CHAPTER 4 – Our First Session – Organization
I arrived 5 minutes early, excited to get started with Jake. The doorbell chime was followed by none of the chatter I heard on my initial evaluation visit, only silence. I waited and rang again. Still nothing. A bit disappointed, I reached for my cell phone and dialed Jake’s phone. Yes, he has his own cell phone. An issue I might have to address at a later time, but now I just needed to find him. I knew his parents were at work and the little brothers were not home either. Through the side glass door panel I could see Jake come through the basement doorway with his phone in hand and a warm smile on his face.
“Sorry,” he said pulling open the door. “I already finished my homework, so I was down the basement.” I knew this was code for playing video games but chose to reserve that conversation for a later time as well. I wanted to begin on a positive note.
“Great,” I told him. “Let’s get started then.” I suggested he bring along the backpack he was about to step over and headed toward the kitchen.
“Okay, but I told you I already did my homework,” his voice trailed behind me.
Glad he had picked up the bag without further discussion, but I made another mental note. On the table were the same papers I’d pushed aside three weeks earlier with some additional junk mail, children’s drawings and old school work scattered about. No indication of a family dinner enjoyed there yet. Another note to self.
Like Mary Poppins with her bottomless satchel, I began slowly pulling out supplies while trying to maintain a casual conversation, but with each new item, Jake wanted to know, “What’s that for?” I just smiled and held up a hand encouraging him to wait while I kept the conversation going.
Finally, after sufficient enticement, I was ready to begin. I explained to Jake there are three essentials to building success, Organization, Time management, and Focus Time. Today the plan was to direct our attention to Organization.
Moving my supplies to the side, I asked Jake to show me his completed homework. He didn’t know I had already checked the online assignment board and was up to date with his progress. He pulled his broken zipper binder from his overstuffed backpack and began rummaging through a variety of miscellaneous papers stuffed haphazardly inside, all the time trying to assure me, or himself, what he was looking for was there. Finally, he paused remembering he’d left the homework paper inside his math book which was in his locker since the work was done at school.
“Uh huh, (silent note to self) and the vocabulary assignment?”
“Oh, I just saw that. Wait.” And he began rifling through the papers once again. “Yup, here it is!” He proudly held up the wrinkled, illegibly written paper with no name, date, assignment title, nothing.
“And how do you know that’s it?” I couldn’t help but ask. Remembering Jake’s struggle with penmanship from the writing sample he had written for my evaluation, I reserved comment on legibility until I was ready to focus on that.
“Cause I just did it.”
I slid a green two pocket folder in front of him and shared my favorite mantra: “Organization is the key to success. Say hello to this green folder. It’s going to be your new best friend, so take good care of it and take it with you wherever you go in school and back home again.” This was to be his homework folder. All handout assignments were to go inside the left pocket and finished work inside the right pocket. With some reluctance he accepted the idea and labeled each pocket, In and Out. Then he filed his vocabulary assignment on the right side and chose to keep the folder in the front pocket of his binder that he brought to every class and home every day.
Encouraged by his good decision making, my reward of praise was accepted with a broad proud grin on his face.
Next, while unfurling a large, blank month-at-a-glance calendar, I reminded Jake of my mantra: Organization is the key to success. I wanted him to eventually hear those words in his sleep. With some guidance from me, he was able to fill in the calendar noting sports practices and games, appointments, tests and a long term projects. I noticed signs of writing fatigue – the stretching of fingers between adding new words to the calendar. Another mental note of something to address at the appropriate time, but not now. We chose a good place to hang and the calendar where he would see it every day and be able to add to it as new items arose.
“Great job!” I high-fived him, and his smile told me we were building the necessary bond to help make my plan successful. Jake was happy to take a short break before I introduced our final activity for the day. We played three rounds of Jenga, and although he was good, he was not yet able to beat the “Jenga champion of Bethesda.” I like to play fair and make students rise to a challenge, and I think Jake appreciated that too.
Last item for the day. I asked Jake if he’d mind helping me get some things from my car. Happy to help he followed me outside and together we dragged three large cardboard boxes up to his bedroom. The door was closed and he was reluctant to open it. I assured him I was ready for the worst, and it was a good thing I was. The room looked like a hurricane passed through with the windows left open! Clothes, papers, books, dishes encrusted with dried up pizza filled the floor. The bed was buried beneath an avalanche of clothes and sports equipment, and I wondered where he slept, but again reserved comment. Instead I asked him to repeat my mantra which he instantly fed back to me through some laughter.
“Organization is the key to success. Guess I got a ways to go.”
“Sure do, but that’s what I’m here for. We’ll begin at the door and you can do a little each day until everything is in order.” To start, all he had to do was separate the items into the three boxes. One was for items to keep in his room, another for the things that belonged elsewhere in the house, and the third was for trash. That seemed doable to him and we started the task together. Once we had a path down the center of the room, we looked back to study our progress. Once again I congratulated him. But now it was his job to get the rest cleared before I returned on Thursday (3 days later). He was fairly confident he could manage on his own and was even excited to surprise his mom when it was all done.
Finally, we returned to the kitchen, added RC, code for room cleaning to the calendar each day. I made some written notes including items to be addressed at later meetings (cell phone, video game time, family dinners, binder, backpack, written assignment headings, and handwriting) And I packed up my materials while Jake packed up his and set the backpack beside the front door, ready to go the next morning.
It was a good day. We had made good progress and parted friends.