“I sound like a kid, but recess and break time is one of my favorite parts of KidSmart. It’s the one time everyone is together: all of the students, classroom leaders and volunteers. I love hearing the students talk freely about their day at school, their interests, things they are excited about, and that they are looking forward to working with their tutor at KidSmart. Anything can be exciting at that age, and it brings me joy to hear about what they are learning, the simple moments where their minds are blown away by new and exciting information.”
Mona Tuitavake was first a summer intern at BCM and accepted the role of KidSmart Program Manager this August. Mona has a calm, peaceful spirit and is always in high demand during program hours, from 3-6pm every day after school. While Mona is the trusted leader of students and adults alike, she is collaborative in her approach and brings classroom leaders, volunteers, parents and teachers together to academically support our elementary students.
Mona grew up in East Palo Alto, attending Costaño, Chavez and Carlmont, and holds a degree in Urban Planning for Cal Poly Pomona. Family has always been central to Mona, and she loves that she can easily walk to a cousin’s home here in East Palo Alto and is surrounded by her extended family. If you ever visit her office, you’ll be encompassed by an oasis of green. Mona loves plants and has recently taken up gardening after many years of cultivating indoor plants. Mona also loves amusement parks; the Grizzly at Great America used to be her favorite, but now she enjoys letting her feet dangle on Flight Deck. You won’t ever find her on Drop Zone or sky diving, though.
“They are still young, but I want them to find value in their education,” said Mona. “Many students in the world don’t have the opportunities that they have. I hope that they find their niche, their interests, their passions. With our help and their motivation, they can explore and discover opportunities. When they find something they are interested in, you can see the light go on and they are eager to finish their homework or accomplish a task. We hope to create those moments where a door is opened for them.”
In these first three months, she has already seen growth in the students. In general, their grades and academic skills are improving, and they are also learning the expectations of the program. She also sees individual growth. “One of our students struggles to express and navigate emotions in healthy ways but this past week I saw significant growth. The student was having a difficult moment, so I went over to check in. Often, the difficult moment turns into a meltdown or tantrum, but this time the student was able to say that they were sad and frustrated because of a project they were working on. They were able to articulate the emotions they were feeling, explain why, and afterwards return to their peers. I have also seen this student have an improved attitude in the classroom.”
Mona sees God at work in the lives of the students as well as in her own life. “To me, the fact that BCM exists is evidence of God at work in the world. I feel God’s presence here in the building with us, in the way that we value and respect one another and love the students and families. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with these students, to provide guidance and support for them. I appreciate the wholistic approach, and I am assured knowing that our elementary students can go to SOL Kids, where they don’t just talk about school, but about life and God.”
And then there’s the KidSmart store on Thursdays. Mona loves feeling like a small business owner, pushing around her cart filled with toys and treats. The students earn money for their accomplishments, like finishing their homework, reading or doing math flashcards. Some of the students spend their money right away, while others save up for weeks for that perfect toy.
“I’m looking forward to KidSmart in 2022, to build on the foundation we are laying now. Every student deserves and needs one-on-one support. Many students have a hard time working independently and need someone to help them focus. I would love to have volunteers available who can read aloud with students, review their work or provide guidance when they are struggling with a concept. We have an amazing group of volunteers and I pray that God continues to send more caring adults.”
Join with Mona in praying for God to provide for the needs of each of our students, that they would be able to step into their futures with joy and confidence.