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Today I am going to introduce you to my favorite little spark of energy, Ayana (not her actual name, of course). Maybe “spark of energy” doesn’t tell the true story — she is more like an outburst of enthusiasm. Fireworks. Yes, that’s better.

Ayana doesn’t do anything in a small way, and she is rarely quiet. She is one of those children that answers every sentence I say while teaching, as if she is the only one in the room and we are having our own conversation together. Loudly. Did I also mention that she is not a quiet child?

I can truly say that Ayana is a child of joy. She is happy almost all of the time, and her eyes dance with expectation of her next interaction. The positive side of Ayana is that fun, delightful personality — but she can also go into Big Boss mode and tell everyone in sight what to do. At any rate, the air is constantly filled with Ayana’s voice, whether she is singing, laughing, bossing, tattling, or asking me if I truly do love her (repeatedly during the day).

Ayana’s family comes from Eritrea. She lives with her mom and dad in the apartment building that I used to live in when I first moved here. Her dad has recently taken a trucking job and is gone now on long trips. This is hard on Ayana, but we talk it through and she looks forward to the day he returns. Oh boy, is her volume on HIGH when he comes home!

Ayana’s mom is so dear. It is hard for her to handle communication with school because her English is limited, but she knows how much we care for her daughter. I can translate my written notes into Tigrynian for her, and that helps. We use Language Line interpreters over the phone when she comes to school, and of course Ayana can help translate once in a while.

She is well aware of her daughter’s exuberance, and is suspicious when I tell her that she is being good in class. That always makes me smile, and I reassure her. At our last conference, Ayana’s mom arrived an hour early, dressed in her best clothes from Africa (gorgeous!), all done up for the important occasion.

After the conference she spoke to the interpreter for a couple of long minutes, and I was afraid something was wrong. She seemed very emotional. Then the interpreter told me that because her mother and father could not help Ayana with her schoolwork at home, they consider me to be her mother when she is with me. She had tears in her eyes and said she knew her daughter was greatly loved at school and that she trusted me to be her mother when she could not do it herself.

I think that is one of the finest, sweetest, and most emotional compliments I’ve ever had from a parent. I was overwhelmed with the amount of trust she puts in me to take good care of Ayana. And, as I tell Ayana multiple times a day…I DO love her!

I think that Ayana is the student who has the most fun in my classroom. Her mind is so quick and she listens so intently, she responds constantly to everything I say. I am definitely trying to help her rein it in a little bit — but I love her boundless joy.

And this girl can sing! Her current favorites are “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” The kids all sing along to that when I put on Encanto music, but Ayana is the one who jumps to her feet, throws up her arms, and sings “IT WAS MY WEDDING DAY…”

She is the spice, the laughter, and the joy in our room for sure. She is an experience! But since I am her School Mom, I take very good care of her and encourage her in every way. I remind her often that she is super smart because she can think in two languages, and she knows that is true. I am amazed at how much she continuously processes all her schoolwork plus her booming social life.

We just celebrated Valentine’s Day. I purchased cards for several students so that we all were able to share in the joy of handing out cards. Ayana was fascinated by the whole idea of Valentine’s Day. She had a song in her heart the whole day.

Fireworks photo by Peter Spencer from Pexels

Kathy Schuitema

Kathy Schuitema teaches second grade in the public schools of Ottumwa, Iowa.


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