Name: Blanca Tallaj
Hometown: Homewood, Alabama
College and Major: Yale University, Psychology Major and Education Studies Scholar
Tutoring Site: Willow St. (in-person), Dixwell (online), Science Park (online)
Clubs: Math Club and Arts & Crafts Club
Favorite Childhood Book: Matilda by Roald Dahl
When I hear people describing themselves as “self-made,” I think about everyone in their community that they are unconsciously leaving behind: family members who provided love and support, teachers who stayed with them after class until they finally understood the concept. I remember sitting next to my Kindergarten teacher as she taught me how to read. I can still feel the same surge of joy I felt when I sounded out a word all by myself. These are moments that I took for granted until I came to New Haven Reads.
This is why I feel so blessed to be a part of the organization. They understand the importance of community in helping a child learn and grow. I’ve witnessed my amazing coworkers go above and beyond for every single kid: combing through the library until they find a book that the child will like, handing out games for the kids to take home, communicating with parents in order to find solutions together, and making sure that every kid feels supported along the way.
I’ve been tutoring the same child on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the past four weeks. Our very first day together, I took the suggestion from my coworkers to play a word game with her. I would give her a word, and using the letters of that word, she would make as many new words as she could. For the first two weeks, this task was extremely difficult for her. She would find two new words before I stepped in to help her or give her hints and strategies. She quickly learned to break the word down, to find the smaller words hiding within the larger one (for example, the word “ear” hides inside of the word “spear”). The minute she sat down, she would reach for the whiteboard and tell me, “I want you to give me the hardest word you can find. I want it to be so long that it goes onto the next line.” And I would dutifully Google long words (“impediments” was too easy, she said, so I had to find longer ones) until two days ago, when I gave her the word “hippopotamus.” For the first time ever, she found over forty words in under fifteen minutes, with minimal help from me. I sat back and watched her put letters together, occasionally turning to me to ask whether or not the word she had made really existed. She was so proud of herself that she wouldn’t let me erase the whiteboard, and I took a picture of her list of words. I was so incredibly happy and proud. In just four weeks, she’s grown so much, and I am honored to be a part of her journey as a reader.
I am so grateful to the First Niagara Foundation in partnership with KeyBank for giving me the opportunity to interact with so many wonderful and brilliant children. I am also thankful to my coworkers at New Haven Reads who have created an incredibly collaborative environment and community. When I ask my fellow interns for help with Math Club, for example, I immediately receive an email with tips and lesson plans. I could not have asked for a better place to work this summer.