Post 1: Be the change, The Center Houston

Howdy! My name is Lesbia Espinal and my summer internship is at The Center Foundation (Houston, TX).

The Center is a not-for-profit United Way agency that promotes the pursuit of choice, growth, and personal independence for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD). Since 1950, The Center has served its community through innovative programs such as day rehabilitation, residential services, and vocational training.

The state of Texas is one of the worst places for people with disabilities to live. Some adults that are disabled do not qualify for Medicaid. The Center provides these Texas residents with the help they are lacking. The Center’s hopes to teach and address the lack of funding the disable community in Houston and state of Texas are nor receiving. Also, when it comes to the work force The Center provides their clients with skills that can help them earn their own pay.

” Donzell is gentleman who has been a client at The Center for two decades! Since 1998, Donzell R. has participated in several of the Center’s programs. He currently participates in the Employment Service program, where he learns work skills while helping to complete orders like assembling kits and packing boxes. Outside of The Center, Donzell loves to spend quality time with family and help with chores around the house.”

Clients at The Center are given a choice and ability to learn a skill. The Center holds annual fundraisers and multiple volunteering events during the year to raise awareness. All funding go to programs they offer such as: spin cycle class for their clients, residential living, trips and much more.

As a marketing intern I am responsible for writing press releases that are been read by clients, employees and donors. I am also in charge of writing an internal news letters that allows employees from different departments to be aware of what events are going on. This helps to have information in one place thus making it easier to reach a larger audience (more employees).

I also conduct interviews of clients and employees which help populate the Center’s social media. Being a young college student in such a large organization is a plus, because it helps me think on my feet and contribute with new technological solutions on how to fundraise.

My work at the Center will help reach a younger audience to raise awareness amounts other communities not only Texas. The Center believes in freedom of choice for their clients and new ways of improvident and becoming a better person and as an intern I am able to communicate these ideas.

Through the summer, I hope to learn more about not-for-profit organizations and also work closely with the marketing team as the Center will experience a location change. The relocation will bring potential changes such as logo and new strategies to keep the same mission. I am more than excited to be part of this change and even after my internship is over see the Center blossom. Based on the work and experiences I had in a not-for-profit organization I can strongly say that I see myself working for an organization that advocates change such as the Center.

-Lesbia Espinal ’20

Reflections on Streetlight Schools

The Streetlight Schools that I was working at during my last week in Johannesburg felt worlds different than the Streetlight Schools that I began working at back in May. The organization didn’t fundamentally change, but my role certainly developed.  The internship helped me to develop new skills as well as to realize my future professional goals and aspirations. When I arrived in South Africa in May, I knew that equitable education was important to me, but now I know that my professional future will involve increasing opportunities for education in the United States or abroad.

This internship not only made me more sure of my goals, but it also improved my skills in the office, which was exactly what I was looking for. In the past, I’ve been lucky enough to gain quite a bit of hands-on experience with students in classrooms, but I’ve had little exposure to independent work in an office setting in the non-profit organization.  I now realize that if I was employed in a position which was entirely office-based, I would be unhappy in the long run. It is for this reason that the Streetlight internship was the perfect balance for me: I spent mornings doing research in the office and afternoons tutoring in the Learning Centre.

As far as changes at the organization, I was incredibly luck to be able to witness the organization progress throughout the course of my internship. When I first arrived, I was looking for a team environment, however most of my work was independent.  It was quiet in the office, and while there was a lot to do, it seemed to be going slowly. But as time went on, it seemed like good things were happening left and right. During my time there, we created a Facebook page, a blog about innovation in education, and we also further developed the website. The organization also welcomed two new interns during my last month, both of whom I learned quite a bit from. It was also nice because they moved into my apartment with me, which was in the building that I was working (owned by Bjala Properties, the affordable housing project that partners with Streetlight Schools).

As a matter of fact, I think that that was one of my favorite things about the internship (which ended up making it more like a residency). I lived in the building that I worked. Normally, I think a situation like this might be a little bit too much, especially when putting a large time commitment to a job. I was initially slightly afraid that I would never be able to get the feeling of going home after a long day at work. It was, in fact, an incredible opportunity because it allowed me to learn more about the families that the Learning Centre was serving than would’ve been possible if I had been living elsewhere.

Saying goodbye to some of the learners
Saying goodbye to some of the learners
With the other two tutors at Leopard Tree

All in all, I learned a great deal during my internship at Streetlight Schools. I clarified about  my future career. It also provided me with the opportunity to get to know very knowledgeable people in my field, while working alongside them and observing their inspiring passion for improvement in and through education.

Midpoint at Leopard Tree Learning Centre

This week marks the midpoint of my internship at Streetlight Schools and Leopard Tree Learning Centre. Even though I’ve had five weeks so far to get used to my internship and how the organization works, this week, my internship also changed quite a bit.

Monday marked the first day of our holiday program, which is the time of year during which we have students at the Learning Centre for the full day instead of just from 3:00 to 6:00 in the evenings. Now, we are hosting between 25 and 35 kids in the Centre each day, from 10:00 in the morning until 5:00 in the evening. While research isn’t as big of a component at my job any more, I am still continuing with a few minor projects in the office before and after the Centre is open.

Before, my main project was literacy assessments. I started out by doing research, and then ultimately created several literacy assessments for different grades to gauge the English level of each learner. The process showed me a lot about how kids respond to different approaches as well as how to engage with students on an individual level in order to receive the most informative responses. I’ve essentially finished the assessments and now we are using my findings to create the English schedule for the holiday program.

