This past summer, I was a fellow at the Robin Hood Foundation, where I, along with several other teenagers from around the Tri-state area, went on site visits to numerous organizations funded by Robin Hood. Each day, we focused on another element of poverty and had the opportunity to further explore it through conversations with employees of each organization and our time at the sites. Throughout the week, as I was enlighted by how deep-rooted poverty is in the city, I was appalled by how sheltered I am in my everyday life. Even though I’ve been to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I never knew about its history, contribution to NYC’s economy by providing and preserving quality jobs, and role in connecting the local community. I knew what a shelter was, but I’ve never stepped foot in one. The abstract, horrible image of poverty that I pictured in my head began to clear up as I got a glimpse of the destitution we’ve always talked about but hardly get to see first-hand. I was particularly touched by our visit to immigration court, where we met with pro-bono attorneys from the Safe Passage Project who represent unaccompanied minors. As we were led through the daunting corridors lined with waiting individuals, I began to imagine how scary it would be for a child to have to find their name on one of the numerous sheets of paper stapled to the wall and represent themselves in a foreign language. Besides solidifying my commitment to service after Friends, my time at the Robin Hood Foundation reminded me that there’s a lot to the world that we don’t get to see at a glimpse and must make a conscious effort to further discover a fuller picture.
This past summer, I interned at the GO Project for five weeks. With its teaching staff comprised of teachers, students (both college and high school), and learning specialists, the GO Project strives to catch students up in school who are falling behind in under-performing public schools, making use of valuable player in summer time as well as Saturdays during the school year. As of now, the GO Project has four locations: Friends, LREI, GCS, Grace Church Elementary, and Avenues. However, this summer, classes only took place at GCS, Grace Church Elementary, and Avenues. While some interns like myself were placed in morning classes, others helped out in afternoon electives such as yoga, rugby, and drama.
In my 4th grade classroom at Grace Church Elementary, I, along with another intern from Bard HS, assisted the Head Teacher, Student Teacher, and Teaching Assistant. We began the day at 8:45 a.m. and met our students in the big gym, where the entirety of the teaching and student body gathered for Harambee, where we sang songs/chants to foster a sense of community despite our separate classrooms and grade-levels. Occasionally, my TA would play songs such as the “Cha Cha Slide,” and students would rush into the center of the gym and get in formation. After Harambee, we went to our classroom and began morning meeting. Usually, we would greet each other and either share something about our day or play a game. We’d work on Math Centers, Math Games, and Reading in the morning. The teachers would split the students up into groups to work on the problem we read aloud on the board, which involved fractions. After working in their notebooks, the Head Teacher would have individual students solve it on the board. As expected, most students preferred Math Games, such as Multiplication Bingo or War. The teachers would facilitate the games and clear up any confusion. Throughout the summer, the GO students worked on mini-essays concerning longer recesses, chocolate milk in schools, and the reduction of homework. We helped them structure the essay and fine tune the intricacies of their argument. I particularly enjoyed one title: “Homework Don’t Be Fresh and Spicy with Me.”
Eventually, we’d break for lunch, and the interns would to Professional Development (PD), where we’d discuss classroom incidents, racism, diversity, equity, and education. I enjoyed having the opportunity to share ideas with other teenagers especially since the topics in question possess no clear solution. Every week, a different group of inters would lead an inter-led presentation. My group was assigned “Making a Difference,” and chose to facilitate a game of jeopardy in which the prize was a container of munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts.
Our Head Teacher permitted us a lunch break of 30 minutes after PD. When we returned, the students were usually reading an article, essay-writing, or learning about government. They had just come from recess and were either exhausted or energized, making it hard to motivate them to work. Shortly, they would leave the classroom and head off to their afternoon activities at 2:00 p.m., when the day ended for us interns.
I loved my time at the GO Projected and was surprised how quickly these five weeks passed and how much I enjoyed the routine and structure it provided me with. I cherish the unique relationships I formed with the students. One boy kept complaining that the “chicken” took his snack and reprimanded me for being “so fresh and spicy with [him]” every time I told him to do his work. A girl taught me a dance she made for her musical.ly and made a secret handshake with me. Another girl sang “If I Ain’t Got You” at the final show at the end of the summer and cried tears of joy after the audience applauded her. This past summer, I’ve learned to value my education, relationships, privileges, and ability to help others.
