By Aaron Tu
I recently had the opportunity to volunteer as a tutor at Olimpico, a four-week STEAM summer camp focused on providing hands-on learning for underprivileged students. Our curriculum covered the scope of four subjects: health, agriculture, chefology and zoology. From my perspective, those four weeks of hectic fun and education culminated in a transformative experience for both tutors and tutees.
As a tutor, what shocked me most at camp was the concept of latent desires and untapped potential. The underlying norm was almost to assume that everyone had trouble with learning, and a lack of perception and awareness from teachers sometimes led to individual disadvantages. My very first day set this outlook in motion. Inside my assigned classroom, twenty second graders waited, their eyes sparkling with anticipation and curiosity. The teacher stood up from her chair and walked to the front, establishing ice-breakers and class norms—to rouse the kids’ excitement for a great first day of learning. A few minutes later, a shriek interrupted her. I whipped my head around and witnessed the most unexpected 10 seconds of my life. Seven years old and barely taller than my belly button, a boy—let’s call him Jacob—stood with his fist raised while he swore loudly at another student. For the next few days, Jacob’s behavior continued, escalating to the point where I had to sit beside him for the entire class period and monitor his behavior, notebook in hand.
Though initially shocked, the next three weeks that I spent with Jacob eventually opened my eyes to a huge pitfall within altruistic human behavior. Gradually, Jacob opened up to me about his urges and personal life. He is the youngest of fifteen, with thirteen older sisters and one older brother. At home, he is constantly ignored, and game consoles are his only playmates. He developed a habit of cursing after being forced to listen to explicit music with his older brother. As I had witnessed during my first few days, these external factors all transferred over to his education. During his first week at camp, he clearly struggled with the learning material and lacked both reading comprehension and arithmetic ability. However, with a new learning environment, encouraging peers, and my strong efforts to support him academically, his demeanor, morality, and academic capability completely turned around. Within four weeks of time, he nearly rose to the top of the class, scoring higher than most on the final diagnostic test. While it was fascinating to see this stunning transformation, I realized later that I had been at fault all this time. Subconsciously judging Jacob from day one, I had only understood the external factors affecting him after being stationed to overlook his learning. My past self was prone to labeling those like Jacob with negative connotations, and without this experience, I never would have come to understand the outside influences that drive their actions. I urge everyone to spend the extra time and effort to have compassion for and assist each other. If we all strive toward understanding, society may undergo a truly revolutionary change.