Skip to Content


Virginia Journal of Education

First Person:  Narratives from the Classroom


The Awakening of Kevin

By Amy Issadore Bloom

Kevin was off in space again, struggling to complete his brief journal assignment during our reading group.

“Were you up late last night?” I asked him.

“My baby sister woke up hungry, so I gave her some bread,” he replied, as if this were the most normal thing in the world for a second-grader to do.

I wasn’t sure which was more troubling, that he was the one waking up to feed his baby sister, or that he gave her bread instead of a bottle.

Kevin was sluggish, and always seemed a step behind, a little “off.” His name came up for a Child Study meeting, and the committee was unsure if his issues were language related or warranted special education testing.

Despite his lethargy, I was constantly surprised by Kevin’s reading and listening comprehension. His written responses, though, were just terrible—both the content itself and his handwriting. He seemed completely unaware of the red-lined margins on the left and right side of each page. At times his sentences (or fragments) just sort of trailed off the paper, getting more and more slanted and undecipherable.

No wonder. Kevin was sleep deprived. I looked at his journal again after he told me about his late night, and it reminded me of my notes in college, which took a similar sad path across the page as I struggled to stay awake in large lecture classes.

I suspected Kevin frequently had a bad night’s sleep. Even if he wasn’t the one usually waking up to feed his sister, he was still living in tight quarters and heard her crying and his father and uncle coming and going from various work shifts.

Older students are brutally honest about being tired, talking about being up late being social, watching TV, studying or working. They always want to sleep (and eat). But elementary kids fight it, trying their best to keep up with their peers, to please their teachers.

I wonder how far Kevin would have gotten without anyone knowing he was taking on additional responsibilities at home. Would some assume he was just lazy?

He also struggled with organization, and I was angry to find out that his uncle had ripped out pages from his student agenda. Those big thick notebook/calendars are the first step we use in teaching students how to keep track of their work, as well as gain a sense of responsibility. The agenda would be useless if random pages were ripped out. No wonder Kevin could not find the proper date; that page was missing. 

 Maybe the uncle didn’t realize how important that notebook was. Maybe what he had to write down was more important. Still, was there really no other paper in this house with three kids?

 I started sending Kevin home with stashes of school supplies and books. I let him rest during our reading group when I was reading chapter books aloud. It was our little secret—until other students caught on and insisted on doing the same. They requested that I read Because of Winn Dixie, by Kate Dicamillo. It took us all year to make our way through it, and I shared their disappointment when we finally finished it.

Because second grade is not a “testing year,” I was able to run my reading and language groups with a large degree of flexibility. Looking back, I realize the extra “Read Aloud and Relax” sessions were even more beneficial than I imagined.

In a column titled “Is a Hard Life Inherited?”, Nicholas Kristof writes about inherited adversity and the struggles of overcoming poverty and a cycle of bad choices. One point he makes is, “I would argue that the better index of disadvantage for a child is not family income, but how often the child is read to.”

By fifth grade, Kevin had almost caught up to his peers academically, and I felt an overwhelming sense of fondness when I noticed him reading Because of Winn-Dixie in his classroom during DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) time.
Later that year, I sat with Kevin’s little sister outside her kindergarten class and completed an assessment to determine if she would qualify for ESOL services. She did not and was, in fact, ahead of many of her peers in the various skills measured by the assessment. I like to think that Kevin had a part in that.

Despite all of his disadvantages at home, it was apparent that Kevin practiced his reading each night. And if he was waking in the night to feed his little sister, why couldn’t he also have been the one to read to her, to instill that love of books that is so crucial to success in school and beyond?

Issadore Bloom (, a former member of the Fairfax Education Association, is now a freelance writer living in Washington, D.C. To read more of her writing, visit her blog at 


Virginia Capital

Fund Our Schools Now


Stay in touch with VEA and your fellow members.

Check out VEA and NEA Member Benefits savings programs.

Embed This Page (x)

Select and copy this code to your clipboard