(3) A Hard Farewell

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. 

Students and Director Tobey Eugenio partaking in the Whipped Cream Challenge

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.

Students receiving signed copies of “Strong is the New Pretty” by author and photographer, Kate Parker

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. 

(2) Trailblazers

Brandeis’ African and African American Studies Program has taught me that small contributions can contribute to big change. The media highlights particular stories and icons, but the reality is that many people are fighting for change every day behind the scenes. Rosa Parks was not the first person to resist segregation on the bus, but her story was the one that spread like wildfire. The Stonewall uprising is credited with being the start of activism for the gay rights movement, but Black trans legacies had been doing the work before this historic moment. The main lesson my courses have taught me is that we must consider who is laboring behind the scenes to produce a better environment for all. We must appreciate anyone contributing to the cause and search beneath the surface to ensure we acknowledge all the working hands. 

The author and an OSS Camper during the SPARK Summer Program. SPARK is a STEAM and art fusion designed for students to engineer and problem solve.

With my prior knowledge from Brandeis courses and my experience as an Our Sisters’ School (OSS) student, I entered my fellowship with an unexplored perspective. As an alumna, I can recall the many components that allowed the school to function. As someone who now contributes their time to further OSS’ mission, I have gained a new sense of gratitude for the students, teachers, administration, volunteers, and donors. Change starts with the desire to improve the spaces around you; therefore, there is no contribution too small. Any action that you take is bound to produce transformation. 

My lessons from Brandeis have remained true during my WOW internship. OSS relies solely on grants and donations. Many contributions beyond monetary gifts allow the school to thrive. It is vital to recognize a donor who invests money the same way we recognize volunteers who offer their time. OSS works to assuage the academic and social gaps for inner-city kids. They provide rigorous teaching along with access to social experiences like full scholarships to sleep away camps, introductions to diverse art forms, and participation in community events.

While these significant opportunities make for notable change to the outside community, many resources are overlooked. OSS provides organic, sustainable food to their students’ families from their own gardens. While this gift makes a huge difference for OSS families, the numerous contributors are not always recognized. Community members collaborate to garden and harvest food for anyone who can benefit from it, and it takes a team to enable this process. 

I am appreciative of the whole OSS community. Their commitment provides a meaningful, educational environment to students who deserve to experience more than what their socio-economic status can provide. Teachers and administrators alike commit their lives to supporting their students and cultivating a safe, enriching environment. Instead of solely highlighting the changes, we can celebrate those who allow operation. As Howard Zinn reminds us, “There is no act too small, no act too bold. The history of social change is the history of millions of actions, small and large, coming together at critical points…” This lesson is one we can all take in and remember in order to cultivate worthwhile change.

(1) Assuaging the Education Gap in New Bedford, MA

Our Sisters’ School (OSS) is an independent, tuition-free, non-sectarian middle school that educates and inspires economically disadvantaged girls from the New Bedford, MA area. OSS offers the perfect intersection between education and my Health: Science, Society and Policy major. OSS provides unique experiences to students whose economic status disables them from obtaining certain opportunities. Through providing a rigorous and engaging environment at no costs to families, they start to assuage the equity gaps within education. OSS reaches beyond the academic scope. Through discussions with current students, I learned that they feel grateful for their teachers’ commitment to their learning and the small knit community that fosters meaningful relationships. They relish nautical learning at the Community Boating Center where they learn how to sail, and their fitness class where they are challenged mentally and physically. In other conversations with some students from the 8th grade graduating class, they shared that they will miss attending classes, community meetings and lunch in their outdoor classroom. 

OSS shares my commitment to improving my greater community, and while I have an established relationship with them as an alumna, I am now gaining professional experience under a team of passionate advocates and educators. My duties thus far have included: 

  • Supporting current students in their academic and social lives 
  • Helping the Summer Program Director design learning experiences, prep materials, organize and set up lessons for the day, and instruct and support students
  • Supporting the Creative Suite: STEAM and Arts program.
  • Supporting health teachers and the health curriculum by attending classes, working as a mentor, and observing and interacting with students
  • Working in the Graduate Support Program to help support, communicate with, and share resources with OSS graduates as they transition into high school, college and beyond 
  • Setting up and facilitating the annual Festival of Art and Achievements 
  • Assisting the weeklong “Circus-Up” Summer Program
8th grade gallery (Anyis Mendes)

My favorite experience so far was assisting their Festival of Arts and Achievement, where students showcased over 1200 pieces of artwork. The distinctive Creative Suite Program at OSS allows for different modes of art where students can fully express themselves. The night was filled with artwork, but also showcased different groups such as African Dance, Step, Guitar and Percussion instruments. The 8th grade class even orchestrated their own personal galleries that included their work from all four years. This event was open to the greater community and truly demonstrated the commitment of each OSS student. 

5th Grade African Dance Performance

Moving forward, I will support their summer programming throughout June, July and August. OSS is a private institution, so they rely heavily on outside donations and volunteer work. My help as an intern allows them to contribute their money to their programming, which directly helps their current and future students. They produce change every day as they inspire and educate the future leaders of the world. Coming up, I am honored and excited to attend a conference in Boston on June 27 hosted by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools. The goal of the event is to gather educators, researchers, advocates, authors, and practitioners from around the world to share ideas about “how best to prepare and empower girls to be ethical, globally minded change-makers who lead with courage, competence, and empathy.” At this event, OSS’ Creativity Director, Tobey Eugenio, and a few student will be presenting their outdoor classroom.  I will be able to not only attend this conference as a product of an all-girls school, but be inspired as a future change-maker as well. 

Art Work – all grades