   

 If I can do this one thing.   

 This one small thing. 

 Could it save this sweet face?  Give him/her chances s/he didn’t have before? 

 I am praying that this fall I can once again drive to Detroit with a friend and sit elbow-to-elbow.  No, it’s not as convenient as logging onto Zoom for an hour, but it is much more effective.  I’ve seen it firsthand.  And these babies have been hurt the most by the school shutdown.  The gap between their education and my own children’s has widened.  Tremendously. My heart breaks for them.  My chest hurts; it feels the opposite way than it felt on that day last March walking down a hallway. 

 Come with me.  You don’t have to be a teacher (God knows I’m not!).  You just have to be willing.  Check out Soar Detroit.  Do this one small thing. 

 Reading and cherishing it, 

 Heather Smith 

 *Statistics quoted from  Sources:
Donald J. Hernandez, Double Jeopardy: How Third-Grade Reading Skills and Poverty Influence High School Graduation. The Annie E. Casey Foundation; Center for Demographic Analysis, University at Albany, State of New York; Foundation for Child Development, 

 The Literacy Company “Reading, Literacy & Education Statistics”  Facts drawn from: US Department of Education, US Department of Health and Human Services, United Way, National Adult Literacy Survey NECS.  

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