Community Engaged Learning
In this week’s blog, McCarthy Center staff member and PSCE Minor student, Priana Aquino, writes about her experience working with community partner, 826 Valencia, for a Community Engaged Learning course. Read on for her insights connecting with staff and students at 826.
As a Business Management student, I have struggled to create a bridge between my major and the way I can use the skills I have honed to support my community. Fortunately, I have found this connection through my Public Service and Community Engagement Minor. Not only have I been exposed to the power of community engagement, but I have also been able to find ways to use my Business classes to see community engaged learning in action.
When I walked into my Power and Influence Class last Fall semester, I saw it only as a Major requirement class for myself. However, after finding out that this was a CEL class, I saw the chance to further combine my Business major with the skills and curriculum I have received through my PSCE Minor classes. In observing the dynamics that power has in organizations and structures, each student in the class was tasked with working with a non-profit to see these power dynamics in real time.
I decided to work with McCarthy Center partner, 826 Valencia, a non-profit organization in the Mission District dedicated to supporting students in writing and learning as a pathway to positive and influential careers. Their programs are focused towards helping children and young adults develop writing skills and to helping teachers inspire their students to write. 826 consists of three centers, one in the Mission, one in the Tenderloin, and one in Mission Bay. Each center has a writing lab, classrooms in nearby middle schools, and a street-front store that partially funds the programs. Their existence fuels the imaginative environment their students enter when they come in for tutoring or programming.
My experience with 826 Valencia was unlike any other learning experience that I have ever had. Though I am no stranger to volunteering or serving my community, in these most recent years, I have not served younger students, specifically the ones that 826 sees on a regular basis. I know that my strengths lie in my writing skills and in my listening skills, and this experience definitely validated that. It offered me another way to continue to refine the skills, and to use them to help others outside of my immediate USF community.
Through my experience, I did learn that sometimes you can be offering so much help to someone but they still won’t accept it. Community Engaged Learning means collaborating and working with all kinds of communities, most of which will not be required to collaborate with you back. To be honest, I don’t know how many of the students I met would have taken the time to find writing resources outside of their schoolwork on their own. I felt that for as much as I was offering to students, only a few of them would take the writing advice I was giving them to heart. This originally hurt my feelings, but I realized that if I was able to at least help one student, that was enough for me.
Being able to work with the same group of students over a period of time, I was able to see the trust between us grow, and knew that the more I was getting to know them, the more they were getting to know me. When doing something vulnerable like writing about your own personal story, I understand that it could be frightening to talk to someone that you don’t really know well. Being able to see students begin to open up to me and become more engaged in the writing work was a huge win for me, and has left me feeling extremely positive about my experience overall.
One of the most positive aspects about my experience was working with 826 Valencia staff. All of them are incredibly kind, smart, and passionate about the work they are doing. It makes me really excited to see people that are really invested in doing community work, specifically work that supports young students. The San Francisco education system has a long way to go in terms of being able to sufficiently support every single one of their students. The staff at 826 Valencia know this, and do their best to supplement what the public School system cannot fulfill for students. Every single staff member I talked to was very open to my questions and even the feedback I gave at the end of each session. As much as I hope I served the students I work with, I also hope that I supported them as much as they needed.
A lot of my core values have to do with being true to myself and all aspects of my identity. I knew I’d chosen the best place for me to volunteer at this semester when I heard 826 staff members talking about using writing as a way to express identity. Being able to assist students in writing as a way to express themselves was extremely important to me. I want to be able to continue the spirit of staying true to who we are as a continuation of my professional career. With the rise of social media and with platforms such as LinkedIn, it is harder to find honest stories that are created as a contact for an audience. I want to make sure that I am telling my story as openly and honestly as possible, and I have 826 Valencia to thank for reigniting this passion in me.