When you enter Light and Love Home on 54th Street and and 8th Ave at around three or four o’clock, the first thing you notice is how alive it is. There are classrooms all around, some filled with children, other’s perhaps lacking. There are young men and women, all with I.D. cards on their person, running around throwing out trash, taking children outside, or helping them with their homework. The air is filled with tongues both familiar and foreign, English and Chinese. I can pick out a very distinctive voice, a clear, authoritative voice with barely noticeable undertones of exasperation.
Evan is only eighteen years old and works as a kindergarten tutor/teacher at Light and Love Home. She is Chinese, but has lived here for almost all of her life. Her family visits China relatively often (though they don’t always go together). She is warm and smiles often. “I started as a volunteer TA [teacher’s assistant] in ninth grade, then the teacher I worked for had to switch to their other branch so I replaced her. Been here since then.” She also began working summers the summer of her junior year in high school, she tells me proudly.
Her father also works at the branch as one of the directors, but that is not how she got her job, she assures me.
“My supervisor and another director gave me the job after watching me as a volunteer,” she explains.
While the organization is geared towards the Chinese-American population (offering English classes and some basic social services), not all of Evan’s students are Chinese. “We don’t discriminate. Yes, most of my students are Chinese, but not all of them are, and they don’t have to be,” she informs me. She then turns to a child and firmly tells him to sit down. “I help them with their homework if they need it, check their homework to see if anything is wrong. If it is, then I explain why the answer is wrong and have them try again.” If you are able to watch her work for about ten to fifteen minutes, you will undoubtedly see this formulaic procedure in action at least three to five times. After most of the kids are done with their homework, Evan has a bit of class work prepared for them to do. It varies by day, but is usually geared more towards English (as some or many of her students speak primarily Chinese at home). She is patient when working with the students, and administers spelling tests on Fridays as part of her teaching routine. She can have anywhere from one to ten or fifteen students a day. While her class size varies, her teaching style does not. “At the end I tell the good students to go outside and watch T.V. and keep the bad students in,” she tells me. I did not witness this in my time at Light and Love, and it’s safe to assume that this does not happen too often.
A lot of the children at the afterschool and summer programs have no place else to go at these times. Their parents are usually first or second generation, working full-time jobs to make ends meet. “They need this,” Evan insists. “We’re giving tools for future success. That’s why they’re here, for a better life.”
“Most of the time I like my job,” she smiles slightly. “My major is education, so it helps me get experience. However there are some days when the kids tire me out, and then I don’t enjoy work until after I get off.” She laughs and leads me out of the building (outside visitors are not really allowed). As she waves to me a boy calls her inside. I smile and turn away.