So far, I’m enjoying full days with the kids quite a bit. I think it is much more up my alley than office work — but I’m still glad to have had the experience in the office, as I was really looking for a balance between the two through this internship. The best part is, my interactions with our learners is unlike any other experience I’ve had working with children. I’m constantly learning from them, which is probably due to the unique set up of the Centre. Right now, we are learning with new teaching practices, which is all a part of experiencing new, innovative methods of education. Some of the practices include: student collaboration, older learners teaching younger learners, learners working on their own, and (somewhat) traditional instruction from the teachers. What I like most about these practices is that they engage each student, so that we can really see where they’re at (without having to test all the time) rather than just speaking in front of a group of kids every day.

During the holiday program, we balance the morning between Math and English, and then have other activities in the afternoon, which change day to day. Some of the activities include traditional singing and dancing, sports, painting, clay, paper mache, and theatre. We are also taking some time to plan our Mandela Day project, which is a service project that we will do on July 18th in honor of Nelson Mandela’s birthday. The purpose of Mandela Day is for everyone in South Africa to take 67 minutes of their day to serve others, in honor of Mandela, who served the South African people for 67 years (27 years in prison, and 40 years outside of prison). For more information on Mandela Day, click here.

Another extracurricular that we do in the afternoons is Sky Farms. Sky Farms is a project that Streetlight Schools and Bjala Properties (our partners, mentioned in my previous post) started on the roof of the building next door to the Centre. There, we teach the kids about growing food, about how plants work, and they get to see the entire process. Right now, we have onions, spring onions (scallions), cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, carrots, herbs, cherry tomatoes, and more. For more information on Sky Farms, click here.

Today we even had a Treasure Hunt in the park outside of our building. The kids picked up everything, from old bottle caps to pinecones, leaves, acorns, each of which were different and unique (as all of the trees in that park seem to be different kinds). They had a lot of fun, and it was also a valuable experience for the tutors as it provided an amazing opportunity for the learners to take the lead and show us new things.

At the end of each day, no matter what the activity, the learners all sit around one of our classrooms and receive juice and biscuits as a reward for doing well. All in all, I am really excited about the coming weeks of the holiday program and I’m looking forward to all that we learn in this new setting, spending time in the Centre all day.

Getting Acquainted with Streetlight Schools

“Good after…”

“Good afternoon visitor it is nice…”

“Good afternoon visitor it is nice to see you!”

After three tries, the classroom full of young learners welcomed me to Leopard Tree Learning Centre in perfect unison. I started giggling as my supervisor, the founder and director of Streetlight Schools (which runs Leopard Tree) introduced me as Ma’am, and told the class that I wasn’t just a visitor, but that I would be their new tutor. Then, as if on cue, the littlest ones jumped up from their seats and all ran up to introduce themselves and hug me. Although I was clearly disturbing the class, their teacher (whom they also refer to as “Ma’am”), let them carry on and eventually we all settled down and listened to her lesson on multi-digit addition and subtraction.

Despite it only being my first day, I could already tell that the class was hectic. There were at least 25 kids in the room, ranging in ages from 5-14. Leopard Tree is split into two classes: younger learners and older learners (with a few exceptions in those divisions). There is one teacher for each class. However, within those two rooms, there are a range of skill levels, both high-need learners and low-need learners. The Centre is intended to be an education lab that caters to children who live in Bjala Square, a property company that aims to bring affordable urban living to Jeppestown, a suburb of Johannesburg. Streetlight Schools and Bjala Properties recently partnered together to bring Leopard Tree to the Square, so that they could assess urban education and attempt to create a model that caters to the needs of urban learners in South Africa. (For more information on Streetlight Schools click here and for more information on Bjala Properties click here.)

Photo courtesy of mafadi.co.za
Photo courtesy of mafadi.co.za

The learners, most of whom live at Bjala Square, come from a variety of schools in the area, and obviously have a range of backgrounds in literacy and numeracy. That is what makes the Centre so hectic, as of now. It is very difficult for only two teachers to cater to the needs of all of the learners, which is part my job to alleviate as an intern. However, the current set-up of the Centre is temporary: Streetlight is currently working on a huge expansion project, through which the Learning Centre will have a new location where they can accommodate at least 100 learners. They are also in the process of founding a private school in the neighborhood, where they intend to implement the education models that they have been evaluating/developing in the Centre. (The new centre will continue to serve as an education lab to create new and innovative models of urban education.) They hope to open the school next year, beginning with grades R (kindergarten) and 1, and then adding a level each year.

As an intern, my duties fit into each of these different missions. In the mornings, I work in the office, mostly doing research for Streetlight. Right now, I am researching literacy assessments for primary school learners, and using models from leading education systems in the world. I am also in the process of creating assessments that I will be administering to the younger learners to gauge their levels of literacy within the next week. After completing this, I will begin to develop an assessment for the higher levels.

Photo courtesy of http://www.leopardtree.org/
Photo courtesy of http://www.leopardtree.org/

In the afternoons, I work in the Learning Centre as a tutor. My purpose as of now is to give extra attention to those learners that need it, but like I mentioned previously, within the next week or so I will begin to administer assessments. So far, I have really been enjoying the balance between research and office work that I’ve been responsible for, alongside fun afternoons with the learners. I’m eager to see how my responsibilities change and progress throughout the coming weeks.