Week One at the Domus Foundation

This summer, I will be working with the Domus Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with adolescents in low income, at risk situations in Stamford, Connecticut.

The Domus Foundation works on behavior modification and attendance retention at their charter schools through multiple models, including the Family Advocate model. The Family Advocate model looks at the emotional well being of the children, in and outside of school. This requires at home visits, in school visits, student success plans, and more.

Over the next two and a half months, I will be shadowing these Family Advocates, as well as helping gather behavioral and attendance based data for the future success of the Domus Foundation. Since the students are in school for the first few weeks of my time here, I am helping the middle school, Trailblazers Academy, with preparation for data analysis of attendance and the eighth graders’ graduation.

Trailblazer Academy student volunteers with some of the Family Advocate staff

By the second day I already knew a handful of the seventh and eighth grade students and was helping them with their science fair projects due at the end of the week.

In order to get to know the students better, I joined the Director of Family Advocates, as well as a couple of the Family Advocates on a community service project.  A sense of community is important to the schools that partner with Domus . Many children lack this feeling at home and the goal for the schools is to make each and every student feel comfortable and safe with every staff member.

Cleaning up Trailblazers Academy with a student

During the two hour community service project, the students and Family Advocate staff cleaned up the outside of the school by picking up trash. We then debriefed with the students about their volunteering experience and what they would like to do in the future. This community service experience showed the students how important it is to help others and how good it can feel to do so. By the end of the activity, I had students coming up to me asking  which volunteer project they could participate in over the summer and if I could be their Family Advocate for the next school year!

At this moment, it made me realize how important this internship is to me and to the students. The majority of these students have been sent to Trailblazers Academy because they were deemed the “trouble kids”and have been expelled from their other schools. Most students have experienced trauma and struggle to be successful individuals while trying to figure out how to cope with their personal situations.

The fact that some of these students started to open up to me with their stories and want me be a continuing part of their lives shows how these children are craving attention and love that will help them succeed in life. As my first week of my internship is coming to an end, I cannot wait to continue my relationships with the staff and students at Domus and Trailblazers Academy!

Taking Little Big Steps Forward (and Sideways and Diagonally)

“Teachah! Teachah! Teachah!” The mob of children shouted as they ran towards our car, arms outstretched and faces beaming. It’s a sight that I’ve grown used to in the past few weeks, but one that never fails to stir up the wild flutter in my stomach and chest. The car slows down and the children press their faces up to the window, still chanting and peering in, impatiently waiting for me to get out. Just like every other morning, I’m amazed by how something so routine could still be so exciting and new as I step out of the car and return the embraces from the dozens of tiny, dusty hands that cover me.

In the past few weeks, we’ve established a regular morning routine: set up the chairs, take attendance, stretch, pray, review the alphabet, and then review all our other basics—colors, shapes, opposites, the five senses, days of the week, and body parts. Afterwards, we separate into groups and dive into the lesson plan that I’d labored over and meticulously thought out the day before for the next three hours until school is out. Despite the overwhelming amount of brainpower and physical labor required every day to prepare for the next, I’ve felt nothing but pure ecstasy (maybe except for the occasional back pains and hand cramps). As cliché as it sounds, all my work so far has felt like a labor of love. The physical strain from writing the alphabet 35 times and hand-making dozens of worksheets pales in comparison to seeing the vibrant smiles on my kids’ faces as they learn more every day. At this point of the internship, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on things; I’ve divided my class into four groups based on their writing, reading, and math abilities and we are making good progress in establishing our learning foundations.

Group 1 doing a shape and alphabet exercise in their workbooks.
Group 1 doing a shape and alphabet exercise in their workbooks.


I absolutely love everything about this internship, but it’s definitely not what I had expected. The mountains of hypothetical and academic preparation I did before coming to Namibia seemed all but to fly out the window as I had to hit the ground running as soon as I got settled. Coming to Tui Ni Duse four days a week for a month has made this internship feel like my actual job—and it feels great! I find myself thinking about Tui Ni Duse 24/7—even in my dreams! Constantly, I’m thinking about what I can do with the kids or how I can teach something in a different way so they can understand better. I even wake up in the middle of the night from dreaming about teaching the kids because of a sudden teacher’s epiphany! I know that a lot of it is from adrenaline because I can sleep as little as three hours to make more time for prep work and not feel tired the next day, but I also feel that the challenges of handling a large class alone has pushed me to improve my time management and multi-tasking skills as well as become more pro-active, responsible, and creative. Although I am not strictly following the plan I had laid out for myself before this trip, the literature I read and my anthropological training has definitely come in handy.

Going over our alphabet!
Going over our alphabet!
Group 3 working on an alphabet activity
Group 3 working on an alphabet activity

I am currently planning a parents’ day event when the parents can come and see what their children are capable of doing. I got the idea after visiting the home of a student who decided he didn’t want to come to school anymore. When I met his mother, I took out his notebook to show her the things he had been working on in school and what a good student he was. As she pored over the pages with amazement and pride, I realized that she had never seen any of her son’s schoolwork! Hopefully, this parents’ day will give parents something to be proud of, boost parent support of sending children to school, and shine a light on the benefits of education.

– Brontte Hwang ’14