When I was little, I considered American Girl dolls one the most perfect presents a girl could receive. Each doll was inspired from a different era in American history with their own background story. I played dress-up with them, but what I loved most was reading their stories.
Kirsten, a blonde, braided pioneer girl, trekked across the country in a wagon with her family, facing extreme and foreboding conditions. Felicity was a colonial girl growing up in the midst of the American Revolution, whose father was a Patriot protecting the family against Loyalists and British soldiers.
American Girls demonstrated bravery and resiliency, qualities I’ve often needed to call upon within myself—like when I was asked by United Way to be a virtual reading tutor. I was very nervous about the fact that I wouldn’t be tutoring my student in a traditional classroom setting or with hard copy books.
Instead, United Way’s Virtual Tutoring program uses an online tool that allows volunteers to engage with students from remote locations.
I was paired with a first grader at a Glendale elementary school. She was a bit shy at first and I admired her bravery, in classic American Girl style, in reading to a stranger over the phone. And I made sure to tell her so.
When we began our bi-weekly sessions, she read one to two stories within the 30 minutes. Her favorite story was “The Perfect Present,” about a little girl who decides to make her teacher a handmade bracelet as a going away gift. The bracelet had beads that “shimmered”, “shone” and “sparkled.” My student picked this story first every session, and often read it twice.
At first, she struggled to read those adjectives, but as the weeks passed, my student began to read three to four stories within our half hour together. By our last session, she read “The Perfect Present” perfectly.
It was so humbling to witness her progress without ever meeting or seeing her, I could hear her confidence growing. One day, her teacher informed me that my student told the principal she read more at home now because she wanted to make me proud. She did. I couldn’t be more proud.
Recently, all the volunteer tutors and I got the chance to meet our students in person for a year-end celebration. My student and I shared a big hug. Over the course of the semester, we had already exchanged our own “perfect presents:” she gained more confidence to read and I experienced the joy that comes with hearing a child read well.