I mentored a young boy who enjoyed Star Wars books. During our time together, we took turns reading pages. Several minutes into one of our sessions, I finished reading a page and waited for him to start. Instead, he pointed at my page. So I re-read it, believing he hadn’t listened well. When I came to the end of the page, he pointed again; this time at a specific word. “What word is that?” he asked.
“Stop,” I said.
“Right. But you kept saying ‘spot.’”
With enough practice, I hope to read at a third-grade level soon.
Maybe something more needs to happen, though.
Especially for a child who, for whatever reason, finds himself struggling at school. After all, studies show that a child who falls behind after the first grade has only a one in eight chance of ever catching up with classmates—unless extraordinary measures happen.
Maybe extraordinary isn’t so hard, though.
Robert’s reading skills were so far behind in third grade that his principal believed he would likely never graduate. From elementary school. His constant unruliness made her prediction easy to accept. But then a local church began a partnership with Robert’s school and launched a KIDS HOPE USA mentoring program. His teacher recommended him for the program, and soon Robert began meeting with his mentor.
Robert’s mentor possesses no skills as a tutor or in reading development. But he does possess a big smile and a stubborn belief in the little boy he meets every Wednesday afternoon. So he encourages him to try, and affirms effort big and small.
Fast forward to fifth grade, and a well-mannered boy appears. Robert’s principal now lists him as one of the school’s best readers, and believes he’ll definitely graduate. From high school. “What happened with Robert is a miracle,” she says.
“Oh, all I did was help him believe in himself,” his mentor says. “And I taught him how to shake hands and treat others.”
No matter how hard you practice, you can’t make a miracle happen for yourself. But you can put yourself in position to help a miracle happen for someone else. What children need most in this world is an adult, at least one, who deliberately and diligently builds into that child. Someone who cares enough to teach her valuable life lessons. Who cares enough to encourage and affirm. Who shows up. And stubbornly paints a hope-filled picture of that child, for that child.
Eventually, something extraordinary will happen. Actually, a miracle.
Just ask Robert.
David Staal serves as the president & CEO of Kids Hope USA, a national nonprofit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. A senior editor for Christianity Today and International and former children's ministry director, he also authored these books: