Teaching at McCoy Academy has been fun, challenging, rewarding, and eye opening. I went into this experience hoping to learn how to effectively educate youth who come from difficult, often at-risk backgrounds. I've realized that many of the teachers who devote themselves to this demographic spend decades asking themselves these same questions and learning more every day about the teaching methods that are most and least effective.
Alternative high school students are often stigmatized, with many in society labeling them as "bad" or "stupid" kids. While everyone attends McCoy for different reasons, I've learned that many of the students here dropped out of traditional high school because they were bullied for not fitting in. McCoy Academy is somewhat of a safe haven for these students because it is a relatively judgment, drama-free place (with no social hierarchy and few of the problems that come along with social scenes at many high schools) for them to learn and get their work done.
Emmanuel Enemchukwu, junior economics major, was a recipient of the Davis Project for Peace award. The following post contains his experiences implementing his project in Nigeria at the Federal Government Academy.
About half a year now separates me from the time I spent at the Federal Government Academy (FGA) Suleja Nigeria. At FGA Suleja, I executed the Davis project for peace with my colleague, Zhe Li. FGA Suleja, Nigeria, was my alma mater, and its contribution to my moral and intellectual development leaves me forever indebted to it. As such, it was with great zeal that I embarked on the project hoping to contribute the most possible in the small but relevant opportunity that I had been afforded.
The Federal Government Academy Suleja is located in one of the most southern regions of Northern Nigeria. Suleja with its beautiful hills is a town in harmony with itself and its surroundings, but this harmony seems fragile in the face of the current ethno-social turmoil perpetrated by Boko-Haram in North-Eastern Nigeria, a region of close proximity. Once in a while, the scourge of the much-reviled Boko-Haram breaks out of its enclosure in North Eastern Nigeria and into the area of Suleja. But beyond this fear of conflict, we saw peace and prosperity in a school that boasts of some of Nigeria’s smartest young minds. We define peace, with regards to the secondary school students, as the existence of social innovation and an infrastructural platform for students to optimize their academic growth potentials in a violence-free environment.
During the scorching summer of 2014, I worked with Mashal Academy, an alternate school for underprivileged children in Neelum Colony, a squatter settlement in Karachi, Pakistan. The initiative is primarily run by high school students from The Lyceum; they spend afternoons and early evenings with primary school level children from the area helping them with Math, English, Urdu (the national language) and basic sciences which are part of the Department of Education endorsed curriculum. Mashal was based in a single room, rented by the high school students where they used to help around 15 children with these subjects.
However, because of the superior quality and consistency of education that the students offered, there was a surge in the number of children wanting to attend Mashal. In light of this, I worked with the students to lease a new space which is much bigger and accommodates 34 children and the activities that the mentors plan for them. The new place has two rooms and a huge veranda allowing the students to be divided into two groups depending on their prior academic learning. Over the summer, we also created lesson plans for new subjects including Music, Arts, Drama and Physical Education while also allotting an hour every week for reading time. Given the pedagogical methods in the schools usually available to the children, these new additions are phenomenal – almost unheard of. We also laid ground for two other programs at Mashal: monthly medical check-ups for the children by a qualified pediatrician and a daily lunch program. Both of these are aimed at incentivizing parents to send their children to school while also providing quality services in area where infrastructure for health and hygiene is almost negligible.
Most importantly, we put in place a sustainable donor model for Mashal over the summer. Since the school was housed in smaller premises earlier, the rent was not a very big issue. However, the new house and the expanded services being offered mean that the operating costs have risen substantially. I guided the students towards finding and approaching donors who would pledge to chip in with the costs on a monthly basis for an entire year before renewing their commitments.
I went to where we are supposed to find society’s worst. What I found were people working to be their best.
I spent five weeks attending class with our outcasts, our pariahs, our unseen. The ones we place in shadow and in darkness, out of view, all the better to construct them as distant abstracts, faceless and certainly heartless causers of violence and tragedy and badness. Criminals. Violators. Undeserving of society, deservedly stripped of rights.
