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It’s 2:30pm in the afternoon and Stephanie is moving around her classroom, wiping down tables, setting out student nametags, pencils, erasers, whiteboards, markers and other classroom supplies in preparation for her 1st-3rd grade students to arrive. The room is quiet and peaceful and so is Stephanie as she shares about how she came to be an elementary classroom leader at Hope Horizon East Palo Alto.

“I first heard about Hope Horizon on the EPA Neighbors Facebook page. I was excited to discover there was a faith-based program here in in my community and curious to know more because I had just been baptized. I was hopeful that it was a place where I could grow in the fruits of the spirit and decided to apply for a position in the fall since I was interested in working with kids and had done some volunteering before.”

Eight months later, Stephanie is wrapping up the academic year. She has worked hard to create a safe but structured classroom. “They’re young, so I remind them every day about our rules, that we don’t just follow them for ourselves, but for everyone. I greet them at the door each day and ask them to share one rule they would like to follow that day. It’s been a challenge for me to learn how to enforce the rules every day, but I’ve seen a shift over time. They’re still energetic, but less rowdy.”

Once the students come into the room, the space is filled with energy, laughter and conversation. Stephanie helps the students get settled in their seats and instructs them to get out their homework. Some get right to work while others delay. Stephanie and the volunteers in her classroom are constantly encouraging the students in their work. “We’re right here and we can help explain it to you. We can work on it together.” Stephanie and the volunteers walk around the classroom, checking in on students to see who needs help with their homework. They also spend time reading one-on-one or working with the students in other academic areas.

“Three of the students in my classroom weren’t able to read on their own when they first joined. We’ve spent a lot of time reading one-on-one and working on sight words. Sometimes students feel shy or worried about making a mistake, but we remind them that it’s okay, we can help you sound it out, we are here to help you learn. Now all three of those students are able to read 3-4 small books by themselves! It is my hope that soon they will be reading at grade level, but seeing them read independently makes me so proud of their hard work.”

There are also other moments where students are able to persevere and gain confidence in the classroom. One day a student was working on a project where she had to make a pair of glasses. It wasn’t going well; her frustration built and she sat under her table. “I offered to help her fix the project, but she was too overwhelmed in that moment, so I had another staff member come talk with her.” After some space and a chat, she was ready to adjust her attitude and try again. “She apologized to me and let me help her with the project. She left that day happy, her project complete and wearing the glasses she had made.”

Stephanie has seen God at work in her own life, too.

“I've grown a lot in the fruits of the spirit, especially patience. I pray before coming to work and ask God for patience, for his love to radiate through me. I do my best to understand the students and put myself in their shoes. When I’m stressed, I pray because God is the only one who can truly help. In my walk with God, I make mistakes and fail, and sometimes I feel like God’s mercies have ended. But I know that Scripture tells us that his mercies are new every morning. I think about this when I care for the students, that every day is a new day to restart with them, to make sure they know they can fix their mistakes, that they have chances. God has been merciful with me like I choose to be merciful to them.”

Lamentations 3:22-24

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;

his mercies never come to an end they are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

We thank God for Stephanie and her steadfast love for the students in her classroom, for the ways she is the light of Christ to our students each day. We pray Stephanie would continue to experience God in mighty ways as she seeks him and strives to grow in the fruits of the spirit.

Photo Credit: Katie Lin

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