April 2016 Archives

Interview: Helen Zhang

As part of our ongoing interview series, Vo Ram Yoon interviewed Helen Zhang in April 2016

Helen Zhang

Vo: Alright, so why don’t we start by having you tell me a little bit about yourself?

Helen: I’m a 2nd year in the College and I’m majoring in Public Policy with a specialization in education policy. I got interested in NSP because I’ve always liked teaching. When I was in high school, I taught a lot. I taught martial arts and some math at my local elementary school and I really missed it a lot in my first year here. NSP is one of the big organizations on campus that I kept hearing about and I thought it’d be a great way to get back into teaching and work with kids.

Vo: That’s awesome! Could you tell me about the site that you work at?

Helen: I work at Carter G. Woodson Middle School, which is a UChicago charter school. I found out about it through UChicago Careers in Education Professions, which is a great program. I’m basically a tutor for a small group of kids every week and they are really great. I like the way NSP sets it up so that you get to work with the same kids every time you are there. You really get to form a real bond with them. You’re their mentor and tutor. You help out with their homework and help them understand with whatever they’re studying in that week like fractions.

Vo: Great! So as part of the NSP program, you’re required to attend one workshop per quarter. Could you tell me about a workshop that you attended that you enjoyed?

Helen: I really enjoyed the workshop from last quarter, which was about non-cognitive factors. It was interesting because it was a lot of stuff that I’ve already been exposed to, but it gave both a cursory introduction as well as a deeper look at cases on grit, growth mindset, and the value of socioemotional factors over test scores. For me, it was fascinating because, when you teach people, it’s easy to get caught up in what the academic goals are. A lot of what school is about is not just necessarily about learning the math or whatever the content is. It’s also about socializing well, about learning how to persevere in the face of challenges, and about learning how to learn itself! The workshop expanded my perspective on what it means to be an educator beyond just teaching content.

Vo: In our education courses, we learn that a majority of students in CPS are racial minorities and come from low-income backgrounds in addition to the fact that the district is suffering from a lot of budget cuts. How do you think working for NSP has brought you closer to the surrounding community as a UChicago student?

Helen: That’s a great question! I really like that I get to work in the South Side. I am from a very predominately Asian and White neighborhood, so I never lived in an area like this. There are places in the U.S where people can go to college and still be in a very insular community whereas here in Hyde Park, it is a different place. It is nice to go off-campus and engage with children who live in areas that are different from where I grew up. Just talking to the kids in itself is engaging and eye-opening because the experiences they’ve had are not experiences that I would’ve imagined having growing up. For us, it’s nice to get an expanded perspective on how life is in the neighborhood if you’re not in this privileged school. Teaching in places like this really hits home that it’s not the case that every child’s neighborhood is a safe and secure place. UChicago charter schools do a great job in providing a safe environment, but that’s not the case outside of school.

Vo: Even before you came to this school, you already had an interest in education policy and research. What do you think that, during the two years you’ve been here, the hands-on experience offered by NSP added to the theoretical education here?

Helen: UChicago really is a theoretical place and it is easy to get bogged down with the books and the intellectualness of everybody at this elite school. This school is hard work, but it tends to have a hands-off approach when it comes to talking about implementation. You can talk about poverty in class or economic theory or social issues and have a lovely debate about it. But none of that hits home quite as much until you’re working with people and children you care about, the ones who are being negatively affected about the issues that we talk about in classrooms in the first place. NSP is a grounding experience because it reminds me that there’s a world outside of our UChicago bubble. The people who end up being affected by policy are the ones who matter and the ones who give me purpose for studying here beyond just learning for the sake of learning.

 Vo:  That was so touching to hear! Thank you so much for all the time and effort you’ve contributed to the students at your school and I hope you have a great time studying abroad in Paris in the fall! 

Interview: Mary Bernadette

As part of our ongoing interview series Vo Ram Yoon interviewed Mary Bernadette on March 1, 2016




Vo: Alright, so could you start by telling me a little about yourself and how NSP has helped you develop?

