This past semester, I started college at the University of Texas at Austin. A nervous and intimidated freshman though I was, I wanted to put myself out there and try as many new experiences as I could. In high school, volunteering was a huge part of my schedule and I wanted to keep that momentum going in college. Before classes even started, I began to research organizations at UT that I would like to join. Immediately, SEAL stood out to me. Admittedly, I had feared that SEAL would become too large of a time investment. This proved to be untrue. Despite the initial worry, SEAL fit perfectly into my schedule and proved to be a wonderful break from all the stress-filled classes.

Serendipitously, I was assigned to the same elementary school as one of my best friends and we grew close with everyone in our car assignment. SEAL definitely helped me meet people outside my normal circle and make friends outside the math-physics-astronomy majors who I normally have class with.

The child that I was assigned to was timid. His little bangs would dip down into his face and sometimes obscure his vision. When we first met, he was nervous, not even allowing himself to look up and make eye contact with me.

My heart melted and I introduced myself to the small third grader. With gentle coaxing, he told me his name and asked if he could read me his favorite book. With an enthusiastic yes from me, he went to his backpack and pulled out a book in Spanish, Green Eggs and Ham by the infamous Dr. Seuss. Confidently, he read out loud in Spanish, rolling his r’s perfectly and reading at a level of Spanish that most Americans would be unable to comprehend. After every page, he seemed to be out of breath from reading so quickly. I listened to him, following along, occasionally helping him pronounce a few words.

The book was over in an instant and I told him that he did extraordinary and that his Spanish was amazing. He told me that he only learned English a year ago and couldn’t read that well. On the bookshelf, he picked out the English version of the book he had previously read in Spanish and after a couple days of work, he completely mastered the book. After the confidence boost, he hungrily read every book he could get his hands on.

Over the course of the semester, we read some classic titles like If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, The Giving Tree, Winnie the Pooh, and we even attempted a Magic Treehouse chapter book. With each passing meeting, my once timid buddy grew more comfortable around me, becoming more confident. My buddy was a treasure to have and worked so hard to learn more English words. He’s a superstar and I am so happy that I got to work with him through SEAL.

– Grace Heineman, Harris Elementary volunteer

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