Paying it forward

January 5: It has been a jam-packed four-day experience of the 2017 Winter DC Seminar for the Urban Education students. I want to give a little synopsis of what has been going on and what we have learned and then I will touch on two of my favorite activities of this 10-day experience so far.

Our second day of class started with us critically thinking about the discussion questions that we would be asking the educators and professionals on our site visits during our stay. We cover an array of topics including: teacher scrutiny, America painting the teacher as a superhero, why being an educator isn’t always looked at as “prestigious,” the impacts of the election on the educational system, and qualities of the ideal teacher. On this day we visited our first site, Parkside Middle School which is a Cesar Chavez Charter School and we got a chance to talk with Mr. Weingarten, a middle school history teacher and alum of William & Mary. He talked a bit about how his time in a program called City Year helped him to gain some experience in urban school settings, but also noted that he still had a lot to learn on his journey in teaching. Currently he has been in his profession for three years and he says he enjoys that the staff at his school really work as a team to make sure the kids come first.

On the third day of our course we had three different visits to complete. The first visit was to KIPP DC Webb campus, the second to Langley High School, and the third was a dinner and communication session with the Dream Project. At KIPP DC we were able to go into the classrooms of this charter school and see how the lessons are ran, what classes are offered, and some of the student teacher interaction. During that visit a little girl by the name of Malia who proudly invited me to sit next to her in class and very quickly got acquainted with me and her first question was, “what college do you go to?” Upon hearing the name of my school she stuck out her shoulders and said, “well I’m going to go to Howard University when I grow up!” and I was immediately taken aback by the high standards that she had already set for herself and the amazing communication skills she had acquired at such a young age. It was such a merry interaction and I honestly hardly wanted to leave that class observation. At Langley High School, I was placed into an AP Government class and got to experience a very wild contrast to being at a charter school of younger age children. The demographic from Langley to KIPP went from extremely Caucasian to extremely African American and even simple things such as how much colorful decoration was present in the decorum changed from school to school. Our last experience of the day was to sit and talk with the students of the Dream Project. This project supports students that are undocumented in some form or fashion. At this experience we were able to answer questions about college and give our stories of how we got to the point that we are now and in exchange the Dream Project students shared with us some of the hardships of being an undocumented student in America.

Today we spent our morning at DC Central Kitchens learning what it means to be responsible for preparing, serving, and giving out over 5,000 meals to families in DC who cannot afford to eat. We were stationed at various cooking tables and given tasks such as preparing salads, dicing potatoes, cutting meats, and cleaning the kitchen. Later on we were able to take a visit to the National Board of Professionals for Teaching Standards and hear a bit about a new program they are working on in Educators Rising called micro credentials. We also got the chance to speak with William & Mary alum that works in the building about her experiences and her climb in her professional career. Lastly on today, the students of all three courses and a few alum got together for a networking dinner to ask questions about our target topic and enjoy a tasty pasta meal.

Of all the wonderful things that I got to do in the last couple of days the two experiences that really brought out my passion for this course were meeting the Dream Project students and working in the DC Central Kitchen. The portion of meeting the Dream Project students that really got my brain working was having the realization that undocumented students are not able to apply for FAFSA. As a student myself, I look to FAFSA as my saving grace to help pay for my education and in hindsight I never really thought about how blessed I was to have it or the idea of others not having access to it until I met those students. It was a moment of having to check my own privilege as an African American female and realize that although this nation is great, we have a vast majority of work ahead of us to make sure that all youth have a fair chance at a college education. The DC Central Kitchens site visit really helped to bring our whole course around to a full circle and give an epiphany of the kind of communities that we are trying to serve. To know that some of the students in these urban schools are coming from the same families that rely on a place like DC Central Kitchens for a hot meal really made it apparent how much the need is for these kids. I never thought about how things like winter breaks could affect if a child has at least two meals a day or a warm shelter to go to, or how having a uniform so your clothes are not made fun of by other kids provides equity within a school visual setting, or even how not only is DC Central Kitchens feeding a majority of these students, but also helping convicted felons get healthy from drug addiction and other offenses, get off the streets, earn a culinary degree, and have a stable job. For some this is the first time in their life that this much support has been given. So far this course has been wonderful, mind-blowing, angering, and upsetting at times, but for all the right reasons. These images are the types of things that one would never see when describing the “American dream” yet these are some of the more realistic things going on in this country. I will have much more on the progress of this course in the next few days.

Till then,
Ebony Martin ’17

Categories: Academics, Community Engagement & Service, Diversity, Student Blogs, Study Away, W&M in Washington
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