2016 Week Five: Education
As the mountains of logistical paperwork tied to Youthworks have finally begun to disappear, Andrew and I are increasingly more and more able to actually do our jobs. Providing student support and enhancing their experiences at their worksites was what we had hoped we would be able to do entering the process, and unfortunately, bureaucracy and crisis management took the wheel for the first month.
Prioritizing students who were being fired, arriving late and leaving work early, we were simply not able to allocate time to students who were showing up for the full time. Now having extinguished fires for the students who were having attendance issues, we are now seeing attendance issues from students who used to be rock solid. The sad part is that we only have ourselves to blame. A lot of these students who were excelling in Week 1 became bored of their work. Because we were not able to have conversations with them and their employers about why different projects were important, how sometimes you have to do work that you do not like, and how you can approach your supervisor to discuss the work if you do not understand it, many students have simply stopped showing up reliably.
A real frustration being a coordinator for Thread is that it is often difficult to communicate with the students directly. One student, who was placed at a more administrative job, quit because he did not like it. The employer was super flexible, and was open to discussing switching up the project and the hours. Nevertheless, after just a few emails back and forth with his volunteer, I was told that he would not be returning to work; no conversation with the student, no discussion about altering the work schedule, no conversation with employer. I felt like we could have made this work given flexibility on both the student and the employer’s part. The prevailing argument that was going around was that real jobs did not work that way.
Below is an excerpt from an email I wrote my Thread team after summing up what happened to the student:
“More broadly, one of the objections raised about allowing [Student Name] to come back to work had to do with the idea of that not being how real jobs work and that this would teach/set an unrealistic precedent for the future when our students do have full time work. While I think this is certainly true, I also want to highlight that this is also an internship and for many of the kids, their first job. While terminating a student may serve to teach them a lesson about how jobs work attendance-wise, there is also some added value of seeing something through and their having conversations with employers, as well as the experience gained through the work itself. With [Student Name], this latter half may not have been as potent because he really did not want to attend at all, but this same question about instilling life lessons by termination vs. working through the problems one week at a time has continued to come up. We have faced similar quandaries with [list of 5 student names] and more. A few of these cases have shown marked improvement and even excitement about their jobs after coming back to work in a more flexible schedule or on a different project.
We will continue to address each of these on a case by case basis given individual history/background and what might be going on outside the workplace; however, I think it is important that we address in a conversation either now or moving forward for next year how much we are emphasizing “job” and how much we are emphasizing “internship” for our students. Right now, Andrew and I have been operating under the “internship” understanding of what our kids are doing and have therefore been much more open to giving students multiple chances.”
Moreover, we want to be fair. Giving some students second chances while dropping the hammer on others is not equitable. I will continue to fight for my students in cases where I think the value of their coming back to work will outweigh the lesson taught by being fired. Yet, this is pure gut. How do you measure such a thing accurately? How do you predict?
My worst fear in this internship and this organization is that we are doing things that may end up hurting our students rather than helping them. While it is pretty easy to assess and attend to how we are neglecting or not following up with students/not giving them the help they need/deserve in the short term, I feel utterly ill-equipped to predict the long-term implications of my actions. Time will certainly tell, but because these are real people with real lives, that adage does not bear its normal ‘we’ll wait-and-see’ weight off the shoulders.
This past week marked the passing of the midway points of both my internship with CIIP and our students’ internships with MERIT. Typically, when you get to the midpoint of anything, it’s a good time to reflect on expectations and goals you had prior to it all.
According to my goal sheet at the beginning of the internship, I basically wanted to help teach the students and learn from my supervisors. These seemed like pretty simple goals at the time and thus far, I’m still actively working towards my goal. However, if there’s one thing I can confirm, it’s that teaching is extremely difficult. Even if all of the students you’re teaching are as bright as the ones that are enrolled in MERIT, teaching concepts and ensuring that students internalize them is a lot to handle. An important thing to consider is that students learn in a multitude of ways, with visual, auditory, or tactile stimuli. For the internship that we run for the students, we account for this by splitting the day between a lecture-style classroom and a laboratory setting. This approach has worked beautifully because not only do the scholars learn concepts from the labs, but also learn techniques they can utilize when they attend their research labs on the JHU medical campus.
