At the beginning of my internship at Our Sisters’ School (OSS), I was naïve about the world of nonprofits. As a Title I, independent, tuition-free school, the dedication of its community members is vital for its success. I started in May knowing that my contributions would significantly aid the school, but I did not realize the impact the students and educators would have on me. As an alumna, I was nostalgic each moment I stepped foot on their campus, yet I was invigorated by the changes I witnessed daily. As a staff member, I experienced new additions to the school in a way that fueled my inner child like eating lunch and completing tasks in the outdoor classroom, creating pottery, and attending surfing camp (as a chaperone and camper). As a low-income student myself, I felt grateful for the opportunities OSS afforded me years ago. I now feel even more committed to their mission as I witness other kids with similar backgrounds experiencing even more than what I could.
One unique aspect of nonprofits is the unwavering commitment of the staff to the organization’s cause. To describe OSS’ team as dedicated is an understatement. My supervisor this summer, Tobey Eugenio, started at OSS during my 8th-grade year in 2016. As the Creative Director, she has encouraged students to view themselves as creators, engineers, and critical thinkers. She is who I think of when I encounter the term “social justice” within an education framework. As I worked to incorporate social justice in an educational context this summer, I realized that we need to help students redefine themselves. When working with kids from economically disadvantaged areas, there are more obstacles than what appears on the surface. OSS successfully educates students because they provide a space for authenticity and recreation. When a student can view themself as capable and intelligent, we see the barriers begin to dissipate.
A facet of OSS that should be applied to other institutions of education is the dissociation of grades and success. Students are encouraged to try their best and are supported when they find material challenging. In addition to providing support, OSS strays from traditional academia. While they still offer the necessary classes, they expand these constraints through their Creative Suite, offering courses such as Art and STEAM. The interdisciplinary nature allows students to discover their niche and releases the pressure to just be “smart” in a society where the term does not have to be defined one way. OSS’s students are intelligent, courageous, persistent, and always ready to try something new. When approaching an internship or career within education, especially if you plan to serve a disadvantaged population, it is paramount to get to know your students. Without understanding your students’ backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses, you will never be able to justly serve them.
I am honored to have spent my summer back at my home base, where the foundation was set for me. I genuinely associate my personal and academic successes to the characteristics that were instilled in me during my time at OSS. I am eager to see what the future will hold for them. Thank you to the Social Justice World of Work Fund for enabling me to complete this work. Most importantly, a huge appreciation to the OSS team for being the most supportive and committed team—you are the reason change endures.