I am a graduate of the University of California at Santa Barbara, where I received my BA in Economics. As an economics student, I concentrated on the areas of economic growth and development. It became clear to me that education is the foundation for increasing human potential, and I decided that one of the most important things I could do with my life would be to actively participate in this field.
In the winter of 1999, I enrolled in a study abroad program with Santa Barbara City College and spent two months at Shandong University in Jinan, China. While there, I was amazed by the enthusiasm of the Chinese students to spend time with Americans to practice their spoken English. This inspired me to return to China to teach conversational English to graduate students at a national university. While there, I was given the huge task of working with 320 students to improve their conversational skills. Classes averaged 40 students, and met once per week for 2 hours. Needless to say, this presented some difficulties, so I established the on-campus English Corner. The English Corner was open to all students (whether students of mine or not) and was incredibly successful. For three hours, three days per week, students (sometimes up to 200 of them) would meet at a garden on campus to talk to other students interested in practicing their English. Some of my fondest memories of my time in China are from these casual meetings! My biggest frustration with this work stemmed from the difficutly I had in sturucturing classes which allowed all my students to participate. I was also, admittedly, a young and inexperienced teacher.
My frustrations in China caused me to reflect on my own education. As a high-school student, I recall constantly seeking more challenges. To supplement my public high school education, I began participating in Upward Bound as a freshman. Every Saturday, and for six weeks each summer, Upward Bound helped to pick up where the school day left off by giving me new challenges that served to strengthen my academic work and build new social and academic skill sets.
My experiences as a teacher in China and as a student in Upward Bound were invaluable when I began work with People’s Self Help Housing. I worked as the Program Coordinator for a pilot after-school program at Dahlia Court, an affordable housing community in Carpinteria, CA. TheEducation Enhancement Program(EEP) was open to all students residing at Dahlia Court and actively served between 25 and 35 students, ages 5 through 13. I could see that despite language difficulties, (most of the students came from monolingual Spanish-speaking households), these children held the promise of great success. In designing the program, I sought not only to ensure that students always completed and understood their homework (as was the basic goal of the program), but also to guarantee that at the end of the day, the students could leave with increased confidence in their abilities. To do this, during both the school year and during the summer, several activities were created so that the participants could engage in educational work in a fun and rewarding manner.
During the school year, I worked with the public library to design a collaborative group of educational simulations. Through these simulations, students learned about aquatic life, volcanoes, and countries in South and Central America. In the final simulation, students worked together to create a “Kid-Town,” complete with shops and social services. Each simulation culminated in a presentation at the public library, and was open to all community members. Not only did parents, teachers, and other community members get a chance to see what the students learned, but students also gained experience making presentations in a public forum.
In addition to these varied activities, I also wrote and received two consecutive grants from the California Coastal Commission to take ASEEP participants on field trips to increase environmental awareness and improve science skills. Our field trips served over 100 students, and included visiting recycling centers, dune and marine preserves, and aquariums. We have a short Windows Media Video news clip featuring one of our field trips to the Community Environmental Council’s Watershed Resource Center [3.37MB].
For the summer weeks, I took advantage of the lightened schoolwork load and gave a dozen students, ages 9-13, the chance to become teachers and mentors to the younger participants. The older students met with the other tutors and I before classes started, and helped to organize the day’s curriculum. They copied and distributed the materials, read to the younger students, and organized games for the breaks. Students also produced a summer newsletter in which students interviewed one another and wrote short biographies, took notes on our field-trips and wrote stories when we returned, and took a camera around to snap shots of some of the best moments of their summer. In the end they typed all of their material, learned how to put it in a newsletter format, complete with pictures, and even posted two issues of it on the internet.
The end result of this work has been promising. Shortly after I left Santa Barbara, a former student phoned me to say that she campaigned to be school president and won the election. Other students have contacted me to tell me that they were given awards as students of the month. Students are increasingly speaking of going to college as something certain, no longer a remote possibility. Additionally, the ASEEP’s success has allowed it to expand to serve three additional affordable housing communities in the past year.
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