Over this co-op, I’ve had a lot of new experiences. I’ve lived with new people. I’ve been in new places. I’ve learned new things. I’ve done my absolute best throughout this whole experience. As I near the end of this journey, I’ve thought a lot about what I want to do with my life and how I’ll make it to where I want to be.
I’ve worked in two places this co-op. I helped an alumnus of Antioch and a few of her Harvard colleagues continue to develop a platform to share educational information about Critical Exploration and the work of Eleanor Duckworth. We explored a lot of videos, articles, dissertations and qualifying papers around pedagogy and teaching the development of student understanding. Critical Exploration pedagogy centers around not memorizing questions but instead developing understanding. It’s something I’d never heard of and have developed quite an interest in.
I have also been working at the South End Technology Center. It is much like a place I attended back home in Houston called Workshop Houston. SETC is a place where students with an interest in technology can go and learn things like the 3D printing, laser cutting and coding. It was created by Mel King, a civil rights activist in Boston. SETC was the first Fabrication Labs that gave free resources to low income students in Boston.
Everyone has the ability to learn but not everyone has the resources. Workshop Houston is an after school and summer program in Third Ward, Houston, TX that offers learning in fashion design, music making and academic assistance. It is a completely free program. I went to Workshop for eight years. It is the first place I visit when I get home for breaks. I even had the opportunity to work there this last December teaching graphic design. It was great experience, and I felt like I’ve really made an impact.
SETC is like the STEM vision of Workshop but much more. It isn’t every day but it is a job for low income students in high school and college in the South End of Boston. The students there have an opportunity to learn new skills and get paid for it. In the summer, they teach middle schoolers the skills they’ve perfected over the school year and, hopefully, a few middle schoolers will come and work at SETC in the future. It’s a beautiful cycle.
The environment is homey. The students are quick to introduce themselves and be friendly. They are constantly practicing teaching a different technology and helping each other learn new things. All of the resources are maintained and overseen by in-house staff that are there preparing even on the days that students are not in attendance. It’s reminds me so much of where I come from. We even went to the reopening of another place that is important to the community and donated art. It has been so fun making and learning with them and even simply hanging out.
During December back in Houston, I taught a group of middle schoolers how to use Adobe Illustrator, after having taught myself a few skills. Within two weeks, we had a collaborative Christmas sweatshirt design that everyone helped with. It was one of the proudest moments for me as a student and an artist. During that experience and the experiences I’ve had with SETC and CEPress, I’ve realized that I didn’t hate teaching. I hated school. I love helping people learn, take an interest and develop new skills. My shoulders peek with pride and I can say “Look at what my kids did.” It’s something that gets lost within the schooling system. I know that I may not be able to fix it, but supporting these small organizations, keeping them accessible to the youth and the people who really need it, is going to make the world a much more creative place.
I know I want to be an artist and I know my next co-op should be closer to that field, but I also know that I want to create something that teaches people. I want my stories and my art to be meaningful. How? I’m not sure, yet, but like I’ve done here—I want to do my very best to make my life worth something. Something special.
I come from a small school in a big city. I spent most of my time studying, I never had a job and I sold cookies for pocket change. I was one of a few gifted students who worked hard to get noticed for being good in school. Starting co-op as a Miller Fellow at Yellow Springs High School, I realized I never knew how students who were completely opposite from me were treated.
Starting off, I had a two week delay due to paperwork issues. I didn’t spend that time sulking and lounging, I organized my life. I started doing my artwork. I created a health care routine. I even got to spend more time with my cat. Of course, towards the end of the two weeks, I was afraid I’d have to find another job, but then I got the email that I could start the next day.
During high school, I always found myself being a teacher’s assistant and I feel like I’ve always been able to interact with students in a productive and inspiring way. This skill came in handy when I found myself working with students who were left behind. I had four young men in the 9th grade that I worked with. All of the them were sweet, active and unmotivated. I spent the majority of my time encouraging them to work and making sure that they would do well. Yellow Springs High School is a project-based learning school, so I was assigned to help them with their final project illustrating the Hero’s Journey.
Outside of this assignment, I spent a lot of time helping gather materials and making banners for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. As a gender-fluid bisexual who never had this type of safe space in my school, I felt like it was a great opportunity to inspire younger queer students. They actually liked me a lot and wanted to know what I thought about current LGBTQ events.
Yellow Springs High School does not normally require students to do work outside of school and also works on an A and B day schedule. Due to the schedule, I would only see one group every other day. I made sure to get a firm understanding of their schedule, using detentions, after school time and study halls to our advantage to help them complete their project. Both groups decided on a simple board game with cards and spaces that illustrate the story. One group made their project about basketball. The other group, against my advice, made a game about the video game Fortnite.
Every day, I found myself either battling with their attention or telling them that they knew what they were doing. These are students who were just allowed to fall behind when they didn’t want to do work, but with me, they were putting in the work. The week before their exhibition night, they began to come in with a plan—exactly what they were going to do and exactly what they needed my help on. I was honestly proud.
Exhibition night arrives, and I find that my boys were surrounded by other students eager to play their games. Their projects were incredible and I was so proud. They all received A’s and, I’ll say it again, I was so proud. The next time I saw them, though, I wasn’t working with them as directly. They were excited to see me and tell me how they were, even expressing a small bit of worry when they didn’t see me for a day.
I’ve never been really interested in teaching or being a teacher. I took this job in order to be an artistic helper, but over my time with the students, I realized I love being a good and honest influence on younger people. I’m not much older than these students but I feel like I impacted them in a positive way. Once again, I am proud of them and myself. There are students that get swept under the rug because teachers don’t have time to check in with every student at all times. However, when students get the small amount of extra attention, they can do amazing things that they didn’t even know they could do.
I most likely won’t work in a school again, but I still appreciate this opportunity to make a difference and seek out the diamonds in the rough.