Works and Days

Summer School at McCoy Academy, McGill Lawrence Internship Award, Kelli Collins

Kelli Collins '15, McGill Lawrence Internship Award recipient, is teaching summer school to econmically disadvantaged youth through the Portland-based nonprofit Oregon Outreach.

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. 

At summer school, I've gotten to teach two 16-year-old students who are twins and have accrued absolutely no high school credit. The female twin, let's call her Andrea, has been a dedicated, passionate student, the type who would do well at a place like Reed. I was surprised when I discovered her passion for academics, seeing as she is a high school dropout. It all made sense when I found out that Andrea stopped going to high school because her twin brother, Kyle, dropped out, and she had too much separation anxiety to go to school without him because their bond as twins is so strong. 


The rewarding part of my job is when students like Andrea and Kyle show up to class every day, complete the assignments, and show interest in learning. I remember the day when Kyle began raising his hand to answer questions I would ask the class- I felt that it signified some amount of success on my end. 

The difficulty in my job comes when students don't show up to school or they slack off in class and put little effort toward their assignments. But at McCoy, I always try to respect that everyone is at a different place academically, personally, mentally, and emotionally, and I try to trust that people are doing the best they can given their circumstances. Really, I think that's true advice for any age group or demographic. 

Tags: mcgill lawrence, internship, portland, summer, teaching, education, service, alternative education