In addition to learning differences, it is essential for teachers to consider the unique needs that each student requires. The only way to know what students need is to build relationships with them outside of the classroom. This is what makes teaching more than spewing out lessons; good teachers don’t just teach in the classroom, but guide their students outside of it. It’s a privilege to work with good teachers who place a priority on building relationships with the scholars. I’m looking forward to furthering my own relationships with the students and hope to effectively transfer some of the skills I’ve learned to activities I do in the future.
“There’s a tree growing in that house.”
Without looking, I laugh, thinking “that statement is classiccccc Mr. Z”. Z is one of my favorite teachers at HEBCAC YO, and in my eyes, he is also the center’s resident philosopher, spouting wisdom on anything from the dangers of social media (“We are all techgether,” he likes to say) to the benefits of riding your bike everywhere (he’s so committed to the cause he’s even got those funny little toe shoes!). So naturally, when he says there’s a tree growing in a house, I assume he’s trying to use this “tree” as some sort of extended metaphor for the children who are growing and learning there, or something like that.
But then I turn around.
“Oh my god. There is LITERALLY a TREE growing IN that house.”
And then, in near-perfect unison, one of the students (Jamal) and I, react to the sight before us with a stunned “oh SHIT.”
Because “house” is a loose term for the structure that lies before us. What clearly once was someone’s home is barely recognizable as a building now. The roof, windows, and door are all gone, leaving the inside completely visible. When Jamal and I do peek inside, we see that the internal infrastructure is nonexistent – the forces of nature have instead taken over, with wild roots and tall grass sprouting up everywhere. And most striking of all is the tree, at least a few feet taller than me, rising up out of the ground.
Every day, I walk from HEBCAC YO to the JHMI stop on Orleans Street to catch a shuttle back to Homewood campus. It’s an interesting walk – in the span of these five or six blocks, I see rows upon rows of newly constructed, luxurious townhomes on one side of me, and then decaying, abandoned homes or construction sites on the other. The difference is striking, but after 5 weeks of making this daily trip, I’ve grown accustomed to this jarring landscape, to the point where I don’t think twice about it. That is, until the tree in the house.
After pausing to investigate the home for a few seconds, Mr. Z, Jamal and I continue walking, an uneasy silence settling upon us.
“You know… I used to live a few blocks from here,” says Jamal, finally breaking the silence.
“How long ago was that?”
“Damn, a while ago now. That was the home I grew up in. We had to move when I was 10.”
Something about the earnestness of Jamal saying “we HAD to move” strikes me.
“What do you mean had to move?”
And then, I learn that Jamal and his family were forced to relocate as part of the city’s East Baltimore Development Initiative. The city reasoned that because nearly 70% of the homes in Jamal’s neighborhood were abandoned, it just made sense to slowly relocate the other 30%, and work to reconstruct the entire neighborhood. I think of the lives disrupted, the houses taken. I imagine a 10 year old Jamal, being told he needed to leave the only home he’d ever known, without even understanding why. His old home probably doesn’t look so different from the house with the tree.
The stride towards development in Baltimore city (and the disparities which it has created) is something that I have seen and heard repeatedly over the course of this summer, either through CIIP orientation, one of our weekly reflection sessions, or through my daily walk towards the JHMI shuttle. But I don’t really think about how this has affected the lives of the students I know and interact with every day, as well as thousands of other Baltimore city residents.
My focus so far this summer has singularly been oriented towards education. This makes sense, of course, as my organization is mainly geared towards supporting nontraditional students that the city’s educational system has failed. But in that walk through a quiet section in East Baltimore, it dawns on me that the disparities that ravage the city cannot be ascribed to the shortcomings of just education. My students have struggled with education, yes, but beyond that they have struggled with homelessness, poverty, neighborhood identities, amongst other things. If change is going to happen, it can’t just happen in one of these areas. While focusing on education is incredibly important, I realize that to affect real change, my view of the city needs to be expanded. I need a broader lens.
That evening, as I leave the center and set off on my daily trek for the JHMI, I put away my phone. I pay attention. I look around at the new homes around me, with their shiny hardwood flooring and fresh, vibrant paint. I look at the construction going on right across the street – a new park, above which hangs a billboard that promises, “New! Luxury Townhomes!” I can’t help but be reminded of orientation, when we were given a brief history of EBDI and the city’s (as well as Hopkins’) redevelopment initiatives. I remember someone’s words, that as we think of all the reconstruction and relocation, we have to ask ourselves – “who is it all for?”Tags: 2016, CIIP, CIIP 2016, Hebac Yo! Baltimore, MERIT, THREAD, Week Five