I am taking Stefan’s Politics class this year. As expected, the class is dominated by talk of the 2016 Presidential election; we frequently read news articles about the candidates, watch the presidential debates, and examine each candidate’s policies. We recently did a side by side comparison of each candidate’s policies for the benefit of the school community. On this blog, students and faculty can see each candidate’s stance on important social, economic, and political issues. My partner and I compared the candidates’ stances on the 2nd Amendment and Criminal Justice Reform. We explored Trump’s and Hillary’s campaign websites to gather the bulk of our information and also reviewed their social media feeds. We were careful not use any sources that were not clearly sanctioned by their campaigns as to avoid misrepresenting either candidate. This project gave me the opportunity to look more closely at our two candidates for president and determine, as objectively as possible, where each stands on these important issues. With many important issues compiled together on the Politics blog, others in our community (regardless of their political involvement or leanings) can better inform themselves on the upcoming presidential election.
During last summer I interned with the GO Project in their GO Getters Program. For five weeks student volunteers worked with experienced teachers and teaching assistants in K-8 classrooms. These students were incredibly bright but had fallen behind during the school year because of a lack of resources, family issue etc. Our job was to provide an experience that would supplement what they were learning in school and also to provide a unique experience using the many resources available at Grace Church (and Avenues). As a morning volunteer, my job was to help students in an academic class. I worked with a science teacher on an environmental science course, discussing and doing activities on issues such as renewable energy, fracking, and composting. We worked with students individually when they required specialized help but also made sure in include group activities into the curriculum. This emphasis on group activity fostered a great sense of community among the students and helped volunteers learn their interests, strengths, and weaknesses in the classroom. The year culminated in a lab report on a composting project. The students created poster boards discussing their projects and presented to students in all middle school classes on the final presentation day.
Volunteers attended daily professional development sessions to discuss issues of social justice related to educational equity. We touched on issues such as the intersection between race, economic status, and educational development, public funding for struggling students, and the use of standardized testing as a measure of intelligence. The student volunteers hailed from many different backgrounds; all were New Yorkers, but every student had a unique story. These PD sessions gave me the opportunity to talk with students who had stories that are rare to encounter at Friends. Some of their schools emphasized diversity similarly to Friends; others did not. Getting some insight into how these less diverse student bodies conducted themselves (as well as some more diverse student bodies) made me realize the importance of diversity at any school and on any campus. Diversity of background (race, socio-economic class etc.) led to the most important type of diversity in any educational setting: diversity of ideas. Having people from so many different backgrounds led to some very unique debates that are impossible to have without a diverse student body. Agree with every students’ opinion or not, exposure to different types of people is important in developing an objective and inclusive view of issues that affect all of us. I hope that every student explores opportunities to exit their bubbles of privilege the same way that I did this summer, and I hope that students at Friends and Friends alumni push for greater diversity wherever they are.
During various holidays throughout the school year, I have volunteered at Last Hope, a non-profit animal rescue shelter in Wantagh, Long Island. Last Hope aims to reduce the dog and cat overpopulation problem on Long Island through catch/neuter/release policies, and strives to find amicable dogs and cats homes. Last Hope also saves death-due pound animals from the local public shelters. During the holiday season, especially on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, Last Hope is short of volunteers. On these days when extra volunteers are required, I go to the Last Hope center in Wantagh and help with cage cleaning, feeding, and giving potential adoptees tours through the center.
Before volunteering with Last Hope, I always thought of it as an easy way to complete service hours. I love animals, and I assumed that I would just be playing with the cats or dogs. During my first visit I quickly realized how much work goes into maintaining the well beings of so many animals. Every animal must have its cage constantly cleaned, and even when you think a cage is clean it is not uncommon to soon see it in dire need once again. After that first trip, I knew that I would need to go back again. During those few hours I bonded with volunteers and animals alike, and learned about their motivation for helping. For some it was pure love of animals, while for others it was based more on helping their local community as a whole in any way they can. Regardless of the reason, everyone worked hard to provide the best experience for these animals, and I have no doubt that my volunteer work with Last Hope will continue in the future.
YPI Service Learning
For my YPI service-learning project I visited the GO Project. My group members and I found common social values in competence, family, and personal growth, and we decided that youth education was one of the closest embodiments of those values. The GO Project works with families in downtown New York to help struggling elementary and middle school students keep up with the curriculum and supplement their learning if their schools are under resourced and unable to provide students with the tools that they need to succeed in high school and beyond. When I began working with the GO Project, I went into the project with the mindset that while these students were under resourced, the reason that they would be going to the GO project was that they were in some was “slow” meaning that they would either have a learning disability or that they would just be incredibly slow learners. However, after visiting the GO Project and seeing the third grade students testing and taking part in learning activities, I realized that they were really just normal students who were in no was mentally disabled and in no way less intelligent. They tested just like normal students, asked questions just like normal students, and occasionally didn’t pay attention just like normal students.
In order to continue working with the GO Project I would be happy to continue volunteering with them over the weekends for the Saturday Program. Besides volunteering however, one of the most important things that can be done to help the GO Project is to raise awareness for the social issue that they are trying to combat. Too many students in NYC are underprivileged and aren’t given the opportunity to succeed and strive academically, even though they may be very intelligent. YPI was a great outlet for letting people know about various social issues in New York, but YPI does not mark the end of raising awareness or helping our non-profit organizations. I hope to continue my work with the GO project throughout high school and to provide students with the resources, confidence, and skills that they need to succeed throughout the remainder of their academic career.