Rise Scholars and Hamilton School, Novato, CA
This summer I worked for the Rise Scholars Summer Academic Enrichment Program for 3rd through 8th graders at the Hamilton School in Novato, California, called SummerHawks. Hamilton is a historically underserved, underachieving low- income K-8 school and SummerHawks is designed to raise students up to grade level as well as instill in them a love for learning that they will have for the rest of their lives. Due to the Covid-19 epidemic, SummerHawks could not operate as planned; so along with 3 other Williams interns, we spent the next five weeks redesigning the program.
The breakdown of our work went like this: research, review, craft. We researched other local and national summer programs to see what they were doing; we read countless books about the latest best practices in education; we reviewed student surveys from last year to see what should be scraped and what should be saved. Once we had the skeleton for our curriculum, we filled it in with both standards-based skills practice and exciting project-based learning. I focused on the humanities curriculum with the goal of empowering students through reading and writing. We wanted to give the students choices as to which books they read, offer materials relevant to their lived experiences, and show that film is rich for analysis of the human condition, too. Freedom Writers, a film about the true story of a teacher bringing a gang-divided classroom together through the telling of personal stories served as a big inspiration for the 8th grade curriculum. In the film, the teacher helped the students use writing as a tool to take control of the narratives of their lives. Sharing stories allowed the class to see how much more they had in common than not, beginning a process of humanization and tolerance.
Thanks to this internship, I know that I want to work in education and/or social work with disadvantaged youth. I believe that a loving, stable upbringing and an extremely solid education (the result of financial ability and/or a good school system) are the salient factors that separate me from kids who have a much harder time in life. Specifically, I attribute my schools’ strong humanities programs and cognitive behavioral therapy-style conversations with my extremely loving mom to my curiosity and mental wellbeing. I endeavored to create a humanities program that speaks to the students’ lived experiences, makes them realize they are not alone, and gives them the tools to tell their own stories. I also wanted to expose students to possibilities through guest speakers, experiences, and literature. If students can see real-life examples of relatable people living a different reality, they can start to believe it is possible for them, too.
The most important thing I learned during my time with SummerHawks was that whenever the students were first and foremost in my mind, this kind of work felt so worthwhile and is exactly what I want to spend my life doing. I am truly grateful to the Class of 1974 and the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for enabling me to hone in on what I want my life’s work to be.