This is a guest post from Franziska Lee, one of our volunteer tutors. Franziska is a student at Hamden High / ECA Creative Writing.
“Hey,” Sukeyna says, sliding into the seat next to me. I just barely see her before I hear her, a blur of bright pink puffy jacket in my peripheral vision. I started tutoring Sukeyna in September 2018, and she never fails to remind me of a sandpiper—tiny and bright-eyed, a perpetual whirlwind of energy, giggles, sharp elbows, and occasional obstinacy.
Usually we start our sessions with Sukeyna’s vocabulary book. Back in autumn we noticed that, more than anything else, she had trouble understanding the English meaning of words. Sukeyna speaks Turkish at home, and she has to constantly translate between the two languages. Carol, the site director for New Haven Reads’ Willow Street location, helped her make a paper booklet and gave her decks of vocab cards to go through. When we find a card with a word she doesn’t know, Sukeyna tapes it into her book and writes down a sample sentence. Her English vocabulary expands, and she gets to do something tactile, which she enjoys. Mostly Sukeyna likes flipping through the cards at lightning speed, going through to find all the ones with animals.
Sukeyna likes Uno and candy and making me get oranges for her, but she loves animals, especially sea creatures. Besides the Elephant & Piggie series, the books she gravitates towards most are from National Geographic. She adores the glossy photographs and the interesting facts, loves learning what penguins eat and where manta rays migrate. Her favorite animal is the narwhal, because it’s unicorn-adjacent and underwater. A few months ago, I got her a stuffed narwhal—a bright blue ball of fluff with giant eyes—and she couldn’t stop smiling. Currently, she has three—“One from you, one from Carol, and one I got myself,” she tells me. Carol finds a lot of books on narwhals, whales, and the ocean for Sukeyna, and even on days when she’s tired, her passion can motivate her to pay attention. When she’s genuinely excited and interested in something, her dedication is astounding.
Just in the months I’ve known her, I’ve watched Sukeyna’s reading and focus develop so much. She does her work with more and more care, and even when faced with a more tedious activity, she can do it efficiently. Part of that is how adaptive New Haven Reads has been to her interests and needs. Part of it is Sukeyna herself—her vivacity and excitement and sheer will. I’m grateful to watch her grow. Every Thursday, the hour I work with Sukeyna is a highlight, a glowing point of refuge.