Teacher Pushed Struggling Student To Honors

Nov 27, 2011
Originally published on November 30, 2011 5:14 pm

When Meliza Arellano started seventh grade at New York City charter school Democracy Prep four years ago, she was below grade level in both math and reading. She was put in a class that helps students like her get up to speed. Her teacher was Sarah Benko. That was the year Arellano became a serious student.

"I kinda didn't like you at first," Arellano tells Benko. She says Benko would take her outside to tutor her, and that made her mad.

At her old school, Arellano rarely attended class, and she says the teachers never encouraged her to put in the extra work to succeed.

"So I guess I kinda rejected you because nobody ever helped me before. It felt really weird," she says, "but there was a point where I finally got a good grade, and I realized that you were actually doing me good."

Now, Arellano is in the honors class. She says Benko is the one who helped her realize that she likes reading.

"I used to just look at the back blurb and ... basically write almost everything that is said and ... put it in my own words and turn it in," she says.

Arellano lost count of the number of books she read last year.

"It was a lot. I was actually inspired by the fact that you helped me a lot," she says, "and so ... I want to be a teacher when I grow up."

Benko's advice for her budding teacher: "Don't worry too much if the kids like you or not."

"If you trust yourself," she says, "you want the best for them. Don't worry if they see it right in that moment."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Brian Reed.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now, for another conversation from StoryCorps, it's National Teacher's Initiative.

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CORNISH: This school year we'll be sharing stories from and about teachers. Today, we'll hear from Meliza Arellano, an 11th grader at a New York City charter school called Democracy Prep. When Meliza started there four years ago, she was below grade level in both math and reading. She was put in a class that helps students like her get up to speed. Her teacher was Sarah Benko. The pair recently sat down for StoryCorps to look back at Meliza's seventh grade year - the year she became a serious student.

MELIZA ARELLANO: You started taking me outside and you would tutor me. And that kind of made mad because, like, I kind of didn't like you at first.

SARAH BENKO: Oh, I remember.

ARELLANO: And you told me that I was, like, really below my grade level.

BENKO: You were.

ARELLANO: In my old school, I never went to class. I didn't want to be there. Like, basically, none of the teachers said anything to me, like you need to stay after school in order for me to help you do better in this. So, I guess I kind of rejected you 'cause nobody ever helped me before. It felt really weird. But there was a point where I finally got a good grade, and I realized that you were actually doing me good.

BENKO: And now you're in the honors class.

ARELLANO: Yes, I am. And you were actually the one that made me realize that I liked reading. I used to just look at the back blurb and, like, basically write almost everything that is said and, like, put it in my own words and turn it in.

BENKO: How many books did you read last year, do you think?

ARELLANO: I lost count. It was a lot. I was actually inspired by the fact that you helped me a lot, and so I want to be a teacher, I want to be a teacher when I grow up.

BENKO: You have a smooth face. You better get ready for some wrinkles. Don't worry too much if the kids like you or not. If you trust yourself that you want the best for them, don't worry if they see it right in that moment.

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CORNISH: That's Sarah Benko with Meliza Arellano for StoryCorps in New York. Their interview, along with all National Teacher's Initiative interviews will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Get the StoryCorps podcast at NPR.org.

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CORNISH: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.