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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Changing Lives with the Neighborhood Learning Alliance

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One of the students at the center gets artistic with this photo
This year, I decided to take a different route than the usual internship or summer classes that most pursue; I decided to take on a position as a Program Assistant at the Neighborhood Learning Alliance (NLA), an organization dedicated to educating students in the area and allowing them to make up credits for classes they may have not been the best at.  Overall, it was a very interesting experience, in which I was given the chance to learn more about myself and others and give back to the community.

Following the end of spring semester, I began my position at the NLA.  The students would not arrive until late June, so I engaged in a number of tasks, everything from reading and commenting on grant proposal request forms to replacing motherboards and screens in computers.  

Motherboards, Monitors, and Missing Keys!  Oh my!
Nonprofit organizations are an interesting environment, as they allow you to have fluidity in the workplace that very few places give.  One day, I could be the computer repair man and the next, the tutor.

As the date of the summer credit recovery program came closer, I had the opportunity to take part in training and learn the kind of skills I would have to possess to carry out a successful program.  My favorite session was the “Psychology of Race,” where we were shown through several activities just how much bias many of us unknowingly had towards certain races.  Even in today’s world where racial equality is better than ever, we can still find ourselves unconsciously being prejudice towards another race.  Obviously, this bias must be overcome to run successful programs.

Finally, near the end of June, my challenge had come; the students had arrived to begin their credit recovery program.  I found during the course of the program that many of the challenges we faced were the same that we had placed on our teachers when we were high school students.  Oftentimes, students would get too loud, lose motivation to work, argue with us, and just make our lives downright difficult.  People are quick to judge and say they are a bad batch, the students who failed their classes.  In reality, they are just kids.  We were all once kids, and we all once acted that way.  

Most of the time, we were the ones telling the students to be less loud.  When I saw this going down the street, the students had to get my excitement under control.

However, most of the time, they were motivated students, wishing to finish the program as quick as possible.  Hands would fly up across the room, as students asked questions about everything from science to math to English.  Through the course of this program, we definitely discovered ours and others’ strengths and weaknesses.

It was a great feeling every time we saw a student say, “I’m finished with this course,” and be given the ability to go enjoy the rest of his or her summer.  It felt like an accomplishment as that student had walked out, knowing that we had contributed in making his or her life a little easier.  

Me, Sam (another tutor), Steve (Executive Director), and our students. 
I recommend becoming a Program Assistant at the NLA for anyone who is looking for a different, rewarding kind of experience next summer.  Positions are available on Carnegie Mellon’s TartanTrak through a work-study partnership.
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