This summer, I was a teen intern at the Central Park Zoo. I have been doing programs at the Zoo ever since I was in Lower School and always loved seeing animals from different parts of the world. All throughout my three weeks at the zoo, we made enrichment for animals. Enrichment encourages an animal’s natural behavior. The animals are interested in the enrichment and examine it. Some enrichment can be found in food form or involve a clever way to hide food. We made burlap braids for the red pandas and wove bamboo into it. We also got long pieces of bamboo and rubbed mint and basil from the Zoo’s browse garden for the grizzly bears. Besides making enrichment, we had an hour a day to assist zoo keepers. We were each assigned two of the four zones at the Zoo (Polar and Tropic or Temperate and Children’s Zoo). I spent the first half of the teen internship in the Polar Zone doing fish breakout (weighing capelin and herring), scrubbing poop off penguin rocks, cleaning the fridge covered in fish remnants, and cleaning sock filters. We couldn’t take any photos because it is “behind the scenes,” where the general public doesn’t go. In the Tropic Zone, we cleaned hedgehog cages, chuckwalla enclosures, and helped the keepers feed the birds. On the last few days of the internship, we worked on our final project, aiming to educate the Zoo’s visitors about the Wildlife Conservation Society‘s new campaign to protect the NY Harbor, Blue York. We were split up into groups, and mine got people to write pledges on dry erase boards and then take a picture with it (Ex: I pledge to clean up my trash at the beach). Others got people to participate in trivia and had people sign a thank you card for the local fisherman who kindly agreed to stop fishing in an area with coral reef. I miss working with with the animals so much and really love the idea of educating the public about animals at zoos, making them fall in love with the them and support conservation efforts.
The Innocence Project is a non-profit striving to exonerate wrongfully convicted citizens through DNA testing and reforming of the criminal justice system. My group, which consists of Camilo Durr, Natalie White, and Richard Omar Payne, chose the Innocence Project specifically because of its progams training law enforcement. Our social issue, police misconduct, is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. For our site visit, we visited the Innocence Project’s head quarters in New York. We were led into a conference room and interviewed one of their policy associates, Daniel Lehrman. He told us that the Innocence Project sometimes holds a few-day-long training seminars retraining law enforcement. They don’t try to impose new ideas on them, but try to have a healthy, productive relationship with law enforcement. The Innocence Project will provide them with materials for retraining, too. When we asked Mr. Lehrman what the Innocence Project would do with the $5,000 grant, he flipped the question on us by asking us what we would like it to go to. Interested in its retraining programs, we said we would like it to go to the retraining of police officers.
My attitude towards police misconduct has not changed. Before doing the YPI project, I thought it was horrible. After doing the YPI project, my thoughts are even more concrete. One thing, however, changed in my mind. I knew that a lot of people get wrongfully convicted each year, but I never took the time to realize that 1) wrongful conviction is a serious issue 2) that police misconduct is one of the leading causes of it. I started to hate police misconduct when I first heard about Furgeson. Then Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and countless other people subject to police misconduct. It’s horrible, especially when officers aren’t disciplined in any serious ways. After talking to Mr. Lehrman and researching the Innoncence Project, I realized that wrongful convictions is a problem in itself, but is still very much related to police misconduct. The average amount of time one of the Innocence Project’s exonerates spend in jail is 14 years! Some exoneres were on death row for a crime they didn’t commit. By doing YPI, I realized how big of a problem wrongful conviction is and realized that police misconduct is worse that I initially thought it was.
It was difficult to make our presentation. It was recommended to have as little text as possible (a photo-based presentation), but still convey the non-profit’s mission, progams, relation to the social issue, the social issue itself, and how we were personally affected by the site visit. Plus, we had our site visit only two weeks before the in-class presentation, which determined if we could move on to finals or not. I believe that my presentation-making skills and presenting skills have improved over the few months leading up to the final presentation. I learned how to manage my time and that it is not a good idea to stay up till 12:00 a.m. on the phone with one of your partners, frantically trying to perfect the presentation, script, and Wiki Project?
The most rewarding part of doing YPI was the finals. Even though my group won the $5,000 grant, I was proud of us for making it to finals and presenting in front of a panel of judges and the whole grade about a social issue we are passionate about. It was nice to share all our research and our great non-profit, the Innocence Project, with everyone. I hope to remain in touch with the Innocence Project in some way, but right now, I’m not sure how. It would be great if we had a bake sale or did a school project for them next year.