Me being the MC for the closing ceremony of the summer pre-service training.
The past two months have been a whirlwind of events, feelings, and encounters. Quite different from my original imagining of this summer internship, yet equally as fantastic, or even more so.
Originally, the plan was to spend half of my time doing a field research project in rural regions in Taiwan for the organization Teach for Taiwan, and the other half of the time would be spent assisting the organization in finding mentors for Teach for Taiwan's pilot cohort teachers. Well, plans don't always work out, especially independent internship projects like this.
There are over 2,500 miles of coastline in the Kodiak Archipelago, and there are about 3,000-3,500 Kodiak brown bears that call their island namesake home. This means that if all those salmon-stuffed ursas were lined up along the many beaches and bluffs of their Alaskan archipelago each bear would pretty much have its own mile of coast. There are only about 1,300 miles of coastline in the entire west coast of the United States of America, from Bellingham, Washington to San Diego, California, and not nearly that many bears. Think about that one. In July, a team of eight people, myself included, went to Tugidak Island on the southern end of the Kodiak Archipelago and walked a mere 2.5 miles, or one one-thousandth, of Kodiak’s coast, picking up marine debris. Eight to ten THOUSAND pounds of marine debris in three days. Now wrap your head around that number.
What is marine debris? It’s nothing more than a fancy term for trash. Garbage. Waste. Junk. And on top of whatever your word of choice is for human carelessness, you can also be sure to call it totally destructive and 100% preventable. 100% preventable, really? Yes, friends, as powerless as we all have been conditioned to feel by the forces of destruction themselves (albeit while they are disguised as “clever” advertisements and enticing packaging) this is an environmental problem that we can all stop squarely in its tracks.
So what’s the source, you ask, genuinely curious. I recycle (when I can) you say. I don’t live by the ocean and I’ve even adopted a manatee! Well have you ever drunk out of a plastic water bottle? Ever? Even as you gave yourself the excuse that it was only because you left yours at home? Have you ever bought anything that when you turned it over you could feel, in little bumpy letters next to the seam of the plastic, said “MADE IN CHINA,” “MADE IN KOREA,” or “MADE IN TAIWAN”? Have you ever stopped to think about how strange it is for something that originated in a foreign country to have English lettering on it, as clear as day?
Washington Monument, summer 2014
It’s been an amazing last few weeks. I’ve learned and grown more than I would have thought possible in the short time I’ve been here. I’ve come to learn what a tenuous position this college program is in, and to so admire all the people behind the scenes who fight tooth and nail to keep it funded and alive to serve. I have learned that the philosophy I see embodied in the Campus Within Walls administration is one that must be practiced in whatever course my own life takes: To fight for the underserved, and to give without requiring any initial proof to pass a judgment of “worthiness.” There is a need, and they are ensuring it is met. It’s that simple.
Undertaking this project has been scary at times. Not for the reasons one might expect from a project conducted in a prison, but from the experience of being personally challenged. I love going to the prison class, but I will admit, there have certainly been times when I’ve wished I was at home, spending a carefree summer exploring the great Northwest with family and friends. I am very aware of my own expectations for this project. I want it to be great. I want it to do justice to the inmates’ experiences, humanity, and strength. It’s terrifying to think that I might not be successful. Were I not even trying, I wouldn’t have the discomfort I do, because I would not be creating the opportunity to fail. My limits are being tested. This grant has allowed me the chance to translate my lofty words and big dreams into actions. There’s no stopping now. Not only do I have myself to answer to, and those who placed confidence in my abilities by funding me, but I now also feel obligated to all the students and administration at the Campus Within Walls program. These students have lodged themselves irremovably in my heart and in my life. Although their lives and their college experiences are restricted behind fences and razor wire, there is no way that their impact on me will remain contained. Their needs don’t disappear when I do. My experience this summer has placed in me a sense of obligation to continue to work with prison justice and inmate rehabilitation programs. In my original thinking, I believed the PSF award was granting me the opportunity to “complete” my summer project. I am now realizing how limited that perspective was. Rather, what my PSF summer has done is awaken a passion and deep sense of loyalty and lasting obligation to this small, scrappy community college prison program. There is no way I will be able to close the door on this experience, and walk away from the dedicated students and administration. My work with Campus Within Walls is light years away from “complete.”
