Works and Days

Summer Internship Award: Learning at Saturday Academy

Saturday Academy students learn the science of bubble blowing outside of the Paradox Lost during the annual 4th and 5th grade Talented and Gifted camp, held on Reed campus!

I spent my summer as an intern for the Saturday Academy, a non-profit organization that offers hands-on classes, camps, and apprenticeship experiences for youths in Oregon and southwest Washington. The ten weeks I spent with the Saturday Academy involved observing and facilitating its summer offerings as well as assisting in its behind-the-curtains operations at their office in the University of Portland. I came to this internship thinking it would make a worthwhile use of my math and science background as well as give me preliminary experience in teaching. However, it was a experience with much more variety than that. The task of finding a specific anecdote to illuminate a larger lesson I learned this summer is pretty tough actually.

I did enjoy some opportunities to be a math major for the Saturday Academy. For a programming class I taught a miniature lesson on modular arithmetic to help students understand the “mod” function in their coding language. During an algebra prep course, I had to explain myself a little after nominating a seemingly erroneous candidate for a favorite number, “e”. But I think the more rewarding parts of the internship came from the moments where I had little use for math. Based on the textbooks I’ve read, no theorem deals with LEGO sorting and no corollary presents a surefire method of keeping children out of areas populated with hornets.

As much as I came into the internship looking for an exercise of my skill set, I received a more enriching experience. I had to coordinate and execute a bridge-building group activity for high school apprentices (where “bridge-building” is both a symbolic and literal description of the group activity. Have you ever seen a plywood-and-cardboard bridge hold up under the weight of six 12-packs of soda?), I excavated and helped organize the Saturday Academy’s storage garage (which has everything from Rube Goldberg supplies to preserved animal specimens!), and sometimes I just placed financial documents in a filing cabinet.

The list of things I did can go on, and it becomes all the more obvious that teaching a lesson, despite being the most public display, actually is a minor part of the full story of being an educator. People might think I’m taking a cue from that popular motivational poster where an iceberg is submerged in water, the visible peak above sea level representing “execution” and the gigantic mass of ice under the water is symbolizing “planning.” The truth is I am, a bit. It’s a pretty solid metaphor, but it neglects the existence of the “post-execution.”

Plenty of things need to be taken care of after a lesson or a camp, sometimes in a very small frame of time. For example, on the Friday of a week of classes, I was assigned to help create or designate boxes of eight functional LEGO robotics kits so that they can be given to a class on the following Monday. The catch was that we had a thirty minute window between when the LEGO class ended and when we were supposed to leave the class site. Short ride in a fast machine, as they say. Sometimes instead of intensive quick tasks, there was time-consuming business to take care of after a class. I spent one morning in front of the copier, scanning an iceberg of class feedback forms to upload to the Saturday Academy computer network (my favorite comment was from a student who attended Kid Lawyer Camp, who enjoyed the camp because they got to argue with their friends a lot). Even though my week-to-week schedule may have looked like I’m attending classes and camps, saying that the internship consists primarily of watching classes as they occur is far from the truth.

It’s not a stretch to say I had an eclectic summer. I hope that by sketching brief descriptions of events, I avoided narrowing my ten weeks to a specific calendar date, but I additionally hope that doing so maintains the spirit of the work I’ve done. This summer has involved me in so many ways that I can’t begin to imagine how a small office building can handle a tempest of simultaneous projects year-long! I am grateful for the Saturday Academy for involving me beyond a STEM education objective and giving me the opportunity to explore the larger world surrounding it. It’s so easy to take the work behind classes as lecture and homework time as a student, but an appreciation of the hidden work a planner undertakes is something I won’t forget as I continue my path in education.

Tags: summer internship award