Mary: I’m a 2nd year and, at this point, I don’t know exactly what I want to do. Through NSP, I’ve gone through a lot more educational talks and discussions this year. Although I originally wanted to be a teacher and be directly involved in the classroom, now I’m starting to get more interested in education policy on a larger level.  I think what makes a large part of who I am is that I have a field, an idea of what I want to go into into, and right now I’m trying to find how I can fit in.

Vo: When did you start working for NSP?

Mary: It was this academic year during autumn quarter but later in the quarter than other people did. I started to go to my site in mid- to late November.

Vo: I see and could you tell me about the site that you help out at?

Mary: Sure, my site is Hyde Park Neighborhood Club. It’s on 55th and Kenwood. The HPNC isn’t an official CPS school or a private school or anything like that. It’s sort of an after school program. The majority of kids come after their school day is over so HPNC is an opportunity for kids to engage with each other. We spend the first ten or fifteen minutes eating a snack, and then we go to the gym for forty-five minutes so that the kids can just play. Then, we move into the classrooms to do homework and the students are organized by grade level. There are a few high school students but the majority are in 3rd grade through 8th grade.

Vo: What does a typical day look like for you at HPNC?

Mary: Typically, I’ll get there around 3:15 every day I work there. At that point, it’s still pretty quiet and only five to six kids have come. Most kids are still in school or on their way from school. I say hi to my supervisor and the other teachers, and will talk to the kids who are there. After a short while, a bunch of kids will come and, at that point, we’ll have them wash their hands and get a snack before going to the gym. I get to play basketball with the kids or play tag. The kids develop a strong attachment to the teachers of HPNC because they view them as both a teacher and mentor. Their relationship is more relaxed than the one’s they have with their regular school. For the rest of the day, I tutor kids in small groups of two to three or mostly individually.

Vo: That’s adorable! So as part of the NSP program, you attend one workshop per quarter on a variety of topics dealing with education. Could you tell me about one workshop that you liked?

Mary: One of the workshops I have gone to this quarter was a workshop on schools on the South Side with Shaka Rawls. His talk was absolutely excellent. He connected so many lines on White flight from certain urban areas and diminishing property values and how that affects schools largely in neighborhoods on the South Side. Also, how the different educational policies coming from CPS have affected these schools in addition to the effects of the disagreements between the government of Illinois and the Chicago Teacher’s Union. So that was really, in different ways, I want to say informative, but that sounds sort of boring. It was actually pretty energizing to be there.

Vo: That’s great! So my last question is what do you think working with NSP has added to your overall college experience?

Mary: NSP has added a lot to my experience at this university. Just having something that I could classify as experience in education has made me feel a lot better with where I’m at currently. It was really powerful when, especially with the elections being this year, I got to talk with a few boys in this classroom that I work in who are very interested in politics. Something they talk about often is how having Donald Trump as president will affect them as black students. Another boy asked me, when we were reading a book and the name Montgomery came up, whether Montgomery was a place in the South. We sort of slowly began moving to talk about slavery and prejudice and how those things are still affecting us today. Being in NSP has supplemented what my experience at UChicago has been lacking in. UChicago is always like “We’re so diverse!” and everything. But then, teaching in general helps me to listen to people who are different from me and it helps me create an archive for myself on narratives and experiences that I didn’t have. It’s very fulfilling as a person because you feel like you’re making connections with people even if you’re not very close with them. You’re forming an increased understanding of a different person. It’s been really formative and, of course, teaching is something that I want to do and really like. Talking with my supervisor and other teachers has helped me to get an idea of the difficulties that I might be facing as someone who wants to go into that field. Even if HPNC isn’t an actual school, working there has opened my eyes to the variety of ways that I can go into education.

Vo: I’m so glad to hear that you get to learn as much as the students get to learn from you! Thank you again for your time and I hope you stay with NSP for the remainder of your time at the College!