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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Writing Ambassadors: exploring the intricacies of education

Program enables students to unlock new interests and career goals

College students majoring in biological sciences might not imagine themselves returning to elementary school classrooms and having to learn how to say “denominator” in Spanish for a group of bilingual children, but this is exactly what students like Estefania Jimenez are doing through a unique internship opportunity on campus.

The Writing Ambassadors Program offers students the opportunity to intern at local K-12 schools and get hands-on experience working in classrooms alongside teachers. The program is open to any major, giving students the ability to explore the discipline of teaching while still pursuing their own personal goals and achievements. The emphasis on literacy learning allows students to work in a variety of different subjects while  still providing assistance and fun, engaging activities that strengthen literary skills necessary across all disciplines.

Kelly Crosby, a professor and program coordinator for Writing Ambassadors, has been involved in the program for two years and has helped students grow as educators and leaders for the coming generations of young learners. She shared her own excitement at having the opportunity to spread the importance of literacy across multiple grade levels.

“That idea that literacy is everywhere, even if you’re in math with Common Core Standards, numeracy and literacy really speak to each other,” Crosby said.

Joining the program involves filling out an application that shows a student’s interest in teaching and literary development. Once students have been chosen, they are enrolled in the UWP class that serves as a workshop for them to discuss their ideas for teaching and the experiences they’ve had within their own classrooms as interns.

Crosby expressed her joy in hearing the students talk among each other, sharing ideas and cultivating a space where learning and teaching are joined. She often invites guest speakers, ranging from previous students to other local teachers, which is also a huge help for those who need another perspective on what it’s like in the field of teaching.

“It’s a dynamic setting, not every week is the same, and not even every quarter is the same,” Crosby said. “Interns can stay in the class for a full year, you can repeat the class for up to ten units. We had a student last year that joined in the fall, stayed with her class at Cesar Chavez Elementary School and by the end of the year, had a job in an afterschool program.”

Although the goal of the program is for students to gain teaching experience, Crosby embraces the fact that not all students leave the program wanting to become a teacher.

“Over the course of my five quarters, I’ve had a few students that said ‘Thanks for the experience, but I know I don’t want to be a teacher,’ so it is affirming in either direction,” Crosby said. “That is critical because, as someone who taught high school for six years, if you’re knee-deep in teaching, and you have doubt, I can’t think of anything more miserable.”

Crosby stressed the idea that students should use the program to experiment with different class settings to find the best fit for them. She acknowledged the malleability of teaching and the learning curve of finding what methods work for each class. The ability to adapt to different situations and circumstances, both as a student and educator, can have profound impacts on whether students decide to follow the teaching discipline or not.

The conversations and lessons shared during class sessions are another aspect Crosby highlighted as a time where students are often vulnerable. This vulnerability allows them to learn how to address situations that they previously had only been on one side of.

“We work a lot on empathy because it’s not easy and people will make mistakes,” Crosby said. “We have students that say, ‘A kid came up to me today totally bawling, and I turned to the kid and said everything would be okay,’ but, as much as we’d like to believe that, we need to talk through other options and what to do in that situation.”

For the most part, Crosby suggested that learning how to handle emotional situations with younger students is something that comes from both practice and dedication.

“We just don’t know until we get coached or until we fail and try another way,” Crosby said.

Crosby also noted the struggles that students find when “converting into an answer-person from a question-person.” She reminds her students to stay curious and continue to find new ways to interact with their students, building respect throughout the journey.

Ryan Choi, a second-year psychology major and current Writing Ambassador intern at North Davis Elementary School, shared his experience working with his third-grade class during the school year.

“I work with Ms. Pearl Toy, and she has given me the opportunity to work in small groups with students, one-on-one tutoring and whole group lessons where I’m able to cover reading comprehension and grammar lessons,” Choi said. “I’ve been able to build meaningful relationships with the students. It’s been a fantastic opportunity to be able to grow in a different sense since, in the past, I used to tutor for STEM subjects.”

Choi has been able to help students develop their reading skills and become stronger and more proficient with the English language, something he finds to be very rewarding. As he continues with the program, he hopes to work with other teachers in varying grade levels to get a better idea of where his teaching abilities are best suited.

“When I continue this program, I think the appropriate grades for me to work in would be a sixth-grade classroom and a first-grade classroom,” Choi said. “Sixth graders have progressed a bit more in terms of writing ability, and first graders are learning to read rather than reading to learn. Having done a lot of seventh to ninth-grade tutoring, I think that elementary school is more suited for me and my interests in helping students build strong character traits, like compassion and empathy.”

Estefania Jimenez, a fourth-year biological science major and current intern at Cesar Chavez Elementary School in a fifth-grade class, joined Writing Ambassadors initially due to her uncertainty about what she wanted to do after college. Since being in the program, she has a newfound appreciation for teaching and is more confident working with students.

“The experience has helped me grow as a person,” Jimenez said. “People always say, ‘Don’t take things personally.’ I definitely see why now.”

Jimenez described how classrooms and having students can be a flurry of emotions and stress for both parties, particularly when she’s trying incredibly hard to diffuse the troubles of her students.

“Sometimes the students may be having a bad day and you’re doing your best to help them learn and they’re not having it,” Jimenez said. “That can be really discouraging that you’re not getting back the energy you’re putting in. At the end of the day, you have to remember you’re there to help them learn. Tomorrow will be a new day and it’ll be better.”

Jimenez has faced other obstacles such as helping students both in Spanish and English, switching between the languages throughout her day, but enjoys challenging herself in new ways and finding what works best for her and her classroom.

“They work in Spanish in the morning and in English in the afternoon, so that’s been challenging,” Jimenez said. “I’m a native Spanish speaker, but I went to school in English my whole life, so it was strange having to learn terms like numerator and denominator and having to explain things in a different language.”

Jimenez and Choi both have found great success and a new passion through interning with Writing Ambassadors. As the program continues to grow and house more future educators, the future looks bright for education across all grade levels and subjects.

Written by: Vincent Sanchez –– features@theaggie.org


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