Coming back after an initially rough first-year experience, I unpacked my dorm room, placed my textbooks on a dusty bookshelf, and hoped that this year would be far different from the last. I felt that my AU experience lacked connection to any greater cause. I was just simply going to class each day without really looking forward to much. My world view consisted only of what I came across in fluorescent-lit classrooms, TDR, and in the rare red-line metro trips that only ever carried me as far as Dupont Circle. I felt completely disconnected from Washington, D.C., a city with so many diverse and complex issues waiting to be explored.
As such, my interest was piqued by the prospect of connecting a D.C. site to the material being learned in one of my courses. I saw it as a means to branch out, to burst the isolated AU bubble I had become so comfortable within. It also helped that the course offering the CSLP option for credit was one that I enjoyed and was excited to delve into within the coming weeks of the semester. So, when I learned about Mary House and its after-school program, it seemed like a perfect place for me to enrich my studies. I’d always enjoyed working with kids. In addition, I had a lot of previous experience teaching, in fact, I really enjoyed it. At the most, I assumed my job would entail help a few kids with their homework for a couple hours a week. Promptly after, would return to the comforts of my white-walled dorm room, maybe making a few professional contacts along the way. But my experience has ended up being so much more than that.
Mary House is a local non-profit organization that offers support to homeless families in the D.C. area, particularly immigrant and refugee status families. Within the various services Mary House provides for these families is the after-school program, the portion of the organization where I began my volunteer work in September. Among many things, my duties include reading stories to program attendees, cleaning up spilled snacks, and monitoring homework and craft time. As such, my initial assumptions about the job requirement were quite accurate. However, despite the seeming mundaneness, my work at Mary House has allowed me to tap into complex issues surrounding educational practices within the United States.
To start, the obvious multicultural setting brings inclusive educational practices into sharp focus. Most of the students are first generation or generation 1.5. As such, their inclusion in mainstream school systems is an added obstacle to compete with not only in the D.C. public school system but also in the United States and even more broadly overseas. These obstacles are especially relevant in the context of world migration patterns, more specifically with the prevalence of the migrant crisis in Europe. People have always been on the move; however, their rights and inclusion is something scholars are only just beginning to consider in terms of infrastructure, i.e. education systems. This leads me to think more critically about the best inclusive education practices and the obstacles this population of students faces in an academic context. Not embodying this identity myself, working with the children of Mary House has given me a greater respect for the struggles of immigrants and their families in regards to educational acquisition. It is important to consider what structures exist to support this population of students in order to provide them with the best education opportunities possible. Mary House does some work better include immigrant children; however, I can’t help but wonder what their schools are doing to ensure they have as equal access to a quality education as any other student. This is something that my community service project has enticed me to further investigate, inclusive education practices being something I wish to further research and observe. There are so many facets to consider for both the student and parents alike: language acquisition, emotional support, academic support, information sharing, and much more.
Thus, in my short time at Mary House, I’ve completely burst from within the AU bubble, launching myself into a discourse of inclusive education practices. I’ve really been propelled to examine what D.C. public schools are doing to foster more inclusive education, both for immigrant students as well as for students of other marginalized groups. As I finish out the semester with Mary House, I hope to better understand what is being done to include vulnerable populations and how this translates within the United States and internationally alike. Having taken a chance on an opportunity to distract myself from the drudgery of academia, I ended up finding a subject of passion in which I hope to dedicate much more of my time.