This semester, Erin will be writing on the blog about her own experiences with Homework Zone. After reading this beautiful piece, we’re really looking forward to what else she has up her sleeve!
A Semester with Homework Zone
I don’t think that I’m alone in feeling that September, as the month of “back to school,” is like a second January. For students, September can be a chance to either reawaken dormant January resolutions or set some new goals for the new semester. Or, of course, do neither, which is also completely acceptable in my books as we all have a lot on our minds. My own experience with start of semester goals is something like this, I start them, keep up with them for a few weeks, and then promptly forget about them three days before my first midterm. However, this September I am happily continuing with something I decided to start last January: volunteering with Homework Zone.
I’ll skip summarizing what Homework Zone is all about (if you are reading this then you are already on the Homework Zone website, and the About tab is a click away….so go check it out if you haven’t already!) and go straight to talking a bit about my first semester as a mentor.
Last January I signed up to go to Riverview Elementary on Tuesdays from 2-5 for ten weeks. I had a bit of trepidation about signing away three hours of my class-free time a week. After all, three hours every week is not an insignificant commitment and at Homework Zone one of the first things you learn is that you need to be at the school every week. But as soon as I got used to going to Riverview, being there each week was a great counterpoint to my classes in the sense that, unlike a lot of my classes, I actually wanted to be there (as opposed to an 8:35 am class in Leacock 132). There was something about going back to an elementary school, the very beginning of anyone’s school experience, which reminded me of how far I had come in my own education, what each stage had taught me, and how much I had to offer another student. As I got to know my mentee I looked forward to the time we shared together and did not want to miss out on any week. All the kids were an inspiration to be around. Seeing the artwork lining the halls and the pride they took in their accomplishments made me grateful to be able to share a part of their week.
Honestly? I did not sign up for Homework Zone to do the activities. I thought that I would enjoy the time one on one with my mentee when we focused on homework and reading and then I would be gritting my teeth and conjuring up as much feigned enthusiasm as possible when it came time for the workshops. So it was entirely to my surprise when I found myself really enjoying them! In fact, some weeks I may have been more excited than my mentee to find out what the activity was. Perhaps some of my enjoyment came from the fact that in most of the activities the mentors took a back seat and let the kids be the major participants. After being put on the spot a lot when I was younger in group activities, helping out and watching gave me a different appreciation for them. The kids were, for the most part, engaged and enthusiastic about what was going on and that feeling was infectious. Who couldn’t help but enjoy a mini Zumba lesson watching the girls stumble, smile, and slide their way through it? Or feel the allure of pyromania while watching the boys grow more and more captivated with a demonstration about fire? And helping all the kids make felt sticker puppets made me appreciate just how hard it is to peel the white paper off the backside of a sticker.
Being a mentor is both easier and harder than I thought it would be. I hadn’t done any formal work with younger children before doing Homework Zone, so I wasn’t too sure how mentorship was going to feel. Thankfully, with all the support the directors and other mentors of Homework Zone give, as long as you can read, be patient, have some fun, and be able to be a little bit firm becoming a mentor is a pretty effortless transition. I found that by being there, paying attention to my mentee, and listening to the other mentors I learnt the basics of how to interact with the kids. As for everything else I needed to know about being a mentor? You know, who “the Minions” from Despicable Me are, what snack bar flavour tastes the best, where everything is in the library, when activity time is, why the Guinness Book of World Records is so fun to read, and how to boost another person’s confidence… Well, my mentee taught me that.
Going back this semester is a mix of a lot of anticipation and a little bit of anxiety. I’m switching to a new school, Verdun Elementary, because of my schedule so there will be new faces and hallways to learn. I will miss my mentee from last semester, but I also know that she will continue to be her strong and willful self whether or not I’m there to tell her to practice her handwriting. For myself, I hope to continue to grow as a mentor so that I can do my part in showing these kids that by being themselves and learning how to work through the big and small struggles in their lives, they will be able to succeed in any kind of learning.
Erin Bower, U1 Science