Rev. Meg Peery McLaughlin
A boy named Anthony started seventh grade late last month, and for the first time in four years, he won’t be meeting with Nancy Morrison on Monday afternoons.
He won’t munch on a snack of microwave popcorn before wiggling in a plastic seat in the BPC basement, sharing a few stories about the latest professional soccer game he saw on television, and then, finally, digging in to his homework folder.
He won’t chat with her, in between assignments, about the fact that his Salvadoran parents speak mostly Spanish at home. He won’t shoot hoops in the church parking lot while waiting for his caregiver to arrive to walk him home.
Last spring, Anthony graduated from BPC’s “Snacks and Backpacks” — a tutoring program for elementary-aged students that is exactly 20 years old this year.
BPC Elder Fern True started it, in classrooms at Bonnie Brae Elementary down the road. A few years later, they shifted the program here to BPC, in lower level Sunday school rooms.
It has served American-born children as well as children from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Haiti, and several South and Central American countries—roughly 150 kids in all. Multiple elementary schools are represented, including Fairview, Laurel Ridge, and Kings Park.
Finding kids isn’t the challenge; sometimes finding tutors or substitutes has been.
Nancy was a natural—she had taught school for years, and early in her career had gravitated toward, and been trained in teaching, children with special needs.
She received a letter a few years ago from someone who had struggled with severe dyslexia as a child. Nancy had taught him back then, 25 years ago. The man had attended a Catholic premarital counseling retreat, and the priest had asked that every participant write to someone who had made a difference in their lives.
For this man, that person was Nancy.
He described school as “hell on earth” in his letter to her. “And you were the only one who fought for me.”
“Can you imagine having to do something that you consider ‘hell on earth’ for seven hours a day, five days a week?” Nancy said.
Nancy had listened to the boy, and advocated for him. And today he’s a school social worker and a fine musician— a guitarist. Nancy has lunch with him on occasion.
“And I tell this story not to pat myself on the back, but to explain how difficult school can be for some people. We don’t always know what impact we will have on a student.”
Nancy kept the letter, and shares it with teachers she mentors. And it’s part of the reason she signed up to work with Anthony, after she retired. Maybe she could help another child.
Anthony was in the third grade when they started together, full of energy. The goal every Monday afternoon was to get through the kids’ homework assignments, or to read.
But in truth, sometimes they just talked. Sometimes they strolled around the church, and Anthony would ask questions: What’s that tree stump in the meditation room? What does that sign mean? And that was okay, too.
At the end of their time together last spring, Anthony gave Nancy a note: another note from another boy. She’s keeping this one, too.
“One caring adult can make all the difference to a child,” she said. “And you just never know what your impact will have been.”