Corinne Hemmersbach and her students at PAVE Academy
Poverty minor Corinne Hemmersbach interned with PAVE Academy in Brooklyn, N.Y., as part of the 2013 Shepherd Internship Program.
Rise and shine! 5:30 a.m. Trying not to wake my three roommates, I tiptoe around our tiny NYU dorm room, as I get ready to start my day. As I exit the NYU doors, I pass by Washington Square Park, one of my favorite places in New York City. I am always jealous of those getting in their morning jog around the park, while I am already making my way to work at this early hour. My daily commute to Brooklyn begins at 6:20 a.m., a commute I have finally mastered after getting terribly lost my first day. Just two blocks away I enter the W4th subway station, crossing my fingers, hoping the F train is running today. After a short 20-minute train ride, I arrive in Red Hook, an impoverished neighborhood of Brooklyn, and from the station, it is just another 10-minute walk to work. Under the expressway and through the projects, I turn the last corner and am impressed daily at the sight of a new 40,000 square foot school building that looks like nothing else in the neighborhood. I enter and start my workday in one of the most positive learning environments imaginable.
PAVE Academy Charter School in Red Hook Brooklyn, New York, is located in a diverse community with a long history of poverty and violence. The 1990 Census showed a socioeconomic profile of the neighborhood that included an unemployment rate of 21.6 percent, low educational attainment (43.6 percent of the population graduated from high school), and the highest poverty levels relative to other neighborhoods in the district. According to the 2008 city data, the residents in the surrounding community have a median household income of $21,340, an unemployment rate of 11.8 percent, and 54.6 percent of the residents are below the poverty level. This data exemplifies the community’s ongoing daily struggles that PAVE is striving to reverse with education as the primary weapon.
After getting settled in my intern office, I make my way to the Syracuse classroom to help the kindergarteners with breakfast duty and independent reading time. Friday mornings happen to be my favorite at PAVE and excitement starts to build within me as 8:30 a.m. rolls around. I walk, wanting to run, down the hall to the gymnasium for Community Meeting. Even with the gym door closed the cheering reverberates through the hall at a deafening volume. I open the door to see all the students chanting, “We are going to college and you can’t stop us.” Needless to say, I get the chills every Community Meeting as I listen to the students rap about achieving their best, how intelligent they are, and how attending college is not a question of if, but when.
The school was founded to prepare kindergarten to 8th grade students to thrive in competitive high schools and four-year colleges by providing its students with a rigorous academic program and a community built on its four core values: Perseverance, Achievement, Vibrance, and Excellent Character. PAVE not only has a longer school year, but also a longer school day with students arriving at 7:20 a.m. and leaving at 3:45 p.m. This means that scholars, the name that PAVE prefers for their students, are spending around 40percent more time in class than traditional public school students and are making up for lost education.
After Community Meeting, I meet with several of my supervisors to discuss projects for the day, week, month, and summer. In working with the principals on a project to align PAVE’s curriculum with New York’s new standards and helping the Operations and Finance teams with daily needs, I found myself directly immersed in many facets of PAVE’s school life and culture. I enjoyed being involved in different areas of administration, for I believe I truly got a sense of the work it takes to run a successful charter school.
Corinne Hemmersbach, W&L
Around 4:50 p.m., the two other interns and I make our way back to the subway station and home for the night. It is time to eat dinner at the dining hall with the 10 other Shepherd Interns placed in New York this summer, and nice to share work experiences with others who truly understand what I am experiencing. After dinner, being too exhausted to do more than lay in bed, I enjoy hearing about my roommates’ days before falling asleep. The last thing I think about is exploring all that New York City has to offer on a Saturday. The city is an adventure to say the least.
Any internship should teach responsibility, professionalism, and a work ethic. During my summer at PAVE, I learned all of this and more. I already understood that children deserve an education that will prepare them for their future; however, this summer I learned how to make that happen. The teachers, faculty, and staff at PAVE Academy Charter School are truly incredible. Their goal to provide their scholars with an opportunity for a brighter future is not only a dream but also a reality. I greatly admire all the people I had the opportunity of working with this summer. They taught me how to make an impact in the world, and that is not something learned at every internship.