I am currently completing my service learning at Martin Luther King Elementary School working with children ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade in an after school program. This program provides the children with a safe and comforting place to do their homework, hangout with their friends, and get a snack. Since I am just getting to know these children I do not know everything about them and their background, so I do not have a lot of examples that relate back to the class work we do. In class I feel as if a lot of the material we focus on relates back to the parents, home life, and how they have been raised thus far. I only see them once a week, so I cannot make judgments regarding their course of development and influences that have left impacts on their life. The two examples that I have noticed that we have covered in class include Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory and The Ecological Systems Theory.
I have noticed elements of the Sociocultural Theory in the children’s dialogue. Considering their age the children have a very advanced dialogue with rather colorful language. Personally, I was not even familiar with some of these words that Kindergarteners and 1st graders are expressing. I think this has to do with the culture they were raised and possibly the community. I think that the Kindergarteners at the school pick up on language that is used by the older kids and then they start to say it. Although teachers and administrators try their best to stop the kids from using bad language and reprimanding them when they do I feel as if the colorful language they have come to know is forever imbedded in their brain. I think the Ecological Systems Theory plays a big role in understanding these children and the school I am working at. For me it was rather different to go into a school like this in a bad neighborhood and see children behaving in ways that I had never seen before. However, for the teachers that work there are so used to it they don’t even notice.
The majority of the teachers either grew up in similar situations or they have been working in situations like this for so long that they are so used to it. I think that the children act the way they do and talk the way they do because they don’t know any better. If that’s the way their parents, siblings, and classmates talk they are bound to talk like that as well. I think the children also have a hard time focusing because there is a lack of listening to the teacher. Although there is structure it is not always followed. I think that some of the things that I am learning in class aren’t playing out in my service learning experience the way they were described in class because like I already said I am just getting to know these kids. I do not know what their home life consists of. I do not know if each of their families is struggling immensely or minimally. I don’t know if they have both parents at home or whether or not they have faced a traumatic event in their life. I think that if I had a little bit more insight into their home life then I could possibly understand why the kids act the way they do.
I think for the future when it comes to me learning class concepts when a new topic is brought up I can either write down a personal example that I have seen at service learning or even look for an example when I go that week. I think when it comes to studying and trying to really process and analyze the material I should use my service learning as a tool to help me better understand. If I make note in my head of certain examples I feel like I am more likely to remember and be able to take away more from this course and service learning as well. I think the main social justice issues that I can see is the separation of races, so essentially racism and results of poverty stricken families. The first time I went to Martin Luther King Elementary School a few weeks ago I was essentially one of the only white females in the building. The young girls in particular were immediately drawn to me and the other white female volunteer I was with. Having naturally curly hair the girls all wanted to play with my hair and were all very affectionate and touchy.
I personally found their reactions to me very nice and cute, but I couldn’t help but think about why they were so drawn to me. Personally, I feel like this happened because the young students are not very used to seeing and interacting with people of my age and color. Martin Luther King Elementary School is a predominately black student population, and the surrounding area of the school is a predominately black neighborhood. Milwaukee itself is one of the most segregated cities in the country which I feel is a huge issue because it translates into situations and schools like Martin Luther King Elementary School. I think that these children need more exposure to different ethnicities and they are not getting it because of the severe poverty among us. Another social justice issue I have noticed is the low income and poverty that affects these children. A large number of the kids at this school receive breakfast, lunch, and a large afternoon snack which could almost be counted as dinner.
This happens because the parents of these children are severely struggling to properly feed them. I also think it is important to note that a lot of the children stay after school because their parents can’t afford babysitter while they work. I feel like the poverty that strikes these families is a vicious cycle. The parents have jobs, but the jobs just don’t pay high enough and they are working crazy hours. Going through this experience I can see that the social issues I brought up are very hard to avoid. The unintentional separation of races is largely due to the vicious cycle of poverty. The parents all work so hard to support their family and it is never enough. Going to college is expensive. I think that my initial thoughts have not changed that dramatically. I took a social welfare and justice class last semester and completed service learning for that class as well, so doing my service learning this semester basically just reaffirms the issues that face our society. Last semester I worked with babies, so working with older children this semester and being able to actively interact with them is so much different.
I think that being able to talk with them and talk with the administration about what these kids face is extremely sad and eye opening. I never had to struggle the way these kids do, and I don’t even think they realize now that they are struggling they don’t know any different. I think that this service learning experience has opened my eyes to many different issues that are so local to where I live. Working in this school and working with people in poverty in general has inspired me to think outside the box on things. I feel that sometimes I forget the little things and I am so simple minded. Ideally, I want to try and do Teach For America after I graduate and I think that I could bring a lot of positive influences with me. Working in this school has opened my eyes and shown me that there are so many more people that are affected by poverty than I thought and I want to do my part to help diminish that huge difference between a poor inner-city education and top quality education that is received by people not affected by poverty.