I glance at myself in the mirror, and anxiously scrutinize my outfit. Long khaki pants and a plain, loose-fitting black shirt. It’s my first day of school, and the dress code is quite strict. No jeans. Nothing too revealing, nothing too form-fitting. No dresses, no skirts. Long pants. Sleeved shirts. No blue tops. The possible ways I could violate the code seem endless.
I glance down. My shoes may be a problem. Only closed toed shoes are allowed, and all I brought with me are sandals and running shoes. I wear the running shoes as they are the pair with the only chance of passing inspection, but they may prove to be too informal.
I grab my bag. It contains my wallet and cell phone, though I know already these items will be staying in the car. I will bring only my photo ID into the school building.
“Do you like it?” I asked, as little Elaine eagerly took the sea lettuce from my outstretched hand and popped it in her mouth. She chewed thoughtfully, opening her mouth so I could see her teeth every time she bit down, fully exploring the odd new texture. Then she swallowed and a serene expression came over her sea-sprayed face: “Miss Leila,” she said, as salt water dripped from her eyelashes, “I just want to stay on this beach forever and eat seaweed.” Elaine hugged herself within her purple rain jacket and turned to look out at the wind-whipped ocean. It was a picture of wildness and beauty, and it made me feel really alive—kind of like the feeling you get in the moment you decide to embrace the rain and just get soaked. I couldn’t have wiped the grin off my face if I wanted to as I turned to look at the other children playing along the beach and picked up a new handful of sea lettuce. I swirled it in the surf to rinse it of sand and walked down towards the little rain-dancing rain-boots with my handful of salt-soaked offerings.
Officially my job title at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is “Park Ranger,” which is both a really poor sum-up of my actual position and kind of a misnomer anyways when you work for the Fish and Wildlife Service, with is quite different from state or National Parks. When I describe my job to other people I tell them I am the Youth Conservation Corps crew leader at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR), and that I lead a team of four high school students in projects both in town and out in the field that benefit the Refuge and the Kodiak community and educate the high schoolers about the National Wildlife Refuge system and the many things that KNWR does to fulfill its mission to conserve and protect the Kodiak Brown Bears and their beautiful archipelago habitat. Which is all grand and well, but when I really think about what this summer experience is meaning to me, three words come to mind with which I would describe myself: teacher, learner, explorer.
Over my winter break, I went to visit the Saturday Academy administrative office located on the University of Portland's campus, and it was quite fun! I met some outstanding individuals who work not just for a living, but in order to provide quality academic programs for kids all across Portland and the greater Oregon area. That's the benefit of being a non-profit: you do work that is relevant to your interests, but also participating in a group that makes quite a meaningful impact on the community. During my weeklong visit, I helped staff revise internship descriptions provided by several dozen major companies across Portland, a part of Saturday Academy's Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program. Thinking about how to best incorporate a diversity of high school students regardless of their gender or socioeconomic status is something I have never considered, and was a thoughtful challenge for me. With an interest in Technology and Education, I learned about all the hard work that goes into organizing the hundreds of educational opportunities Saturday Academy provides, and was proud to assist with tasks in the background in order to provide a great experience for the families signed up with Saturday Academy this year.
