Maria the Cat, Mohammed the Kid
Mary Cash, our Volunteer Engagement AmeriCorps member, wrote about creating animal shapes with Mohammed in the afterschool program.
New to America and his DeKalb County middle school, Mohammed didn’t speak much. In fact, he didn’t speak at all. He didn’t know any English or any of the other languages the other kids in afterschool spoke, not to mention he was by far the youngest and didn’t ride the bus to school.
Mohammed didn’t have any formal schooling before coming to America, like most refugee kids. He had never been in a classroom and, to be honest, the other afterschool instructors and I didn’t know exactly what to do with him. We all loved it when Mohammed smiled, but none of us had been able to communicate with him.
We decided to work with him on something very basic with shapes and animals. Specifically, we were going to draw geometric animals with three shapes: circle, triangle, and square. When we mapped out this lesson, we only saw one animal: a cat, with triangle ears and nose, circular face, squarish body, and without a tail – because I couldn’t fathom how to draw that only using three shapes. To me and the other instructors, this was the only way to draw a cat with our limited shapes.
Mohammed saw the lesson differently. He saw the cat from a completely different perspective with triangles where I would have thought to put squares and a squiggly line of circles for a tail. He didn’t stop there; he went on to draw a fish and a penguin using only a circle, triangle, and square.
At the end, we gave names to our new drawings. All of his were named Maria.
During this lesson, I saw Mohammed’s eyes open. We could communicate without speaking, but through drawing, smiles, and thumbs up. He learned to trust us, even though all we did up until this lesson was smile at each other. Mohammed not only connected with me, but the other tutors as well.
Maybe Mohammed just needed the added security of multiple teachers in a small setting to express himself and come out of his shell.
The next week, we saw the product of our lesson. Mohammed made his first friend in afterschool. Since then, Mohammed’s English skills have shot up several reading levels, he’s been a star player in volleyball, and he’s making new friends faster than we can add new students to the program.