In 2005, Global Volunteers launched the popular English summer school at the invitation of the Mayor’s Office of Malevizi, Crete. Its purpose? To help improve students’ conversational English skills and build up their confidence in using English as a second language. This story about Mihali* is representative of the significant impact English language skills building can have on the lives of Greek students. Short-term volunteers are instrumental in building students’ confidence and ease with the language.
*Mihali’s name was changed to protect his anonymity.
A butterfly leaves his cocoon
When Mihali attended the Global Volunteers summer school as a first-grader for the first time, volunteers noticed his seeming over-reaction to typical classroom conflicts. His inability to properly channel is anger alienated his classmates, meaning he spent much of his time alone and withdrawn. Observing this dynamic, the concerned volunteers engaged Greece Country Manager Sam Pinokoulaki in a plan to encourage and help Mihali. Sam spoke with his grandmother, his primary caretaker, and learned that both of Mihali’s parents had been killed in a car accident several years prior. She offered that the trauma of losing his parents was at the core of his behavioral issues, and this had become a significant challenge for her as well. With this knowledge in mind, the team of volunteers discussed strategies for gently guiding Mihali and encouraging good behavior.
Meanwhile, one volunteer who noticed that Mihali was struggling with his penmanship set aside time for him each day for one-on-one tutoring. She taught him how to hold his pencil, and worked closely with him as he wrote his “ABCs.” After just a couple of days with the extra support from his new volunteer ally, Mihali had gained self-esteem, a new friend, his penmanship improved, and his behavior and ability to handle stress in class began to shift.
The summer school class with Global Volunteers was quickly proving to have a positive impact on Mihali’s behavior – so much so that a few days later, his grandmother asked the team for further intervention. She explained that her grandson had developed a habit of wearing his mother’s favorite outfit for him every day to school, and wouldn’t change to other closes. Mihali needed the daily comfort of feeling close to his mother. This practice was disturbing to his grandmother, however, and she hoped that the team could find a way to help Mihali break this habit before starting first grade in the fall.
After a couple of brainstorming sessions, volunteers came up with a plan. They would announce a new program: “color days.” Each day, the lessons would focus on a specific color: blue, red, etc. The kids would dress in the day’s color and focus on that color throughout their morning lessons while practicing their English. It was fun, contagious, and most important – for Mihali to participate, he’d need to change from his one outfit. Slowly but surely, Mihali joined in; after a few days, he started changing his clothes to match the day’s color.
Early intervention builds life-long success.
Through the years, Mihali participated in other Global Volunteers’ classes. His grandmother reports Mihali has become “a lovely confident and caring young man.” Currently attending junior high, he excels in English and dreams of attending University and traveling the world. She thanks Global Volunteers for going that “extra mile” with Mihali at such a pivotal time in his life. And she believes that the five years he spent at the summer school impacted his life to become the boy he has become today with dreams of a bright future.
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