By Chris Bergalk
(Teacher at Thomson Elementary School in DC)
Every time Crossroads volunteers enter my classroom, they come in excited exuding warmth, love and a palpable desire to see, spend time with and care about the students. They have no regard or knowledge of their test scores and worth or lack of worth to the school. They always fill the classroom and the school with a radiant warm sunshine that ripples through everyone. Every time Crossroads opens the doors there is spontaneous applause, smiles, and rushes to give and get hugs. Whether conscious or not, the children know Crossroads chooses to spend time with them, invest in them, and care about and love them with no regard for how well they might do on a test. That is the best gift ever for these children.
While the academic help is critical, Crossroads goes far beyond the tutoring ministry. They truly make these students feel like "REAL PEOPLE." You make them happy and excited to come to school. You give them experiences that transcend their situation, that allow them to see themselves as participants in the larger world around them....you welcome these children into our society with dignity.
Students receive breakfast each morning in my classroom, with food donated by Crossroads. Students eat breakfast like "REAL PEOPLE" from big bakery bagels loaded with cream cheese, pancakes, or a choice of a wide array of "seen on TV" cereals! They love it. Every morning I have students lined up outside more than an hour before school starts to come up and have breakfast with me and other tutors....and this is the amazing part---while they eat their "REAL breakfasts they do academic work. I can't tell you how much this breakfast time has helped to close the achievement gap for these students. It also teaches students to be proactive, come ask for help, and students learn that they can change their academic performance and that they can get better by doing extra work. They love it. They come every day voluntarily to do an additional hour of work before the school day to try to catchup to grade level.
This is another truly amazing gift that again enables students and their families to be REAL people. Every year I am overcome with how incredible your ministry is. For the vast majority of my students every year it is the first time they have seen a turkey. Your baskets let families truly experience a traditional Thanksgiving holiday.
SCHOOL BREAK BUNDLES
We always have the most behavior problems in the week or two before Christmas and Spring breaks. Those long school breaks fill many students with anxiety, and much of the anxiety is due to food insecurity. Your school break bundles filled with comfort foods, students can prepare on their own, address this very real need. Additionally, because of the tutoring relationships, it sends a clear message to children that there are real people who really care about them, know them and want to help them.
Crossroads does all these incredible events throughout the year. Many of us remember holiday parties or as parents we have helped organize them for our own children at their schools. Sadly, this is absent for many of our most disadvantaged schools. There are no room parents, little disposable income, and in many cases parties are now forbidden by school administrations as unnecessary distractions and sending the wrong messages to students. However, these parties are central parts of school. They are a part of the fabric of our education system and the fabric of growing up as real people in the US. These parties are the best parties I have ever seen! The kids have crafts, decorations, goodie bags, elaborate Martha Stewart treats. Their school holiday parties thru Crossroads rival and I think even beat the Disney Channel school universe!
WHAT CROSSROADS HAS MEANT TO ME AS A TEACHER?
I chose to be a teacher when I was 30 and switched careers, went back to school and made the change. I really wanted to be a teacher in the city working with disadvantaged youth. The work was very hard but also very meaningful and I felt like I was doing a great thing. After 8 years of teaching I thought I had most of the answers and was always doing the right thing. Then came Crossroads, and they caused me to re-evaluate everything. Today, especially in disadvantaged schools our society has decided that schools must fix and address everything. Whether you agree with that or not, that is a role schools now have in many communities. In fact, in many communities schools are the only institution left. They are the only places for children to go outside their homes. Teaching reading and math is NOT enough. I realized that can't be and shouldn't be the focus. Crossroads changed how I teach. Obviously, I still do all the academics but now I realize that there are so many other things that are just as important if not more important than academics. And, the funny thing is that my students' achievement on these high stakes test have improved.
Crossroads gave me breakfast every morning with my students. A time to break bread together with them in a small, family like setting. I also work with them without high stakes and pressure on things the students choose. Every day all year we are rushed, rushed, rushed. Always out of time, and it is always the students' voices and interests that are sacrificed. The biggest need for students is always attention. For ELL students, the most important thing they need is the chance to converse with others in an academic setting. They need the opportunity to talk. I think the perfect day for many of my students would be for them to have an adult all to themselves. Wednesday mornings ALL the students yearn to be with a Crossroads tutor - being chosen to go to a tutor is like winning the lottery!
I keep finding myself wanting to elaborate again and again and again about each of these things Crossroads does. Individually, they are so significant and meaningful in so many ways for each of the students and for me as a teacher and adult to witness. Every act Crossroads does touches the lives of these children and changes their reality for the better.