I have done service work as everyone here has. Service is a part of life at DSHA. But what I was able to do on Vocare that I found so special, was build relationships that allowed me to better understand the importance of education, and the need to make excellent education – like we receive here at DSHA –available to everyone. Academic work is only one component of a child’s day. What I learned is that what a child brings from home can influence their entire school experience.
I spent my Vocare experience at Kagel Elementary which is located in the southside of Milwaukee. This school is one of the few MPS schools that provides students with a bilingual curriculum. The mission at Kagel is to prepare students for a diverse and progressive society. Bilingual education has many intellectual and social benefits, but like many MPS schools, they lack the resources that might give their students a better chance at success.
Most of the students at Kagel are first generation students who are financial need-based. The students come from families who only speak Spanish and seek a better future for their children. Being that I myself grew up bilingual and didn’t speak English fluently until third grade I understood how challenging it is to have simple conversations with someone in a language you’re not so confident speaking in.
The need to understand both languages is a struggle that many of the students at Kagel have, and because the students are dealing with a lot more than just learning how to add and subtract numbers, their daily interactions made it a bit more challenging. I saw myself in those students who didn’t know how to hold a conversation with me in English, who were embarrassed and ashamed. But their struggles with the English language does not define them. Just like me they are capable of achieving great things, but it’s hard because of the lack of resources and the amount of additional personal circumstances that they have to overcome.
To best explain what I have learned from my time at the day center and the many places I found God present, I want to tell you about one particular student, the strength and motivation he has given me, and hopefully the positive impact I had on his life.
Anthony (whose name has been changed) is a fourth grader in the monolingual classroom. From an outsider's perspective Anthony is just another unreliable student who has no motivation to complete assignments, and fails to cooperate with teachers. Nonetheless, Anthony is more than a student who fails to focus in class at times. He is a very talented and intelligent young man who truly aspires to become someone great. Throughout the past two weeks I was able to form a good relationship with him
and learn more about why he may misbehave at times and how I can help him focus on his work rather than try to show off to his peers.
Anthony’s home life is not the typical stable environment, but rather consists of an absent father, mentor, and motivator. At home there is no one to provide Anthony with help on homework assignments, let alone provide him a positive role model to look up to. Therefore, the lack of love and attention at home causes Anthony to seek that at school – even if it means getting attention by misbehaving.
My Vocare experience made me consider all the other factors that contribute to the academic success of students. Factors like breakfast and nutrition, afterschool help, family support, sleep, and even just someone to read to you at night can create a stable environment for kids like Anthony to excel in class. Anthony and I had many interactions in which he became more upset and acted out. He expressed to me that because he doesn’t have someone at home to show him right from wrong it’s more challenging for him to know how to cope with emotions.
I saw God working through Anthony in the ways that he apologized for misbehaving and continued to overcome his barriers. There is no set limit on God’s love, patience, and desire for Anthony to become the brilliant young man he is. Although Kagel is not a Catholic school their mission is to help students like Anthony become the individual he is meant to be. Kagel reinforces the fact that
Anthony’s circumstances do not define him, and throughout the past two weeks I was able to be a factor in his life.
Even though it was only two short weeks I knew that God is calling me to help and serve in the community. After this experience my desire to become a therapist and work with young adolescents who are struggling even stronger. I hope to create a supportive environment for kids and become the person that they can look up to, and help them realize that their circumstances do not define them, but God’s love, patience, and desire for their success does.