During spring break, I went on the school’s Spanish trip to Peru, which was organized by Envoys. We spent two weeks exploring the gorgeous country and visiting some of its well-known cities and landmarks such as Lima, Cusco, Puno, Lake Titicaca, the Uros Islands, Machu Picchu, las Salinas de Maras, and Moray. Our tour guides each had different characters, allowing us to see various aspects of Peruvian culture. One of them studied archeology and had his very own theory about the Incas! Besides just hearing about Peru’s history and seeing its famous landmarks, we got to try Peruvian food everyday. Our diets consisted mostly of beef, chicken, rice, and potatoes, but I think I may have accidentally eaten alpaca once. We would usually come together as a group after dinner (whether it be at the hotel we were staying at or in a park before we were dropped off at our homestays) and discuss how the day went and how we were feeling, both emotionally and physically. One of our discussions focused on travelers v.s. tourists; more specifically, if we were travelers or tourists… or both? Although we saw a lot of groups of white or Asian elderly tourists at the restaurants we went to, we still stuck out wherever we went. Unlike in New York City, when you don’t think twice when you see hundreds of tourists who don’t speak English, we definitely stuck out to the Peruvians. On the first day we landed in Peru (in Lima), a few locals asked if they could take a picture of us. Our reply: yes, if you get in the photo with us! That was a first. We were definitely tourists.
The one time I didn’t feel like a tourist was when we were with our host families. Sure, we didn’t necessarily fit in at first and dinner conversations were awkward at first, but I doubt that most tourists visiting Peru get to stay in a Peruvian family’s house! Actually, I doubt that most, if not all, of the hundreds of thousands tourists visiting New York City have stayed with an American family for five nights! I was with my friend, Hailey, because I dreaded being all by myself with some random family I knew nothing about. Here I am now in New York missing everything so much! Our host mom, Véronica, was so sweet. Her two sons, Joaquín and Wagner (Jr.) were in school, so that had to eat together without me and Hailey because we would arrive at anywhere between 8:00-9:00 p.m. Despite our late arrival, Véronica would cook dinner for us whenever we showed up and sit with us, asking about our day. One day when we were in Cusco, our group had all the families eat at a restaurant (the one with alpaca). We had free time in the afternoon after lunch, but our host mom wanted to take me and Hailey to the mall! We saw Insurgent (Insurgente) at the mall’s movie theater. I don’t know exactly why, but that made me so happy. I really wanted to see the movie when I got back to the United States, and our host mom went out of her way to spend time with us. Our host dad, Wagner (Sr.), was never home when we were staying at their house. He is a tour guide at Machu Picchu, but he was our tour guide when we visited Machu Picchu! We were at Agua Calientes, and Hailey said, “I think that’s our dad.” It was…
We stayed at the EcoAmazonia lodge during the last few days of our trip. It was an amazing lodge/resort with a pool. We stayed in bungalows and only had electricity between 6:00-10:00 p.m. We were rushing to get ready for bed before 10:00 p.m., avoiding having to rely on a flashlight to light up our shower or attracting more mosquitoes. I got over 20 mosquito bites. The first night, we took a short stroll through the Amazon Rainforest and got in a boat, looking for caiman. Although we couldn’t find any, the man steering the boat turned the engine off, allowing the river to carry it downstream. It was so peaceful and silent. The moon and the stars were our only source of light. As we approached the EcoAmazonia lodge, we heard the annoying buzz of the generator (keep in mind it was earlier than 10:00 p.m.). It made me realize how disgusting and disruptive electricity is. I would always be blissful whenever we took the time to just sit down and have silent meeting. It gave us time to just settle down and appreciate the landscape. I was excited when we finally got to give back. After waking up/being woken up by monkeys around 6:00 a.m., we got on a boat and took a 8km hike. It was so muddy that all of my rain boots were covered in mud. It finally began to rain, but I have never seen so much rain in my life. I went from being hot and sticky to cool and drenched within seconds. Later, we attempted to go fishing with fishing poles made of a long stick, string, a hook, and a small hunk of meat. After discovering that none of us were natural-born fishers, we jumped in the river and swam. It was so nice to submerge ourselves in the water that we have been floating down the night before. The same day, we went to a family’s farm down the river and planted exactly 50 trees. We only had three digging tools, but we managed to get the work done quickly. They gave us fruit to eat after. We went to another family’s farm the next day, but their field had snakes in it, so we couldn’t plant all 50 trees. While we awkwardly waited for our boat to arrive, we got a quick lesson on how to shoot an arrow. I’m just really happy that we did something positive for the environment, giving back to the beautiful country of Peru and the two families.
I miss it so much. I miss the food, the culture, the people, my host family. There’s not one thing I don’t miss about Peru. I don’t even want to take back any bad things that happened in Peru, like when I fell at Machu Picchu (don’t worry, I fell AT Machu Picchu, not OFF Machu Picchu). I will continue to learn from these amazing two weeks. There’s so much I got out of this trip. Whenever I doubt myself, I remind myself how nervous I was for this trip, but everything turned out fine. Well, actually, it turned out to be incredible. I’d like to thank all of my classmates, Micah, Señor Quiñones, Ángela, Flaco, and Ahava for making it so great.