Mentoring Sara This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     She was sitting in the back of the room hunched over a desk observing the other third-graders. Her thick hair hung over her chubby face and dirty clothes clung to her body. There was no expression on her face. Sara was my mentee last year in the NOVA program. I spent two hours every Wednesday with her, but Sara was so withdrawn and full of secrets that it took four months to begin to understand why. It was a tremendous challenge to keep working on opening her up and hoping she would begin to trust me.

Most of the time we played games where she would make up the rules. Before we started, I would ask, "How was your day?"

"Fine," she'd reply.

"What did you do today?"

"Nothin'."

"Did you have a good time at your dad's this weekend?"

"I guess."

No matter what I tried, the answers were always short with absolutely no information. I had never met a child whom I couldn't get to open up almost immediately.

Between her teacher, her guidance counselor and visiting her home, I learned why Sara was in the program - her family didn't have time for her. Her mom ran a daycare business full-time and went to school part-time. Her step-dad ran the daycare when her mom was at school and in any extra time he worked another job. Her dad saw her on weekends and vacations but never kept his promises. If she started talking about him, she would quickly change the subject in the middle of a sentence, or say something like, "Oh, I forgot what I was going to say." And then we were on to another topic. There hadn't been anyone who really cared about her life before.

Though NOVA ended, we still spend time together. I often drive to her home in the trailer park, moving slowly past the kids playing on the dirt road, and pull into her driveway next to the beat-up red minivan. Kids from the daycare crowd my car, peering in the windows to see who's inside.

"Sara! Jen's here," her older brother announces in his squeaky voice. She runs out with a shirt that's either too big or too small and pants covered in dirt that drag on the ground. She insists we go for a walk or out for ice-cream. It never matters if it's raining, night or day, we always leave the trailer park.

Suddenly the other night when we were playing with my turtles and coloring at my house, she started talking about her brothers and her day. We talked about her mom and dad and his new house. She came alive telling me about the new dog she was going to get and her trip to the lake. We went outside to play with my dogs and she was running and laughing; it was easy to tell she wasn't thinking about the bad things at home. It was so rewarding to know I have made a small, but significant, difference for Sara.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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