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Every Thursday, my classmates and I mount the small yellow school bus and travel to South Orange. While some students run onto the fields, dressed in soccer gear, I sit back and anxiously wait to arrive at the foster home. While others rush home to start their homework, I teach younger children the multiplication table, or the difference between nouns and verbs. As soon as we arrive, a herd of smiling children run to the door, greeting our familiar faces. Tiny arms attack us, grabbing our waists as we step foot inside. The kids eagerly grab their backpacks and proceed to the reading room, where they argue over who they wish to work with. Finally, the young boys and girls settle down with a grin, each one paired with a dedicated student from the Montclair Kimberley Academy. Every child, surrounded by books, paper, and writing utensils, sets off to work, mentor by his or her side.
I move across the room, and barely have a chance to plop down onto the comfortable couch, when a little girl approaches me. Shyly, she holds out a worn out copy of a Dr. Seuss story, and jumps up onto the couch. Asking her if she wants to read to me, the girl shakes her head gently, as the beads on her braids make a rattling sound. The usual compromise is made. I read one page, and she reads the next. I listen patiently to the girl, who stumbles across a few unfamiliar words. When my turn comes, I read slowly, knowing that she might get discouraged by a faster reader. As she resumes reading, I take a quick glance around the room. The children focus on their homework, while my peers eagerly help. I hear one boy counting out loud: nine, eighteen, twenty-seven, thirty-six. Another girl practices cursive, and one of the older boys proudly tells his mentor about the grade he earned on an English test. Occasionally, someone will interrupt all the hard work, by darting loudly into the room. While some kids complete their homework and start reading, others work diligently, hoping to finish before we say our goodbyes.
I smile and resume reading, realizing my peers and I are turning these children into better students, and at the same time, becoming role models for the youngsters. I enjoy interacting with my classmates outside of school, and the Thursday experiences we share bring us closer. The many hours we spend at the foster home allow us to create long lasting bonds with the kids. With a sigh of satisfaction, I wait for the girl to finish reading the last page, and close the Dr. Seuss book. The hour flies by every week, and the children frown when we start to gather our belongings. They beg us to stay longer, clutching on to our legs and refusing to let go. Although the children only see us on Thursdays, they have already become attached. They slowly walk us to the door, wishing for the power to turn back time. The little boys scream at us, threatening to be mad if we do not return the next week.
The bumpy bus ride home gives me time to think. Maybe I did not score the winning goal at the soccer game, or finish my paper two weeks in advance. Instead, I taught someone how to spell chalkboard, and in return, I discovered how much I enjoy working with children, and how my experiences at the foster home turned me into a more dedicated person. Helping others could not be more gratifying, especially knowing that my time has made such a difference. My Thursday afternoons will continue to be important to me, even after I finish high school. As I go off to college, I am certain I will be respectful of individual differences, and more open to interacting with a diverse group of people. I will continue volunteering to help children, and hope to further this dedication by becoming a physician.
The wind blows through all the open windows of the school bus, sending shivers up my spine. We are almost home, but I keep thinking back to the foster home. The image of the little boys replays over and over in my head, with their disappointed faces. I can still feel the powerful grasp of the girl who read almost an entire book by herself above my knee. I feel as though the eyes of the shyest boy, who silently begged us not to leave, are still looking straight into mine, and my promise to him that we will all return next week rings in my ears. I lean back, knowing that today could not have been any better. Of course I will return next week. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
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