On Monday, Nov. 11, the Vassar College Urban Education Initiative (VCUEI) hosted a reflection session for its student tutors who volunteer in the Poughkeepsie community. The session was titled “Race and Privilege in Education Training” and was led by Director of Campus Life for the ALANA Center Luz Burgos-López.
The reflection session was organized in an attempt to look back at some of the issues that have been discussed and can separate groups on campus. According to what Faculty Director and Visiting Assistant Professor of Education Tracey Holland wrote in an emailed statement, “This reflection session was something a little new for us. The purpose of Monday’s programming was to find productive ways to discuss the attitudes and realities that sometimes divide Vassar from the community where we reside. We asked [Burgos-López] to attend the reflection to help guide discussion and push the mentors to critically analyze their participation in educational outreach.”
The VCUEI programs at Vassar include Exploring College (EC), a four-year College Readiness program for low-income High School Students, Vassar After School Tutoring, which provides homework help and enrichment activities at Poughkeepsie Middle School, Exploring Science at the Vassar Farm, which is a hands on Science Field trip program for Elementary Age Students, and Vassar English Language Learner Outreach Program (VELLOP) which provides academic assistance, educational technology programs and enrichment activities to ELL students in Poughkeepsie Schools.
Tracy Holland spoke to the breadth of the community the programs serve, writing, “Our programs are funded, for the most part through the generous support of the Dyson foundation and are united in their mission of connecting students in the Poughkeepsie Community with students from Vassar College. We serve approximately 180 students in the community with one-on-one mentoring, and many more through community events, and a drop-in tutoring center.”
Holland also illustrated the involvement of the larger Vassar community in the support of Poughkeepsie’s lower, middle, and high school students, especially those disadvantaged educationally by their backgrounds. As she wrote, “Our programming is also designed to involve faculty. [Professor of Africana Studies and English] Eve Dunbar taught a civil rights history course during our Exploring College Summer Program. We believe that our programs touch the lives of a lot of people on campus.”
According to Holland, the session achieved its goals. She said, “The purpose of the reflection was to strengthen our program network and to spark discussions within our community of mentors.”
She continued, “We wanted to provide a forum where Vassar students could discuss their experiences in a critical and intentional way, and we feel that the discussions were productive, positive, and important. In the schools where they work, our mentors engage in the work of building caring relationships with students. We hope that they left the session feeling supported by the VCUEI office and by their fellow mentors.”
Among the facilitators of the discussion were three Post-Baccalaureate Fellows in the Education Department who organize many activities and programs for the tutors: Jazmin Pichardo ’11, who works with Exploring College; Rachel Gorman ’12 who works with the Vassar After School Tutoring (VAST) program; and Hannah Webster ’12 who works with VELLOP. Each spoke about their undergraduate experiences with VCUEI and in the Poughkeepsie community.
Pichardo said, “As an Undergraduate I served as an intern in the VCUEI. I also feel that my own personal experience, as a first-generation college student, informs and bolsters my work with VCUEI.”
Gorman had a similar experience, writing in an emailed statement, “I participated in both VELLOP and Exploring College, but never VAST (the program I run now). It was difficult to adjust to working with middle school students, but I have learned so much about adolescent development and what it takes to run an afterschool program.”
She continued, “I have realized that middle schoolers are a very fun age group to work with because they often bring more energy than high school students.”
Webster had a slightly different experience with VCUEI as an undergraduate, and urges students to get involved no matter their class year. She wrote in an emailed statement, “I never participated in VCUEI programs as an undergraduate (I am proof it’s never too late to get involved!) I was however very involved with the Poughkeepsie Community as an undergrad, serving as a community fellow, working for an off campus community organization, and forming lasting relationships with community members.”
The Education Department urges interested students to get involved with VCUEI, as they are always looking for new people to help with the programs the offer and to maintain the success of VCUEI in general. As Holland stated, “We are always looking for more tutors! Please stop by the Education Department in the Old Observatory if you are interested in applying.”