Young Explorers, Activism in Education

Some of the kids at Lakeland Elementary/Middle school gathered around waiting for their lesson to start

Some would argue that education is one of the greatest and highest achievements you could receive in life. Most would argue that all humans have a right to education. Many would argue on how that education is distributed and accessed, but not all focus on how effective education is or how it’s constructed.
I focused on activism in promoting and reinforcing education for remedial elementary students in an after school program called Young Explorers (YE). This project started out with the goal to enhance and improve the education that the kids receive so that they are able to improve in school as a reflection of the services they were receiving. It was a very hands on project that involved 1st through 4th grade students (separated by grade) with about twenty children per class. I focused on 4th grade. This is such an important topic to thoroughly evaluate and execute. Education is highly valued in our current society. Those who don’t receive a “proper” education are considered of less worth and this affects the self-esteem and the mentality of the students. Working with elementary school children really reinforces all of the basic, core concepts that are the building blocks of our education. Through this process I think I accomplished some, but not all of what I would have desired to accomplish. The kids did have a greater understanding of some topics, which was the goal, but the comprehension of all topics covered was not grasped. Math and English were core materials focused on throughout the project, as well as some extracurricular activities, and after school was attended from 3pm until 5:30pm Monday through Thursday.

Some of the kids are gathered around doing one of their extracurricular activities

During my time at Lakeland Elementary, there were many elements that did work and many elements that didn’t work. I was largely unprepared for teaching, and wasn’t sure what to expect not having done a project like this before. The program was full of students, with a wait list for those who hadn’t made it on yet. Reflecting back, I believe there could have been more structure in place with the program to enhance the results, such as a set curriculum that participants had to use with the children and training for the volunteers and participants to better prepare them for the tasks and on how to deal with certain situations. If both of these were implemented, I believe results would have increased a significant amount. The program also lacked a good ratio of employees and volunteers to students, and it proved difficult to find recruits to participate in the project. There were multiple occasions of advertisement for the project through UMBCworks, job/volunteer opportunities sent out to departments within UMBC to entice students to come out, and word of mouth. It proved difficult to be able to find willing participants, even through these means. The positives of the program where that some core concepts were definitely gained by some of the students, but there was a disconnect in that students were all at different levels intellectually, so having a general large group proved difficult to pace out the material to make sure that all the students grasped all of the concepts. In the future, I would create smaller groups within the grades to better focus on what the kids need to learn and really steer the material to where they are at in their understanding of the material. Keeping the attention of the kids also proved to be a difficult task at times, but they would be invested in participating in the lessons when they involved activities instead of lessons. The ability to be flexible with lesson plans proved to be useful to help the kids focus and learn the material more.

Before engaging in this course, activism was something that I thought required protesting or required being a “radical”. I can recall a year ago when another friend of mine was enrolled in this course, and she was talking of her activism project dealing with anxiety. I slowly nodded my head in agreement with her, but I thought to myself “how is that activism? How can you be an activist? Isn’t activism about women’s rights, human rights, and all the big money issues like that?” My perspective on what activism is has changed drastically since then. I realized throughout my project that activism starts when you have a passion to change something and begins when you take the steps to try to make that change. I’m passionate about education and think the public school education system isn’t able to really focus on the kids who need the most help, so this project gave me the opportunity to really be able to make a change with the elementary school kids. I think through this process, I have learned that I can be an activist, and I have felt more empowered through the actions I have done when it came to helping and teaching the kids. Activism isn’t just standing in the streets and protesting things, it’s much more than that. It really boils down to your ability to be vocal about your opinions. I think involving myself in the project, I took a stand for something I believed in, and taking a stand for something you believe is is what I now see as a form of activism.

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