This past March, I was fortunate enough to co-lead an Alternative Spring Break Trip to Washington, D.C. that was focused on learning more about urban education. Throughout the yearlong planning process, it proved to be an incredible opportunity to develop many of the skills I have learned in the course of completing the Teaching minor at Bowdoin. From the perspective of being a trip leader, I was able to rely on my experience in creating a unit plan in Teaching and Learning & Curriculum to create weekly seminars to prepare the trip participants on what we would be learning about and doing during our week in D.C. The seminar planning process was also exciting because I found myself revisiting material I had studied in courses taken as far back as my freshman year, such as Contemporary American Education, and noticing how my understanding of the material has changed so much over four years. It was also a pleasure to work closely with our trip advisor, Professor Doris Santoro, in the planning process.
Aside from being a leader, I was also just as much a participant! During our week in D.C., the group volunteered in a public charter school that specializes in GED preparation and in teaching English to students who have recently immigrated to the United States but are too old to enroll in traditional public schools. We also volunteered with an after school support program for younger students in another neighborhood. Aside from direct volunteering, we also included a wide array of meetings with speakers, ranging from community organizers to policy makers, to gain a deeper appreciation for how discussions of education reform look at the grassroots level versus the top.
Throughout the week, I often felt frustrated. I found myself asking questions of why it seems so difficult for public schools to offer more support for students such as those I met at the charter school. I also struggled with seeing the apparent inability of policymakers to communicate effectively with those on the ground level, and vice-versa. And yet, I also leave the experience with a deep appreciation and optimism from what I saw. All of the individuals we encountered on the trip, from the teachers and students to the activists and bureaucrats, are deeply invested in trying to make education more equitable and accessible to all students in this nation. As an aspiring educator, I will use my experience as a leader and participant of this trip as a reminder that the frustrations that must often arise in the life of a teacher cannot fully hinder the promises of American education.