I began interning at Blue Tomato Learning Center in 9th grade. Initially I worked only with 6th and 7th graders, helping them primarily with math and science. I loved watching my students gain an understanding of the material we were studying. I enjoyed my work with them and think I did a good job. I am not, however, most proud of my work with the students who quickly understood the material. I am most proud of my commitment to the students I worked with in subsequent years: students who truly struggled with the material.
These two students were challenging to work with because they process information differently than I do: they have specific learning disabilities. It took me longer to explain concepts to them and I had to find a way of explaining the material that made sense to them. I realized that I could use the creative problem solving I employ when I want to communicate something visually in a drawing or painting to find a way to communicate academic ideas in a way that these students could understand. In this process I learned that the creative satisfaction I find when making art can surface in other ways, and that was eye opening and inspiring.
I also learned about myself in other ways. Although I had to face that I can become impatient when I try multiple explanations of the same idea and none of them get through, I learned that I will use creativity to problem solve and stick with it to see it through. I learned to use humor to keep things in perspective, both for myself and my students. I learned to laugh at my frustration and make fun of myself, and my students in turn learned to do the same. My two “challenging” students learned pre-algebra and earth science and I learned to transcend my frustration with laughter.
I am proud of my work with these students and of learning how to teach people who process information differently. I am proud of my commitment to them, and thankful for the lessons I learned.
Over the summer I worked over a period of three days with the Alaskan Conservation Center. The Alaska Conservation Center takes in animals that have either been injured or “socialized.” A socialized animal is one that has become dependent on eating human food / trash, which poses a danger for both the animal and the human. They are taken in to the Conservation Center and given a place to live a consistent healthy life style free of danger. They house a plethora of different animals ranging from lynx to the famous alaskan grizzly bear. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, depending on how you think about it, my work there did not allow me to feed the grizzly bear. I cleaned the pens and the center as well as fed the herbivores which resided there. I helped feed moose, musk ox, an eagle, deer and elk. Although the work was difficult and tedious it was amazing to be able to work with the animals directly.
This experience as a whole reiterated my love for nature. Prior to visiting the conservation center I spent 5 days backpacking throughout the Chugach Mountain Range. The combination of a 5 day backpacking trip and these two days at the Conservation Center forced me to reconsider my view about nature and where I would like to live for the rest of my life. Before visiting Alaska I had wanted to live in a city, surrounded by tall buildings and endless complexity. Giving my time to these animals, surrounded by this beautiful landscape made me realize how over complicated city life truly is. I felt as though I could spend the rest of my life there, surrounded by the incredible mountain range. Helping the animals made me realize that nature is so intrinsically harmonious, and that it was this harmony that could bring me happiness. This service experience helped me realize that I don’t want to live in the city for all my life, that perhaps, living out in the wild would bring me to a level of happiness that I simply could not attain in the strict confines of the city.
Over the summer I worked with a program called The Road Less Travelled. The Road Less Travelled is a service learning program which sends high school students around the world to do service in a certain place, then to have an adventure in that country. I participated in their El Sendero program. The El Sendero program sends students to Costa Rica.
The first day of the program was spent in San Jose, the capital, buying food and meeting my fellow travelers. After that day we transferred to the school we were going to work at. The school was a two hour drive into the heart of the eastern Costa Rican jungle. As our bus pulled in we were greeted by the beaming smiles of the local kids. It was their last day of school before a two week break and they were in the middle of an intense water fight. After about twenty minutes of talking with some of the more audacious kids the teachers at the school brought all the kids together in the small class room. Before they performed their D.A.R.E presentations we introduced ourselves by name, in spanish to everyone. After that the kids left to swim in the river and we cleaned out the classroom to set up our beds where we would sleep for the next week. Once we were done setting up we started our first half day of work. For the next nine days we worked on a variety of different projects including digging trenches for water overflow, breaking down old wood walls and reconstructing them with concrete, mending desks, painting and rebuilding broken paths.
Before I started this project I viewed service as a chore, just another thing that is required for school, but once I saw the happy look on the students faces’ as they looked at their renovated school I realized that service changes people’s lives. Service helps those in need, and makes those people feel important. I was so happy looking back on what I had done to help the school. “Gracias para todo,” a little boy named kevin told me, No i said back, “gracias.” I thanked him, he showed me what helping others truly means and how much care and work can affect someone for the better.
More pictures are available at this link.