Community Fellow, Community Partner; Potatoes, Puhtahtoes

September 19, 2013

Kurt Ostrow '13 now works for Breakthrough Providence, an organization with a dual mission: to create a pathway to college for low-income, academically motivated middle school students in Providence Public Schools, and to encourage talented high school and college students to pursue careers in education.

At Brown, I coordinated the RI Urban Debate League (also known as RIUDL) for three years. RIUDL tries to engage Providence public high school students in policy debate programs to improve academic outcomes and increase college readiness. I recruited, trained, and supported college students to coach debate to those high schoolers. I worked on part of an inspiring team of four:

I coached plenty of debate, too, and my students kicked serious butt. Over the years, they argued for and against troop withdrawal from foreign countries, space exploration beyond Earth’s mesosphere, and transportation infrastructure investment.

In my current work with Breakthrough Providence, I recruit, train, and support college and high school students to teach our middle schoolers. I work on part of an inspiring team of four:

I’m filling in for Vicki Santos Silva, who’s on maternity leave; she was my boss when I taught at BTP’s summer and school year programs, during which my students kicked serious butt. They performed Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, protested against foreclosures at the downtown branch of Bank of America, and broke down stereotypes on the Disney Channel.

One of my closest friends ran cross-country in high school. They called her “ruthless,” even printed that on the back of her sweatshirt. I like to think I’ve learned a lot from her, not least of which her ruthlessness. At Wednesday’s Community Service Opportunities Fair, I set up the BTP table next to the RIUDL table. I hugged hellos to the new team of Program Coordinators and introduced them to my coworker Jess. Then we got to it, throwing elbows to recruit Brown students interested in doing something good (and well) while they’re at (and, let’s hope, out of) college. These prospective volunteers don’t have enough time, most likely, to devote themselves to both RIUDL and BTP. Our out-of-class time and therefore the volunteer pool are both, ruthlessly, zero-sum.

But I’m jazzed for them no matter what. Here’s another bunch of students about to start figuring out how best to commit themselves to social justice: how to listen and learn from the new city in which they now find themselves; how not to take up so much space that they’re in the way but enough space that they’re not paralyzed by privilege; how to repair. And that is decidedly non-zero-sum. I wish them (us, more like it) lots of luck.