This third co-op was a combination of website work, preparation for my 4th Spanish co-op, and a lot of reflection on my part. For starters, I had two separate jobs.
One was as an intern with the Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA) in Baltimore. The BMHA, headed by Jan Desper-Peters, is an organization in pursuit of a more complete understanding of the factors causing detriment to the mental health our African American Communities. Luckily this Co-op I was placed in a class that focused on reflection focused around the concept of place called Sound, Sight, and Phenomenology of Place. Doing work both on and off site for the BMHA, I was able to travel a lot through the city, but the absolute disparity between the wealthiest districts and the poorest are crystal clear. Just a block or two in one direction and you feel as though you have entered an entirely different region. Unfortunately, it is pretty easy to tell these disparities lie across racial lines as well. It reminded me a bit of New York City, but the community in Baltimore understands the position of oppression they have been put into. Fortunately, the work I have done has made it easier for people to find the mental/emotional support that is often stigmatized within black communities.
My second job in DC was more of the same as far as work load, but ZaneNetworks was a bit more corporate. A small business that bridges the gap between healthcare providers and their recipients, ZaneNet is a telemedicine consulting company. The advancements in technology that let us diagnose and be diagnosed by way of internet connection and audio visual technology is nothing short of incredible. With this being my first time in the public health arena and the office world, I had to adjust to it a bit more than I have had to do for my previous jobs. I did research for different states telemedicine plans, created the Winter Employee Newsletter, and got to work alongside a wonderful host of people in an office shared by the DC Chamber of Commerce.
I would describe place as yourself and your perceived reality. There is an importance to the inner world and its impact on your outer environment. Some of my time this quarter has been reflecting on the world around me, and I could only really perceive the world once the mental block of stress and deadlines and family problems and everything else that 2017 has thrown at me faded a bit. The internal environment mirrors the external in ways that we still do not fully comprehend. A book called “Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself” gave me some understanding of the impact our presence has on place, as well as everything else in our lives.
Balancing everything was a bit difficult, but I was able to work off-site for BMHA so I did not have to make the trek out to Baltimore every single week. Part of what got me through a bit of a difficult quarter in my personal life was to work on myself through introspection, meditation, and keeping in contact with a lot of old friends of mine. Luckily enough I was home for Co-op so I got to see plenty of family members through the quarter and on the Holidays.
Photo Credit: Black Mental Health Alliance – https://www.mha.swdesignclient.com/
Buen Dia Family School is a Preschool in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Buen Dia is special wherein it focuses on the individual creativity and merit of art in early childhood development. (You can read more about their mission here) I am a Teacher’s Assistant and help with day to day duties ranging from story time to nap time. During the day I essentially make sure that each student is enjoying their time as much as possible and learning lessons about life, friendship, and even a bit of history due to the dates of my co-op coinciding with Black History Month. I really do hope that these young kids can remember the silly intern teacher that stayed with them for a few months!
The children at Buen Dia are English speakers or bilingual in both Spanish and English in differing amounts. This gives me a chance to practice my Spanish with them and with my fellow coworkers who are native speakers and bilingual themselves!
The most amazing aspect of Buen Dia to me is the concept of the “Family” School. Parents and relatives are welcome to join in on field trips to the park or Capoeira movement classes. Many of them work within the Mission district or very close by. A few parents put their outside skills to work for the school and come to help repair parts of Buen Dia, build new structures for the kids to play on, or even bring in delicious food from the restaurants they work in for us all to chow on every now and again. Speaking of food, Buen Dia is a vegetarian establishment. Anything prepared in our kitchen and given to children is vegetarian and always healthy. (You can still bring in meat or snack foods, but we don’t let them see us eating anything too bad for your health!) An organic food grocer even has ties to the school and if you give them the code “I am a friend of Buen Dia” some of the proceeds from the sale get donated to the school!
It really feels like a community despite the student’s very young age and I am personally honored to be a part of it. San Francisco itself and the whole Bay Area is simply amazing and I encourage anyone who has not been out here to at least come for a weekend or two. This is my favorite co-op out of the two I have done and it has steered me a little more into the direction of behavioral and/or developmental psychology.
Crotched Mountain is a rehabilitation center, hospital, and school for people with disabilities. The mission is to eventually integrate all clients back into the community. People’s disabilities range from traumatic brain injuries to developmental disorders diagnosed earlier on, and these conditions impact the lives of both the clients here and their families alike. There is one more group who is affected as well. Staff. This is where we come in. The staff at Crotched Mountain come from various backgrounds and disciplines. Teachers, doctors, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, kitchen workers, paraprofessional educators, and more. Despite the differences between the staff, there is a mission for all of us to support the students and patients here while always keeping in mind to treat them with dignity and respect as fellow, competent human beings.
I personally work as a paraprofessional educator, basically working directly with students in the group homes in the morning (preparing students for school, feeding, possibly clothing, and finally walking them to school), and in the school during the day (adhering to schedules, supporting in activities, helping teach, occasionally feeding). There are teachers and other paraprofessional educators to work alongside at all times as there is normally a healthy 1:1 staff to student ratio. Working with these students day by day is challenging but also enjoyable. I have never worked with anyone in such a meaningful way, to the point where I know there will be memories of me and my co-workers with these students forever.
The experience is mostly positive here but there are times that things go awry. Helping anyone is difficult but here that difficulty can be multiplied by possible miscommunication, frustration, or apprehensiveness on both sides: student and staff. This is not a cakewalk of a job. Some students, due to possible conditions, can become upset or frustrated from a demand, a situation, or some type of disruption/bad transition. I have been slapped, kicked, grabbed by my collar, and multiple other small injuries by the students and it is shocking to receive a hit and simply understand that it is not their fault. Working here is a test of patience and growing trust. The longer I have gone, the less incidents I have been a part of as we develop trust together and for each other. It is so hard, but it is always worth it at the end of the day because caring for these students is the #1 objective. There is a lot of joy and fun to be had during work.
I have not stopped to think much about my own personal goals and gains from this as much as I have been focusing in on the experience, but in the future I would not shy away from work like this. Supporting people is something I think I do well in general and this is a trial for all of my skills on empathy and community. This is a huge opportunity to learn about myself and others, and I know it is that type of dynamic that I want to see in my future.
Here is a link to the website if any of you all are interested.