by Chelsea Valentino, AmeriCorps member serving on the Bain Capital team with Grew Elementary School
Jordan* is a fast-talking, always-standing, rhyme-making, pencil-tapping student that can get any class off track quickly with his existential questions. Or, he can be the student that knits a whole classroom of 15 students with completely different personalities into one functioning, well-oiled machine.
Many of my days in the beginning of the year consisted of these two sentences: "Jordan, sit down." And "Jordan, get back to work, bud." What I couldn't always see was that his near constant motion and talking was him working through difficult math problems or brainstorming for his poetry assignment in his own way.
I finally saw all of this come together one day in science class shortly after coming back from winter break. Jordan is in a group with two of his friends, Michael* and Adam*, which is both a blessing and a curse. They come up with truly innovative ways to answer each day's focus question, often discussing answers while standing up or tapping their pencils to beats that only they know.
The fourth graders at the Grew are currently working on an energy unit, and this day's specific energy was electricity. Both Michael and Adam were absent, so I sat down with Jordan and we answered the questions together, looking forward to getting our hardware to begin our hands-on experiment to get two lightbulbs lit with only one power source (a D-cell battery). It's been a long time since I did any sort of energy work, but Jordan had been working on this in his mind for days. He showed me a drawing that I had seen him sketching on the side of his work in math a few days prior. This drawing, Jordan said, was the key to getting both lightbulbs lit. Jordan eagerly showed me his drawing, explaining to me: "Ms. Chelsea, it can't be a parallel circuit, cause then one light will be brighter than the other. It has to be a series circuit, then all of the energy will flow in a circle, like this see?"
With that, we got to work; and by 'we', I mean Jordan. He simply talked me through his process, and was giving me an insight into how his mind worked. I suddenly understood how everything Jordan was doing in class, though it may seem like he was distracted, was helping him finish an assignment, whether or not it was for the class we were currently sitting in or not. I gained a better understanding of Jordan that day, and now my question to him every day isn't about asking him to sit down. It is asking him, "Jordan, what are we working on today? How can I help?"
* Name changed to protect student privacy.