Sastoque: Books and Breakfast — an initiative about confidence

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Laurisa Sastoque, Op-Ed Contributor

Every student has experienced insecurity at some point during their academic lives. Whether it is a matter of doubting their talents, comparing themselves to others, or feeling challenged by a certain topic, the fear of not being enough is always looming at the back of a student’s mind.

Insecurity is the inseparable shadow that a student’s self-consciousness casts onto their aspirations. Although the presence of this shadow is natural, an individual’s interaction with these threats of self-deprecation impacts their development in the academic world.

The approach given to feelings of insecurity could mark the difference between choosing to pursue one’s dream career or conforming with a non-fulfilling path. When it comes to acquiring the right mindset for an academic encounter, I believe that confidence encompasses the secret to success, coupled with the right resources and support.

Unfortunately, these resources are not always available to young students. The education system’s characteristic instruction of masses rather than individuals perpetuates the development of insecurity in the classroom.

Educational institutions define a student based on their performance on largely standardized curricula, completely overlooking their sense of individuality. Thus, the crucial ages in which personality emerges are bombarded with confidence breakers. Addressing this issue could be the key to transforming the narrative of education from nightmare-like to growth-oriented.

Last quarter, I found out about an educational initiative called Books & Breakfast, which operates in several elementary schools (Dewey, Kingsley, Lincoln and Lincolnwood) around the Evanston area. This before-school program offers a healthy breakfast and academic support to students who may need it based on the recommendation of their teachers.

But I have found that the purpose of the program goes beyond that. By volunteering frequently at the Dewey site over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to observe the effect that this program has over the kids who enthusiastically wait outside the Multipurpose Room and take out their math homework as if it were artwork.

In my personal experience, I feel that beyond serving as an academic tutor, I have gotten to sympathize with the students and support them in the validity of their doubts. A good example roots from the fact that the way math is taught at school nowadays differs greatly from how it was taught ten years ago.

This has caused me, and most of the other tutors I have met, to feel challenged by the problem-solving strategies that the students are familiar with. In these situations, I have found that letting a student know that you also struggle with the material can be a very powerful thing. Not only does it allow you to connect with them, but also it teaches the kid that even adults struggle with learning, and that having doubts does not make them any less competent.

Subjects like math are approached in a constructive way that focuses on developing learning techniques and preparing the students for class later in the day. However, this preparation is not only about teaching a kid multiplication hacks, but also about listening to their weekend adventures or reading them a fun book.

Activities like these have led me to regard childhood in a much more integral manner. If someone had told me six months ago that I would be dealing with six-year olds and reading them stories I would have laughed in their face, because it had always been very hard for me to connect with kids those ages. These experiences have really opened my views towards the importance of this stage of life.

Last week, Books & Breakfast had an event where all tutors from all sites got to know each other and learned new strategies for teaching the kids. I got to meet the executive director, Kim Hammock, whose words about the mission of the program really resonated with my vision:

“Our hopes for students are that they would start the school day ready for learning (physically, emotionally and academically), that they would feel more connected and included in their school community, and that ultimately they would experience greater success in the classroom.”

By building a nurturing environment where acceptance, support and resources are abundant, not only does Books & Breakfast prepare students for the rest of the day, but also for the rest of their academic journey.

Implementing resources like Books & Breakfast helps students build a better image of themselves when approaching scholarly material. The culture of self-deprecation that characterizes present-day academic environments could be allayed if confidence is instilled in students from a young age.

I equate the role of the volunteer to the roles of the different mentors who have helped me through my college experience and have helped me adapt to my new environment. In Kim Hammock’s words, “In addition to providing academic support, volunteers help to create an authentic and supportive community where every student is valued and empowered.”

Not only is it beneficial to the students, but also to those who engage in the community by devoting time to the initiative. It is in circumstances like Books & Breakfast that the cliché of teachers learning from the students makes complete sense.

Books & Breakfast is undergoing new implementations to extend this effort to stages of development beyond childhood. In February 2020, B&B will launch the program at Haven Middle School. This expansion will come with renewed challenges and operational planning, but the initiative’s genuine and caring spirit will enable it to thrive for years to come.

“The middle school model will continue our focus on daily school readiness, but will provide a greater focus on building executive function skills and mentoring opportunities. Haven B&B will meet Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 7:30-8:20 beginning on February 3, 2020,” says Kim Hammock.

Laurisa Sastoque is a Weinberg freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected] The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.