by Danielle Rifkin, Davidson College student
The Ada Jenkins Center and the nearby Davidson College’s long history of partnership benefits both the Center and Davidson’s student body. These benefits become immediately evident in even a short conversation with volunteer Jonathan Ferguson (’17), an English and Classics double major who has been working with the Ada Jenkins Center for almost three years now. An aspiring teacher, Jonathan has spent his time in LearnWorks, Ada’s after-school tutoring program where students who have demonstrated need for academic support are exposed to one-on-one help with homework, skill-building activities for academic development. In his time volunteering Jonathan has gained as much knowledge as he’s passed on.
Jonathan’s strength lies in his ability to relate and connect to his students. “I’m pretty subdued, just around people my own age” he told me, “but something about being with kids…you can really be animated with kids and they love that.” The classroom is where Jonathan is in his element. He shines there because he is so well able to empathize with the students. He has a magic touch for putting himself in their shoes when necessary.
If you polled a grade school classroom on their favorite part of the day, the overwhelming majority would likely say recess. Jonathan, who is looking to spend the rest of his life in the classroom, also votes recess. Though he sheepishly admitted to a “probably not very academic” favorite, his answer is the best way to demonstrate his biggest strength in the classroom.
You can’t blame students for wanting recess all day, especially LearnWorks students who have already had a full day of school before arriving. “Even I’m not in class for that many hours” Jonathan mused, realizing that he himself would be none too thrilled in that position. Recess helps him form a connection, so that when the time rolls around his students are more inclined to listen when he says, “okay, we had our fun time but now we have to get back down to business. If I have been playing with them, you know playing tag with them or talking with them on the playground then…its like ‘I have to do this too’… I think if I just sat on the bench while they played they would look at me as sort of the enemy who was making them crack back down.”
In addition to the importance of recess, Jonathan learned the importance of cultivating mutual respect in the classroom. It’s crucial, he says, to “talk really plainly, and directly to them, just as if they were my age. I think that’s pretty key, not to talk down to them, but to talk to them just like they’re a fellow learner…just know that they want to be respected, just like you would want if you were being taught something.”
Jonathan undeniably offers guidance and knowledge to his students, but it is equally clear how much he has learned in the process. A huge part of Jonathan’s time at Ada has been spent learning to try different methods and figure out what is best for each student. A key factor in learning to teach is learning that everyone is different, “some people are auditory, some visual, some tactile.” While some kids like learning multiplication tables through the spontaneity of rolling dice to see what numbers they’ll be multiplying, others prefer to see it written out on the white board. Ada has also taught him to be patient because “they need some time to figure out whether you are a good guy or a bad guy… once they do its great.”
The lessons extend beyond classroom skills as well. “It makes me really appreciate the people that teach me and the struggles that they probably go through …it makes you appreciate education, and also makes you appreciate that this culture of Davidson is not the norm.”
The effect Ada has on those it serves and those who serve it is undeniable and in many ways unbelievable in scope and power. Clients, staff, and volunteers alike walk away deeply impacted. Talking with Jonathan, even for a short while, demonstrates the beautiful reciprocity of the relationship between Ada and its volunteers.