Interview: Tanvi Mago

Interview with Tanvi Mago.  April 29, 2015

EFH: I’ve invited you to come share your story because you’ve been with NSP for four years, so that means you are a recipient of the Duel Richardson Four Year Service Award—congratulations on that! Can you tell me about what you’ve been doing with NSP these past few years?

TM: I started out working for my first two years at Emmett Till Academy. Then I transitioned to Bret Harte, where I work now. At Till, I worked with first and second graders and at Bret Harte, I’m working with middle schoolers.

EFH: So, Till and Bret Harte are both elementary schools, but first and second grade can be very different from middle school. Can you describe the differences between teaching those ages?

TM: I think that younger students can be a lot harder to control, but often are much more easily able to open up to you, more trusting of someone new. On the other hand, middle schoolers are obviously going through a tough time, and it can be a little harder to get past the shell and get them to be more interactive with you so, it’s made me change my approach a little bit.

EFH: And what are you working on with your students now at Bret Harte?

TM: I’m working on advanced math skills for a select group of students from the math classes, because my teacher wants to be sure that the students that came in with high level math skills don’t lose them. There isn’t always time for her to individually work with them and speed them along a little faster, so I’m working with them to further that along.

EFH: That must be interesting because you’re a political science major, but you’re working with middle school math. What has it been like, through NSP, to get off campus, to get involved in the community, and to do something a little less academic?

TM: This is something I’ve thought about for a while. If I could make it mandatory for every UChicago student to do something like NSP, where you have to get involved with the community, I would! Because we all say that we want to come to a school on the South Side of Chicago partly because it’s an enriched community and an interesting community, but there are so many students that come here and then never really leave our bubble, and I think that’s super problematic. And so, for me it’s been really defining for the past few years to be able to say that I’ve done something like NSP because I can actually say that I engaged with the community in a much more meaningful way than a lot of my peers. And as a result of that, I think that it’s given me a lot in terms of just understanding education politics, Chicago in general, and how the South Side works. You don’t really get this stuff without actually engaging with people and you can’t really get it from taking a Chicago history class. I think it’s something every student absolutely should do it’s been a huge part of my experience here.

EFH: And in terms of becoming involved in a different community, that’s happened to you in a more extreme and maybe intimate way. Can you tell me about that?

TM: Sure. That was my first year actually, when I was working at Till. When I got into the classroom - I was working with first graders at the time — my teacher told me that the mother of one of our students had gotten shot over the weekend. It was obviously very tragic; not only was she a young mother, but she was also pregnant at the time.

So, when I walked in, my teacher warned me that this happened with the student and she might be a little difficult today, to just be aware of that. She was at school. And so, obviously not necessarily well-equipped to handle this kind of thing, I went and took her in the group I was working with. And right off the bat, she sort of told me about it after asking me how I was doing. Then she actually asked me to attend the funeral for her mother and that was also…I was really touched by her wanting me to be there and just asking me to do that. And that to me was in this obviously tragic circumstance really meaningful, and so to that end I wanted to go and be there in whatever capacity I could.

I got her dad’s phone number and he told me where to go and everything and then so I ended up at the funeral in a week. It was a really interesting, sad experience, but I think it really taught me a lot of things about how communities work in the South Side. It was really interesting to see how loved this woman was in the neighborhood; the church was overflowing and there wasn’t enough room for everyone. And it was really great also to see the perspective from this little girl who was taking it so well. Even though she was the youngest of a lot of students, she really seemed to have a handle on the situation and I was really inspired by that as well. I think that also in part persuaded me to continue with NSP for so many years, to kind of be able to have those kinds of stories and that kind of impact, in some way. It’s not just about me with these students.

EFH: It’s obvious that you’ve had a really profound experience these past few years. What are you doing after graduation and what are you taking from NSP with you?

TM: I’ll be moving to DC and consulting for the government, so hopefully making a bit of a difference in some place else. But, as far as what I’ll be taking from NSP, I think it’s just the importance of not living in a bubble. I think it’s so easy to fall into the young college student bubble. The big thing NSP has taught me is the importance of kind of stepping outside of that bubble and really engaging with the community in any way you can, maybe that means you’re doing something a couple hours a week and you’re volunteering somewhere.  That’s so crucial to giving you an actual complete experience in any urban environment that you’re in.


Tanvi Mago is a fourth-year in the College, majoring in political science. She has worked at Emmett Till and Bret Harte Elementary schools durings her four years with the Neighborhood Schools Program.

Emily Fortune Hancock is the operations manager at the Neighborhood Schools Program.