Lucy Alexander ’20

YMCA Power Scholars Academy, Ketchum, ID

Staff and student mentors in our core values of the week superhero outfits—I was Captain Learning (in pink).

I’ve always been fond of working with kids, and have marveled at the power a single teacher holds in shaping the path of learning, growth, and life for a single individual. As I reflect back on my personal journey to and at Williams, it becomes clear that I too have been very much shaped by specific impactful educators in my life. My high school chemistry teacher instilled in me a curiosity for science that has led me to become a chemistry major, and my professor for first Spanish class at Williams inspired me to go abroad to Argentina and immerse myself in order to truly learn and understand a new language, which I am so happy I did. These educators changed my path in life and made me curious about how I could play a role in influencing the next generation through education. Thanks to the Alumni Sponsored Internship Program, this summer I made it my mission to find out what it takes to be an impactful educator by interning with the YMCA Power Scholars program.

Power Scholars is a program through the YMCA that acts as a summer school and summer camp for at risk kids to prevent summer regression and inspire confidence in the classroom. Students who might be struggling in school or have a home life that is not supportive of their learning development are nominated by their teachers for the program. They sign up on a first come first serve basis and everything in the program is free, so there is no financial barrier for families, which makes a huge difference. At the Ketchum location specifically, they serve around seventy rising second and third graders to target early intervention. The students (or “scholars” as we called them) were arranged into three different classes (or “clusters”) based on ability level from school test scores in literacy and math. They were also mixed up into enrichment clusters (the more “camp” part of the day) which included scholars of all abilities together. This allowed scholars to get the attention they needed for their ability level and work with peers similar to them while also interacting with all of the other scholars in one day.

Learning about water and density by building boats to see what floats, and who’s boat will go the fastest.

As an intern and program assistant, my job included helping teachers set up their classrooms, making weekly event schedules to be displayed, creating posters promoting college readiness, making sight word flashcards, assisting in classrooms and during lunch and recess, taking pictures, translating documents to Spanish, and talking to parents about bus routes, scheduling, absences, field trips, and any other questions they had. In short, I was doing odd jobs wherever the staff or teachers needed assistance, as well as supporting them in their roles to help the program run as smoothly as possible, which sometimes was a challenge with seventy high-energy kids. All the staff that I worked with were excited to be there and had so many different ideas as to how to effectively manage and inspire the scholars. Even though we spoke during staff training about behavior management plans and how to implement them, sometimes the array of ideas proved to be a problem as different teachers used different techniques and scholars could not always expect a consistent response across the board from all the teachers. In our end-of-day meetings we did address this issue and had to learn to be open-minded and flexible to the ways of other staff members to effectively work together. I had a lot of fun helping the teachers in the classrooms, as I could see them in action. Since many of the scholars are not as responsive to conventional methods of elementary school teaching (as that is, in fact, why they are there), the teachers had to develop new methods of getting the scholars attention and inspiring them to care about the material. One teacher kept the lights off most of the day and lead breathing exercises at the start of each class or activity to get the scholars calm and focused, which I observed was quite effective. He also encouraged them to ask questions and tell stories which inspired a lot more of them to speak up in class as the five week program went on. Another teacher let the students have a dance break in the middle of class that let them take a moment to release their energy and re-focus. The most impactful tactic I observed was that instead of yelling at a disruptive child, one teacher would get on the child’s level, calmly talk to them, and ask them to reflect on a certain core value or something they had learned. The child would later be able to take a position of leadership as a teacher’s assistant to show by example how to act to their peers which the scholars really enjoyed doing. Even though at times the program felt slightly like organized chaos, that was its nature and it was beautiful to see scholars that were once so shy, insecure, and doubtful of their abilities blossom into active, engaged and positive participants in the classroom. One young scholar felt so inspired after a one-on-one conversation with a teacher after a rough day that every day after, she would run up to me in the hallway saying “I believe in myself!” followed by an anecdote of some tough problems she conquered or a new word she learned. It was in these moments where I saw how impactful this program was on students’ lives.

A fisherman teaching a scholar how to fly fish at trout fish hatchery.

It was incredible to watch the scholars grow over the course of the program, but the job also proved challenging. I loved developing relationships with the scholars, but working with kids, especially on field trip days with lots of logistics, was quite draining. Although my internship was eight weeks, I was only with the scholars for five of those weeks and it truly made me appreciate how the teachers managed their energy as it was quite a taxing environment. I also learned a lot about myself. Working with Power Scholars taught me that I love working with kids and got the most out of one-on-one interaction, but I wasn’t as much of a fan of managing group dynamics. As someone also interested in the health fields, I was inspired by my internship to find a way to incorporate education into medicine in my future careers such as looking into pediatrics and health education. I have come to believe that education can be done in any profession, and I have learned that I thrive off of teaching and interacting with kids especially when it comes to talking about science, and would love to incorporate teaching kids, science, and health into whatever line of work I pursue.

Finally, I would like to extend my gratitude to the Class of 1975 for their generosity, as well as to the ’68 Center for Career Exploration for their support through the internship process. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from such an incredible program such as Power Scholars and look forward to applying what I learned about education to my future.