We can all learn - and we can all teach

Tomorrow will mark my fourth week participating in the Anacostia Public Service Program (APSP) at Anacostia Senior High School in Southeast DC. The Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at The George Washington University has partnered with the high school for more than twenty years to build tutoring and mentoring relationships and to promote community engagement. While a majority of the tutoring occurs during after school programs, such as the Public Service Academy, this year’s leadership board has coordinated with Anacostia to allow for weekly tutoring sessions during lunch periods.

Every Tuesday at 12:30pm, I climb into the backseat of a Zipcar along with two of my fellow classmates and we head east towards the Anacostia River. After getting hopelessly lost on the freeway; we finally arrive at the construction zone that is Anacostia Senior High School. We walk through the metal detectors, show our identification to one of the security guards, and head towards study hall.

“Who needs help with their homework today?” one of the teachers calls around to the students, as soon as he sees us walk up to the classroom. Some students glance up from their loaned MacBooks only to quickly avert their eyes. This is, after all, their only break of the day, and it becomes quite clear that the students are more interested in listening to music and surfing the web than doing school work, so I can’t say I was surprised by their initial hesitation.  It takes some coaxing from the teachers and our warmest smiles but we manage to round up a handful of students who will admit to needing help in finishing their homework or studying for their next quiz.

On our first day of tutoring, I sat down next to an eleventh grade student who the teacher had so kindly pointed out needed to finish some Biology homework. Being that I took Biology about ten years ago, I immediately panicked. I thought I was explicitly clear on the tutor survey that science was my last choice preference. But  together we dove into the textbook in search for answers to questions about mitosis and meiosis. By the end of the period, we managed to finish the homework assignment, and I like to think that we both felt that we accomplished something that day.

In the subsequent weeks, students have asked for help with SAT preparation or to study for a Geometry test. While fifty minutes a week may only account for a small fraction of their time, I think they appreciate the one-on-one interaction, our patience and our encouragement since they asked us to stay into the next period of classes and were shocked when we told them we had to get to our own classes.

Faces and names are becoming more familiar. I’m looking forward to the weeks ahead when we can cement relationships with the students and begin to encourage them to engage in public service projects in their communities. 

After all, we can all learn – and we can all teach.