The Americana World Community Center, a non-profit education outreach program in Louisville, KY, allowed me to contribute in educational and enrichment programs in order to reduce summer learning-loss for refugee, immigrant, and economically disadvantaged students. While at Americana, I co-taught fourth and fifth grade students and created weekly STEM, literacy, digital literacy, life skills, leadership, ESL, and P.E. classes. This summer-learning loss initiative was created to aid those undergoing the transition to America. The program primarily focused on STEM and ESL classes for three hours each day and was constantly monitored and modified to reach each students’ needs. In addition to tutoring and educational opportunities for students, there were also multiple events where students could network within and outside of their community for employment and educational purposes. All in all, Americana offered kids a way out of adversity by giving them a place where they felt accepted and capable of pursuing their biggest dreams.
Working at the Americana World Community Center as an intern was the highlight of my summer. My teaching went beyond the content and delved into the fundamental principles of helping students become leaders and developing good character to benefit them throughout their lives. It was incredible to have had this opportunity and to develop a structured curriculum that supported a holistic education. In my experience as a music educator, no experience compares to teaching refugee, immigrant, and economically disadvantaged students.
While at Americana, each intern taught a specific grade where she or he developed lessons and managed his or her own class daily. I soon realized how privileged I was as a teacher to have students from various cultures and ethnicities from all around the world. I was learning as much from my students as they learned from me! In addition, Americana provided a place for kids to stay while their parents were working and gave them three hot meals a day! Also, to expand their horizons and broaden their experiences, we scheduled a field trip every Thursday to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum, aquarium, butterfly farm, and other locations. With these planned trips, the kids were given opportunities to explore the world and experience different things they may not have been able to. Americana also enabled students to share personal stories (through poems) so that their surrounding community could become more aware and educated about the adversity that these students face and how this has shaped them into the persons with character that they have developed. At Americana, students are given a voice and are pushed to bounce back from life’s negative circumstances so that they can thrive.
Reflecting on cultural responsiveness, Americana beautifully recognizes the significance and importance of tolerating and understanding of all cultures—something on which schools need to spend more focused time. Even more satisfying, Americana demonstrates this idea and practice of accepting all cultures by participating in cultural fairs like Global Lou as well as hosting an Americana World Festival that every year brings the community together to celebrate diversity! These free festivals feature international performances, foods from all around the world, activities for the kids, and provide a large resource center for adults. In addition, Americana’s mission focuses on providing programs and after-school assistance for immigrants and refugees (as well as those economically disadvantaged). I was overwhelmed by the kindness of so many individuals and their motivation to build a community that celebrates diversity.
My experience interning at Americana helped me realize that these populations are sometimes not as privileged as others when considering factors that create a supportive and effective school system. For example, these students usually attend underfunded schools and live in communities deprived of access to early childhood education. These conditions result in loss of education that put the children behind in their studies compared to others from more privileged backgrounds. During my time at Americana, I saw many fourth and fifth graders who could not yet read and struggled to write. It was discouraging to discover that many of these kids were pushed through the education system. I realized that these students just needed a little assistance but were not given time to learn basic life skills such as literacy. I witnessed things that I had not experienced in a public-school system. For example, many students were so exhausted that they slept the entire day. When eating, some kids went around the cafeteria asking if others were going to eat their food in hopes that they could get extras because they did not have enough food at home. Despite this, the kids seldom complained and were thankful for what they received. With these new funds of knowledge, I can begin to think of different programs that I can set up at school districts to provide extra tutoring, meal programs, and support to families.
This internship equipped me with opportunities to take initiative and start projects on my own! While at Americana, I emailed Tom’s (a company that makes safe hygiene products) to determine if we could develop a partnership to receive free samples for all of our students. In addition, I had the privilege of working with a team that deeply cared about their work. Working at a non-profit can be stressful and difficult, but it is so rewarding to see the kids come back each day excited to learn. Also, talking with student workers and staff members provided me with remarkable stories that I will always remember. I heard personal experiences of the impact that Americana had on my colleagues and their families, of what the world needs to know more about when it comes to our culturally and ethnically diverse people, and of the adversity the students faced and how they overcame them. The students and staff have shared many personal experiences that helped me understand what people of refugee and immigrant backgrounds experience while in school and how teachers and communities can help. By communicating with my colleagues and the students, I could fully understand and appreciate how each program helps our students! Americana assisted in offering hope, providing new opportunities, and helping students and families overcome isolation and loneliness in their journey.
Support: This internship was a monumental lesson for offering support to one another during life’s ups and downs. These kids had been told that they were incapable of accomplishing many things due to the pigment of their skin and their dialect. I had a student cry when I asked him to draw a cat because he thought that there was no way that he could. I simply told him that he could and would draw the best cat if he tried. With this support, he began etching sketches on the page and succeeded in his first attempt. What I remember most about this moment was the pure joy that radiated from his eyes and the happiness that he had in accomplishing the task. He excitedly jumped up and down and grinned with a smile from ear to ear. Support is something that all of us need. People too often become hardened by failure and hardships. Instead of trying again, we often give up and run from projects, ideas, and dreams. Some of us are afraid of being embarrassed and facing failure once more. We have all been there a time or two. We miss the possibility of tasting success and accomplishing lofty goals. Dreams are forgotten, plans are changed, and the world remains oblivious to what could have been. If someone has inspired us to try again, we would have reaped different results.
I have been renewed after interning at Americana. I now constantly question systems and look for any signs of bias to vanquish. I am quick to let people know when they may be doing something insensitive to others. I have also been working to become better educated in public policy so that I can develop and advocate for clubs, activities, and classes aimed at promoting leadership, advanced ESL classes, and mentorship programs for those coming to the United States. I especially see the need for mentorship programs to assist immigrants and refugees with transportation, housing, food, healthcare, and access to English translators. I also hope to build better relationships with minority populations and to organize events that provide opportunities for them to share their culture with others. I plan to collect stories from diverse people and, with their permission, record them in a book for others to read in order to gain community support. These stories will enable others to have more compassion for diverse populations and how they work to improve their lives. Also, I will advocate for others to dedicate a portion of their time serving these populations through multiple media. I am especially going to show commitment through my actions to gain support for these groups. I will not let my words be empty, but will carry out these goals and bring them to life through my actions. Americana has inspired me to seek the social justice that these vulnerable populations deserve and to create places where they can feel welcome.
Ultimately, I have witnessed how diversity is beautiful in all facets of life If we did not have different-minded thinkers we would not have discovered all that life has to offer. We build off of one another’s differences to make something beautiful. In a way, we are all puzzle pieces—each of us different and indispensable—essential for putting together a picture that the world needs to see.