Catawba County News

Jayson Sanchez: Changing Lives as a Homework Helper

Jayson Sanchez: Changing Lives as a Homework Helper

Published: May 15, 2018

It was only meant to be a few hours of volunteer service.

When Jayson Sanchez responded to the Catawba County Library’s request for teens to assist younger students with their homework questions, he intended to fulfill the need and then move on.

That was before he understood the impact of what he was doing.

Jayson, a 15-year-old student at Challenger Early College High School, had recently come to realize the advantages of hunkering down and working hard. When he first applied to Challenger, his record wasn’t as strong as he would have liked, and he made a hard sell to the school for the chance to prove himself. Although he had struggled previously – partly with academics, partly with culture, partly as a maturing teen – he also persevered and pushed himself to improve. The knowledge he gained in surmounting these barriers gave him a practical perspective on achievement. As a volunteer, he began to consider his role as a library homework helper as not just an hourly assistant but also as a mentor, an encourager, and a life coach of sorts. He wanted the kids he was helping to be able to benefit from his efforts and more quickly and more easily accomplish what they desired. He wanted to give back.

And give back he did. In short order, Jayson became one of the library’s most dependable and most dedicated homework helpers. During the 2017 fall semester, he completed 150 hours of volunteer service and is currently on track to repeat that number this semester. In March alone, Jayson gave 38 hours of his time to build up and support younger students.

Jayson’s mother, Clara, takes his work ethic in stride. These days, she always knows where he is when he isn’t at home, and she often has to prod him to eat during his marathon tutoring sessions. And while she’s indicated to Jayson what his responsibilities are to himself and to his education, she doesn’t hound him to succeed. That motivation comes from within. To hear Jayson articulate his accomplishments, however, the end goal is not prestige, wealth, or fame. Rather, he pushes himself for the challenge and to do what he feels is right. At a relatively young age, he exhibits an almost-parental impulse to prepare and uplift young children while ensuring that he helps shortcut their own unnecessary struggles. He’s protective and nurturing in a quiet, consistent, and unassuming way.

The children Jayson helps love his assistance and his reliability, so there’s often a run on his time. When he first began at the library, he studied with nine children; these days, he averages 20 a week and has on occasion come close to tutoring 30. To their delight, he’s open to helping however they need it, whether that’s fielding homework questions, working to improve reading skills and comprehension, or demonstrating what a solid work ethic is. Most of all, he strives to create strong connections with each of his students, and he makes it a point to set up a calm, relaxed space for learning. Many of his kids are Hispanic, and Jayson often acts as an educational bridge between them and their parents, providing daily updates and communicating needs and growth.

The St. Stephens branch where Jayson meets with students is one of the library’s newer locations for the homework helper program, and it’s shown huge growth in the two years it’s been active. Systemwide, the library has seen its tutoring services expand sixfold, so the increase in Jayson’s students is par for the course – and an acknowledgement of the community’s need. In recognition of its responsiveness and support, the library was presented with the National Association of Counties’ Achievement Award in 2017.

As Jayson has immersed himself in the homework helper program, he’s also entertained ideas for growing it in his own ways. Challenger promotes learning in a group environment, and students take turns leading lessons and teaching their peers. Jayson would like to adapt this same model to the homework helpers program, taking assistance from the one-on-one realm to a place where students have an opportunity to interact and solve problems together. He would also like to incorporate the concept of homework helpers into a classroom setting, bringing the library’s efforts directly to schools. The impulse to create positive change continues unabated; Jayson just wants to implement it on a much larger scale. Currently, he’s mulling over the logistics necessary to make that vision happen. As his plan comes together, he muses, “Wouldn’t it be nice if I could set up a chain reaction for people to do well in school and in life?”

In terms of the library’s vision for the homework helpers program, Jayson is an unmitigated success. He’s also an advocate for robust community resources such as those the library provides. According to Debbie Hosford, senior librarian at the St. Stephens Branch, “His knowledge, his rapport, and his commitment all embody the best traits of the program. We are thrilled to have him here.”

The community that the St. Stephens Library serves includes a large Latino population, so the branch provides a variety of relevant offerings, including special events and activities, Spanish-speaking staff members, and volunteers who can support specific needs. Kids, in particular, look up to teens like Jayson, seeing in him a path to their own success. As he shares with them, “With a little bit of effort, I saw the effects of finding direction and passion. Mimic my work, and you’ll be good. Do well in the beginning so that you don’t backslide and can continually build on what you’ve done.”

For a young man who gets up at 5am each day, helps at the library at least two evenings a week and most of the day Saturday, and chooses to help others rather than while away time on his smartphone, that advice is telling. Unsurprisingly, his professional goal of becoming a neurosurgeon seems perfectly attainable, thanks to the steady drive, laser focus, and foresight that have already served him well. And with additional interests in business and marketing, Jayson certainly stands poised to transform lives with his ideas, whether those dreams are to boost education, restore health, or change the world in some powerful way he may not even have yet imagined.