Leadership Development: A Summer with Kids

1. This summer, I had the opportunity to work full-time as an assistant teacher in a preschool for children, ages four and five, with disabilities. The summer program lasted for ten weeks and allowed me to work with the lead teacher to design and carry out activities, learning centers, and trips for the 20 children we were in charge of. We came up with ten different themes, and each week had its own theme that the activities and trips were centered around.

2. I have always had a passion for dedicating my time to helping others, especially those in dire need such as the homeless, sick, and dying. I have had the opportunity to volunteer in various homeless shelters in the Cleveland and Columbus area over the past several years and in hospitals and hospice facilities. However, my STEP signature project allowed me to step slightly outside of the healthcare setting and into a new environment with a lot more responsibilities than I had ever been used to. I was now in charge of 20 children with special needs with the help of just one other teacher. As cliche as it may sound, words can not even begin to describe how much this program allowed me to grow into an independent, confident, and responsible leader in just ten short weeks. I went into this position not knowing if I would be able to get anything out of it. Being responsible for so many children who all needed so much attention seemed like a task I was not ready to handle. I had no experience with this particular age group, and I felt overwhelmed and apprehensive. However, I quickly learned I just needed to have an open mind and let myself learn as each day went on. I learned skills such as patience, which is crucial for working with special needs children, especially at such a young age. Patience was always something I struggled with; being pre-med, I am used to a fast-paced and always moving lifestyle. My STEP experience allowed me to truly practice patience every single day, and now I am able to adjust my outlook on life and allow life to move at its own pace. A future in the healthcare field will require an immense amount of patience on a daily basis, and this experience helped me to practice this important virtue in a way I would have not typically thought would do so.

3. Throughout my STEP experience, there were a variety of events and interactions that took place that allowed me to grow as an independent leader. For example, I had the responsibility of leading daily activities for the group of children. I had no prior experience working with this young age group of children, and on top of that, I also did not have prior experience working with children with special learning needs, like ADHD, PTSD, and underdeveloped motor skills. Throughout the summer, I learned something new every day about these children and how they best learned. I was able to tailor an activity to each of their needs, so that they were able to participate in what was planned for the day. This made each child feel special and appreciated, which was a goal I had in mind throughout the summer and strived to accomplish each day.

Once a week, we took the group of children on a trip that went along with the “theme” of the week. For example, one week we went to the Great Lakes Science Center, a personal favorite of mine! The kids were able to participate in science experiments appropriate for their age, explore the center, visit the planetarium, and much more. I was beyond excited for this trip especially, being a science major. I was able to bring my passion for science to the trip and help engage the children in the activities they were participating in. The kids had the time of their lives, and we all were able to learn something new that day. I made sure to keep each child’s personal learning needs in mind throughout these trips, one of my responsibilities as a leader. Each child learned in a different way, and some needed more time and attention than others. While this made the summer slightly challenging because there was such a large number of children in the group and only two leaders, I truly do think it helped me rise above my comfort zone and put a large load of responsibility on me, helping me to grow into a more well-rounded leader.

Finally, the aspect that I admired the most about my STEP project was the interactions and relationships I made with not only the children I took care of all summer, but also their families. While the program only lasted a short 10 weeks, I built such strong relationships with the children and their families that I will be able to cherish even after the program ended. The families were so appreciative of my dedicated time and attention I put forth in order to help their children have a fun-filled, educational summer. The families of the children had to put a great deal of trust in me to have me spend 40 hours each week with their child, helping them to develop skills necessary to help them excel in life and in their education.

4. My STEP signature project has left me with memories and lessons I will never forget, no matter where life takes me. At first, I was skeptical when this opportunity came up. Being pre-med, I felt like I had to do something directly related to healthcare. However, at the same time, I realized that I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone that would allow me to strengthen my leadership skills, something that is absolutely critical in the healthcare field. I am so thankful that I chose this specific STEP project regarding leadership because I feel like I am capable of so much more and have grown into a stronger leader, even if the experience only lasted a short ten weeks. Before going into this summer, I was nervous about having to care for so many children and lead them through a new activity each day of the week. It was extremely challenging and frustrating at first. As the days went on, I dedicated my time to these children and built strong relationships with them and their families, so that I could better understand what was best for them, how they learned, and what their needs were. It got easier as time went on because I was able to form such strong bonds with them. I knew I loved working with kids for a while, but this experience definitely strengthened that passion for me. It takes a great deal of patience and passion to work with children, and I do believe I have that. The field of pediatrics is one that I have considered pursuing after attending medical school, and this STEP project was just another experience I now have that will allow me to get closer to obtaining that lifelong dream of mine.


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