Wednesday, November 11, 2009

CEO, Richard Tagle Reflects on His First Day of Mentoring

Last month, I started mentoring two 5th grade scholars at our Ward 1 Achievement (Adams Morgan section of Washington, DC). Jessinia just turned eleven and Jonathan is ten. To get to know each other better, I asked each of them to make a list about their likes, dislikes etc, that would help me get to know them better. I asked for their favorite subjects in school. Jessinia likes science and social studies because she likes learning new things, while Jonathan likes reading because he likes to write stories. Both think Math is hard and takes a lot of hard work.

I asked them about favorite food. Jessinia likes pizza…with pepperoni…from Dominos. Jonathan likes chicken parmesan. His choice came as a no brainer when he explained he wanted to be a chef when he grows up. We talked about food that he already knows how to cook.”Eggs,” he said, “I scramble it with salt, pepper.” Jessinia, not to be outdone, said she knows how to make tortillas. And Jonathan, in a show of one upmanship raised the bar: he knows how to make pupusas.

“You take the dough like this, and roll it like this with your hands."
"Okay," I imitated with my own hands.
"Then you take the chicken or the carnitas and put in the middle like this."
"Umm," I wondered, "how do I cook the chicken or carnitas?"
"Umm…. I don't know, It just comes that way. I will ask my dad, but usually when I get to the kitchen to help, its ready."

Both spoke about their fathers in high regard. Their fathers are the best – one put his son in the soccer team, while the other takes his daughter shopping for things she needs in school. The high level of pride and beam in their eyes when they talk about the work their fathers do were feelings I can relate to. Both of their dads are great cooks – in fact one is a chef at a big hotel in downtown.

We then moved on to the lesson at hand: understanding standard English and vernacular (they learned the definitions of the word vernacular, which according to American Dictionary are 1) the language of state or nation of origin; 2) slang; or 3) everyday language. It was differentiated from standard English.

Why do you need to be good at both vernacular and standard English?
Both gave good answers:
1) Because in school they are strict about standard English;
2) Because other members of your family can only speak Spanish so you need to be able to talk to them and there are other people who only speak English.
3) Because if you are applying for a job, and you know two languages, you will get hired.

Its amazing how our scholars can grasp the real world issues of culture, economy, and of course street survival.
The focus eventually turned toward me when they started asking me about my language -- which led to my travels, which led to China. They asked me 3 times throughout the evening if I were Chinese. Three times I reminded them I'm Filipino. And three times they asked me why I looked Chinese.

Anyway, we had some geography lessons as well, because they asked about China a lot:
1) Is the Great Wall really great? I said yes, its about a thousand miles long. And from outer space, you can actually see its outline.
2) Is Tokyo the largest city in China? Umm….. no because Tokyo is in Japan. The largest city in China is Beijing, but only based on how you define a city. There are places in China that are larger than Texas which is considered a province, and they have big cities, too.
3) We love Chinese food. What's the best Chinese restaurant in DC? I said, probably Mei Wah on M Street, but I haven’t been to all. Jonathan said the best is the one beside 7-11. He likes the fried rice there.

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