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!