Are you a STEP student wondering what to do for your experience? Or are you just a normal OSU scholar looking for a way to give back? There are so many opportunities to give back, but one way you should really consider is – becoming an active member in your community!
This past year I was a part of the STEP Program and I chose to complete a Service Learning project and Internship for my experience. I worked with and shadowed Columbus City Schools Superintendent Dr. Dan Good. I decided to remain in Columbus for my experience because I believe a lot of people overlook and forget about urban school districts, and the support they need and I wanted to become civically engaged with the community I had lived in for the past two years.
When people think of urban school districts in Ohio, and across the nation, they associate them with negative stigmas and are quick to criticize the employees and students (some of whom have no other choice). Many students and staff members from Ohio State tend to go far and beyond over their summer break to conduct research and volunteer (also known as volunteer tourism – which is the act of padding ones resume, more so than actually helping the community at hand). However, right here within the city of Columbus, literally a few miles away from Ohio State’s campus thousands of people are suffering – with poverty, inequality and a lack of education – and contrary to popular belief, they need just as much help as those aboard.
In recent months, Columbus City Schools (CCS) has made both local and national headlines; due to a data scandal that involved a vast majority of the district schools. Within my experience working with the school district and the Superintendent I was able to see so many other wonderful things the district had to offer its students and the dedication the staff there has (things that would never make it to the 5 o’clock news or morning paper).
I had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with various district administrators, principals and teachers from CCS and I realized just how complex their jobs are. I met with a middle school principal in October and shadowed her for the day. While at her school I learned about countless circumstances many of her students were facing at home, that ultimately affects their behavior and learning ability in school. There were students who were dealing with depression, a students who recently loss her grandfather (whom she lived with), a transfer student from Medina County, Ohio who was 16 in the 8th grade and two female students (cousins) whom parents are both heroin users. The principal informed me that she had reached out to Franklin County Children Services multiple times, and nothing has happened.
The following week I shadowed an elementary school principal and once again was in awe, at the information I gathered about the students, things that are typically overlooked but all plays a huge part in the performance of our urban and Appalachian schools. While at the elementary I learned about a third grader who was homeless and he was going through emotional distress, as his mother had recently died of an overdose, in bed beside him.
For me, this experience was not only eye opening, but it also reassured me of my passion to advocate for students of these backgrounds. It allowed me to factor in, yet another obstacle these kids are dealing it, their mental health. You hear a lot of people say “oh they’re just lazy”, “they’re just dumb” or “they’re bad” – but what I learned is these kids are none of the aforementioned; they are battling traumatic experiences that some people will never experience in their life; at such a young age. Most of these kids want to excel in schools and in life, but they just don’t know how. Some of them have to worry about where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep tonight. I think one of the most important lessons I learned is not to point the finger at one party. It’s not solely the teachers at fault, nor is it the students. It is a host of obstacles at hand and we will never accurately address the performance problem in our schools, until we address those obstacles and realize there is no “one size fits all” solution to this problem. Every school district, every school building, and every student has his or her own obstacles to overcome and we cannot expect one legislation or rule to fix everything.
Why do I care so much about urban and Appalachian schools? What’s the point of me working with Columbus City Schools?
Well, I can tell you right now that, this experience has changed my life and perspective in more ways than I previously thought it could.
I care about these schools (and students) because I am a living testimony that students in these areas can succeed, they can make it out and they can make a difference. As a student who matriculated through two urban school districts (Detroit Public Schools and proud graduate of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District), I want these students to know that someone just like them cares and I understand what they are going through; as not too long ago, I was in their seats. I personally believe America has too many “top” universities that are failing to sufficiently give back to and invest in their local school districts. For instance, right here in the city of Columbus we have schools with over 30% of their students failing the Ohio Third Grade Reading Guarantee. Weinland Park Elementary (less than 5 minutes away from OSU) had about 20% of its third graders fail, the exam. We need to see more of our urban and Appalachian area students’ matriculate to 4-year post-secondary institutions (and not 2-year community colleges).
“You can’t be what you can’t see” – Marian Wright Edelman
I also spent time interning within the school district because I believe, we currently have far too many legislators and school district administrators (on the local, state and federal levels) making decisions about students in urban and rural America, who have no direct connection to that particular group of individuals. They have never taken the time to speak with the teachers, who are in the classrooms six hours a day; the parents, or most importantly the students themselves. We also have too many citizens, right here in our very own community, who believes it’s not their responsibility to care about and advocate for these students. However, I feel that we should all have a common goal in life: to have a positive (and extraordinary) impact on the lives of others.
“The only thing worse than kids giving up on school, is if we give up on them” – unknown
The city of Columbus, state of Ohio and the nation needs our help! Help is needed in our communities: in our schools, in our prisons, in our retirement centers, in our libraries, in our food banks and in our recreation centers. There’s no experience more valuable than being civically engaged with your community; as you have the power to make a difference.
Ways I give back:
I currently run a program through the Office of Student Life’s Department of Social Change, called A Day in the Life of a Buckeye; which allows me to bring inner-city and Appalachian area high school sophomores and juniors to campus, to offer them a one-on-one experience of life at The Ohio State University, and college in general, for a day.
I am actively involved with Buckeye Civic Engagement Connection (BCEC), a Student Life department, which works to connect The Ohio State University with its surrounding communities, focusing specifically on programming for individuals, families, and entire communities facing poverty and its consequences. The mission of BCEC is to bring together the communities of The Ohio State University and those of the surrounding, central Ohio area. BCEC works to provide a pathway out of poverty, by focusing on areas of need, such as health, education, and economics.
My name is DaVonti’ Haynes and I am a third year, Public Affairs major at The Ohio State University and when I graduate I want to work on educational policy to increase the college-readiness pipeline of urban and Appalachian area students, to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to take advantage of an extraordinary educational experience, just as I did!