I participated in a weeklong externship with Saturday Academy, an educational non-profit established in 1983 and based in Portland. Saturday Academy’s mission is to provide supplemental learning opportunities to kids from second grade through high school. Saturday Academy organizes over five hundred classes a year, all taught by experts from the community. Saturday Academy states that their emphasis is on science, technology, engineering and math—but a quick peek at their website shows a vast array of classes in all fields, from writing to engineering to acting. This was information I knew as I headed to my externship on the first day. What I didn’t know was that the entire organization is run by just a handful of people. Just thirteen, to be exact. Over my week at Saturday Academy I observed an efficient, enthusiastic, and creative team working hard to providing learning opportunities to bright young students.
My first task as an extern involved Saturday Academy’s Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program. The ASE program matches up promising high school students with industry mentors. The students spend the summer in labs or in the field, working with their mentors. In January, the industry mentors had just submitted blurbs describing the work their high school-aged interns will be doing this coming summer. In addition to proof-reading these blurbs, I vetted their wording to make sure subtle gender bias wasn’t implicit in the language chosen by the writers. As it turns out, gender bias in job descriptions is a persisting issue and data indicate this wording-bias contributes to women being underrepresented in STEM fields. Saturday Academy is deeply dedicated to providing opportunity to all children, including those historically underrepresented in STEM.
Jeri Janowsky, Saturday Academy’s director, told me that a goal of Saturday Academy is to frame education as something that doesn’t have to end when the school day ends, but rather, to frame education as a dynamic, continuing experience throughout life. I strongly embrace this perspective, and Saturday Academy is embodying the idea that education can take place even after the last school bell rings. My time at Saturday Academy was encouraging and motivational—seeing an organization with such an important message flourishing gives me (otherwise absent) high hopes for the future of education in the U.S.
I participated in an externship with Moira Tofanelli. Moira is a School Psychologist at Creative Sciences School in Portland. She was very accommodating and tailored the experience to my interests. I learned that a School Psychologist spends their time focusing on the kids who are not doing very well in school, either academically or behaviorally, and try to determine if they need special educations services. I was intrigued that this was not an exact science; there are many circumstances making it it unclear what is causing the issues for the child and what steps should be taken to help correct the problem. This was highlighted for me when I did a case study of a sixth grader who was undergoing an evaluation to determine eligibility for special education services. Overall, my externship was a very rewarding and interesting experience.
Last Wednesday morning I hopped on my bike to head to Portland Waldorf School for an externship opportunity allowing me to job shadow Alynn Nelson, a 7th grade teacher. I have felt a calling to become a teacher and knew this externship would be a great chance to explore an alternative approach to education, as well as help me explore different subject and grade levels to possibly teach. After an initial mishap ( I turned west down the Springwater Corridor and biked nearly all the way out to Gresham before realizing that I was supposed to turn east and head towards Milwaukee) I finally arrived at the school eager to learn about the philosophy and unique teaching styles of Waldorf Education.
One of the first things I noticed when I walked in the school was the absences of the color white. Paintings and art projects covered the blue, purple, and yellow walls creating a stimulating mosaic of color. I soon came to learn that the colorful environment wasn’t the only unique thing about Waldorf schools.
Alynn Nelson explained to me that Waldorf schools were started in the 19th century by Rudolf Steiner because he was worried about everyone becoming a monotonous factory worker so he created a new type of school to ensure children had the opportunity to receive a creative, enlightening, and spiritual education. When I entered the classroom, I saw 17 students dedicatedly writing and drawing pictures about Michelangelo. She explained that what the students were working on was another important feature of Waldorf education; students did not use textbooks but rather created beautiful pages, that captured the essence of their lessons, which were later bound into a book that reflected all they had learned that year.
Bailey Boatsman, Class of 2016
Biology Outreach Lead Teacher
Bailey is a volunteer lead teacher with the Biology Outreach program. The Biology Outreach program creates partnerships with local schools to provide science lessons to students who would not otherwise have access. Although not pursuing the sciences in her own academics, Bailey cultivates her love of teaching and evident reverence for all learning by bringing science to local elementary school students. Her thoughtful perspective reminds us not to forget that enthusiasm and true curiosity are all that is needed to reveal the joy and discovery in life’s smallest moments.