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Off the Hill, students find role teaching

For some Brown students, classroom time extends beyond College Hill. This isn't just the typical educational experience –– it involves teaching younger peers in places like Olneyville and Providence's West End. In these classrooms, it's all about students teaching students.

Summer for bonding and learning

Providence Summerbridge's mission is to create an opportunity for low-income, academically motivated middle school students to attend college. The students come from local public schools, and the program encourages high school and college students to pursue futures in education, according to the program's website.

Michael Goldstein '92, co-founder of Summerbridge Providence, said he was inspired by his past experience with Summerbridge in New Orleans and decided to start the program in Providence.

"It was just completely a part of who I was and how I found myself, and so the opportunity to be able to do something I love was great," he said.

Providence Summerbridge uses the students-teaching-students model because "the teachers are students themselves, so there is a real bond that is created between the students and teachers," Goldstein said. "The high school and college teachers are exceptional."

At first, Ari Rubenstein '11, who taught in the program the past two summers, was not really sure he wanted to do Summerbridge. He found, though, that "it was the most rewarding way to spend my summer."

Rubenstein taught English his first year and mathematics his second year.

Typical days at Providence Summerbridge are long —  "the kids arrive at 8 a.m.," Rubenstein said.

Rubenstein's day usually ended at 6 p.m. "We spend a lot of our time writing quizzes and grading homework," he added.

For Keith Catone '00, a program alum now attending the Harvard School of Education, Providence Summerbridge was also a big, but valuable, commitment.

Catone spent most of his time working with students after school ended, for two hours twice a week.

Catone said the program's model of students teaching students had many advantages. People aged 16–20 "can do a lot if they're given the right type of training, and if they're given the support and space," he said. "They can have more success with students than older teachers. There's a built-in sort of respect."

Rubenstein also said being close in age is beneficial.

"One big thing is the students come in and see someone who is young and friendly, listens to the same music they listen to," he said. "We're students ourselves. We're not that far out of middle school, so we can be really sympathetic."

This relationship is not a one-way street, Rubenstein said.

"The learning is going in both directions," he said. "We're not just coming in to teach or do a favor for these kids because that's not what it's about. It's about working hard and learning a lot."

Expression through collaboration  

The students-teaching-students model is also used in the Brown Language Arts Program, a writing club intended to encourage self-expression and help elementary students with their written communication skills, according to the Swearer Center website. The clubs meet at William D'Abate and Asa Messer elementary schools.

Jeff Bauer '11, the coordinator of the program, has participated in it since his freshman year after finding out about it at the Student Activities Fair.

"We basically do creative writing with third-, fourth- and fifth-graders with fiction, nonfiction and poetry," he said.  

"We're old enough for the teaching aspect of it, but on the other hand, we have a really close relationship with the kids. We can relate easier to them," Bauer said. "Since we're after school, it's not as rigid a structure. We're in a unique position because of our age."

Bauer said the program involves a lot of individual help.

"We usually have a 2-1 student-to-teacher ratio," he said. "We try to bridge the gap between building skills and fun activities."

Leadership out- and indoors

While many Brown students have the opportunity to explore the great outdoors through Brown Outdoor Leadership Training, some have taken their experiences one step further. Many participate in the Outdoor Leadership and Experiential Education Program, which teaches environmental science and leadership through workshops and field trips to students at the Met School, according to the Swearer Center website.

Program Coordinator Kayla Urquidi '11 discovered the program ­— which was started by two BOLT leaders about 13 years ago — during her sophomore year.

"It was a fusion of my passions," she said. "I just returned from the backpacking trip on BOLT, and I was really looking to get involved in the community. I was in other teaching programs before, and I wanted to get involved with the Met School."

Urquidi said there are multiple focuses of the program.  

"We try to help fulfill the lab science requirements for the Met School. We do hands-on environmental science workshops," she said. "Another facet of the program is the camping component. We usually have two trips each semester, and the mentors and mentees go together."

Urquidi said many Brown students in the program act as mentors and have helped their mentees in the past with community service projects and college applications.

"We help them with whatever they want," she said. "Some of the pairs click and take off."

Urquidi said that with the close age difference of the mentors and mentees, engaging the interest of mentees is much easier.

"I really feel like the Brown students learn so much in terms of how to communicate their own knowledge and facilitate discussions with the Met students," she said.

Mutual learning

With such large outreach in the Providence community, Brown serves an important role in supporting students — of all ages.

"Some of the middle schoolers can be inspired by the fact that there are these students going to an Ivy League that tell them they believe in them and that they can make it to Brown, too," Rubenstein said.

Urquidi said she is amazed there are so many programs involving Brown students helping out in the Providence community.

"Now that I'm coordinating, I can see how many programs there are. We had an amazing amount of people apply this year. I really think student groups do a good job in getting involved in Providence," Urquidi said. "It's been an incredible learning experience to get off College Hill."

With the participation in these programs, students volunteers said they have discovered many valuable lessons about themselves and about teaching.

"It's a very real way to understand the setting the University is in and the other parts it's isolated from," Catone said. "I think Brown students are given space and freedom to think about ‘Why am I learning this?' and ‘Why am I here?' "

Bauer said he learned a lot about the way kids think and how to make activities "more exciting for students."

For Rubenstein, hard work led to many new discoveries.

"I worked harder then I ever had in my life over this summer. I learned to have faith that the work that I was doing was worthwhile and valuable even if I couldn't see the results right away or ever," he said.

Urquidi said she realized from the experience that she could be a teacher.

"I always had done tutoring, but this showed me that I could really be a teacher," she said. "Confidence was the biggest thing."


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