Ten I Will Never Forget

August 27, 2013

Melitzi Torres '15 is a Penn Program for Public Service Intern, a new exchange opportunity in which 1-2 students from Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania spend their summers in West Philadelphia or Providence, working as an intern and conducting research on a local social issue.

If I told you that my placement in West Philadelphia was easy, I would be lying. Taking up the role as an instructor in the heart of West Philly was one of the most challenging experiences I have ever had.

I was an instructor to ten rising college freshmen, all of whom had a “too cool for school” outlook. Engaging them was only part of the battle; they lacked the reading and writing skills required to conduct their group research project, and my supervisors constantly distracted my students.

I began working as assistant teacher in a class of 25 students; in that classroom were 22 rising high school seniors, 3 rising college freshmen, and a lead teacher. My lead teacher and I quickly noted that the work we wanted to cover with the majority (high school seniors) was not applicable to the 3 rising freshmen. After the first week I came up with a proposal: let’s pull the rising college freshmen out of their "mixed" classrooms, into their own classroom and cover material to best prepare them for college. By the second week I was teaching a class of 10 students by myself.

Of course, I hadn’t realized how difficult the task was; I was lesson planning for 10-15 hours a week, teaching for 20, attending meetings for 5 hours, and completing work for my own class at Penn for another 15 hours. The experience, however, is one I will cherish for years to come.

As my first teaching experience, I know that I will never forget my ten students. They drove me incredibly close to a panic attack, but brought me to tears at their final presentation. My students were hard workers who represented an education system that has failed them for so long, a neighborhood that most college students wouldn’t dare walk through, and most importantly- they represented themselves as strong leaders who wanted to fight their way out of poverty. They dreamed of one day owning a home big enough for their entire family, being able to buy their younger relatives the shoes they wanted when they wanted, and simply being able to make their mothers proud.

I’ve clearly become very attached to my students, and for that, I thank the PPPS experience. I had the opportunity to conduct research and create a proposal for the implementation of a program that I’ve designed, and I have been given the opportunity to explore education as a career. I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer, and as my students would always tell me - "chill - it’s summertime."