I want you to take a moment and picture being James. James is nine years old, and he is in third grade. He is like many children his age: let’s say his favorite book is James and Giant Peach, his favorite food is macaroni and cheese, and he has recently decided that he wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. Until this fall, James really liked school. He had lots of friends and went to birthday parties, and his favorite subject was science.
But this year, as it does for many students as they progress in school, everything changed. Suddenly the assignments that James did at school had grades. James had always thought he was smart, but now he realized that he was only a B student in reading, a C student in math, and even his science grades weren’t always the best.
The change was paralyzing for James. Once willing to try his best on any project, James now worried that his work wasn’t good enough. He strived with all his might to get an A on every project, but sometimes he just couldn’t get it right.
It started to wear on him. It seemed like no matter how hard he worked at any art project, he could never get them to turn out perfectly. His circles were always lumpy, his paint never went where he wanted it to. He stopped participating at all, and even feigned a stomach ache a few times to get out of class.
It didn’t take long for James’ grade in art to fall, and soon his teacher called home to warn his parents that James would fail art if he didn’t begin to participate.
Thankfully, that’s when James’ teacher told his family about the CAP program. Once his family found out that an adult could come and work with James during art, they had him signed up right away. James was soon matched with a mentor, an art professor at MSU, also named James. They began to meet weekly during James’ art class.
The big goal for little James were just to get him to enjoy art – and let go of his fear of failure. Big James thought up the perfect project for Little James. Each time they met they divided a piece of paper into 3 columns to do a drawing on– each week there was a different theme. Big James did one column, Little James did one column, and the third column they completed together. Working with Big James made Little James so much more comfortable. He started seeing that art could be fun. By the end of the year they had so many pages they had created they decided to make a book. The teacher agreed that if they presented the book to the classroom, she would give Little James a participation grade for the semester.
Big James said that Little James face lit up and he was beaming about the opportunity to share what they had done over the semester. Shy, self conscious, Little James not only stood up there with Big James, he actually led the presentation and art lesson for the class! The teacher was in tears because James had come so far in such little time working with Big James. He said he learned that he did not have to be perfect and that was the fun of art. The teacher was blown away that this opportunity totally changed the way Little James viewed himself in the classroom, he saw himself as a leader, even for a small moment, and that made a big shift in his mind.
Sometimes all it takes is these small moments. For little James, it was having a person in his life just take a little time out of their day to make him feel special. Those small moments set the foundation lifetime of James believing in himself and weathering the times when he could not be perfect. Imagine if every student who was struggling in school had a personal advocate, just like little James. That is the power of the CAP program.