Learning From Students
In this week’s blog, Equity Intern, Sarah Chavez ’24 reflects on her experience working with students in the YMCA of San Francisco’s Power Scholars Academy. Read on for why Sarah sees relationship building and empathy as key components for teaching and learning from students.
The Equity Scholars Internship Program aims to help reduce the achievement gap and impede the COVID-19 summer learning loss, promoting educational equity amongst under-served communities in San Francisco. The 2022 Equity Interns Cohort faced several challenges that ranged from formulating lessons on the spot, communication barriers, and constant schedule changes, all while ensuring every student felt emotionally and physically safe.
This internship demonstrated the severe disparities within our education system, especially amongst underfunded and understaffed schools, which typically serve low-income and minority groups. During this program, we endured the stress the staff and teachers experienced while trying to teach and provide support for K-6 graders. Many of these students lack strong communication skills as a result of quarantine learning that prevented them from engaging with school.
Personally, I was able to assist the third grade class, and while I learned so much from the teacher I was working under, I learned the most from my kids. They taught me how to have patience and compassion for others while reinforcing the value of relationship building and the importance of listening. These characteristics have helped me integrate the restorative practices the program taught us into our classrooms.
These workings allowed me to stay back and listen to my students’ feelings, needs, and concerns, which resulted in a safer and more inclusive learning environment. The imperative of an inclusive and supportive classroom was fully understood while I worked as an Equity Intern.
To be a student experiencing these inequities is one thing, but to see and hear these kids describe how they feel as young students grow up in a system built against them is an entirely different thing. Many of these students require more attention and empathy as they learn or re-learn to navigate the world. As a result, it was common to see adults disregard students’ feelings and dismiss their behavior as problematic rather than a call for aid.
I witnessed numerous fights of frustration and other outbursts from students that occurred because they felt unseen or unheard. I had several talks with my students who all expressed similar grievances pertaining to teachers and other adults underestimating them or refusing to listen to them. Those conversations were truly heartbreaking because of how defeated each student sounded. But after sitting down and facilitating real dialogues with these students, we learned more about their needs, making room to foster these relationships. Consequently, they became more engaged with the material once we were able to build an inclusive and unique space for each student, which was such an inspiring sight.
From start to finish, the students were the reason the Equity Scholars Internship Program was such a rewarding experience. To be able to watch them grow academically and socially is an indescribable feeling, but I know I was beyond proud to see my students strengthen their reading, writing, and problem solving skills throughout the summer.