I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began my internship at the Department of Education this summer. I was aware of the great work that the department was doing to improve the quality of education throughout the country but I curious to see what my role would be in this greater mission.
I was assigned to Deputy Chief of Staff, Matthew Yale, in the Office of the Secretary and work seemed to begin immediately. I performed a variety of tasks for a week or so until Matt gave me my main assignment: help design a central intern program for ED for next summer and plan events for the interns at ED this summer. I was shocked at the opportunity to make such an impact on the department. For the interns that were already at ED, I was tasked with scheduling a series of community service events that were in line with ED’s goal of decreasing summer reading loss.
As a DC native who was raised in the south eastern quadrant of the city, I was well aware of the educational plight of students around the city, especially in the low-income areas. I was also aware of the fear and ignorance that surrounded the idea of these students in the minds of more privileged students since I was lucky enough to attend high school across town at Sidwell Friends. This mindset was present within the intern population at ED. Of all government organizations, I felt it was most important that ED workers were exposed in a real way to the population they were serving. These students are real children not numbers. This assignment was my opportunity to provide children with the attention and help they deserved.
I quickly began by calling various community organizations that served these children that were so often forgotten. After several days of calls and emails I nailed down a list of service opportunities that reflected my goals. The service sites were the FBR Branch of the Boys and Girls Club, Congress Heights Recreation Center, Barry Farms Recreation Center, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. After the sites were chosen, both interns and staff jumped at the opportunity to help. When we went to each site we focused on the summer goals of ED by either reading to the children, tutoring them in a core subject, or a mix of the two.
At some sites the children defied the expectations of my fellow volunteers with their intelligence, charisma, and wit. At others it was painfully clear that the students were not getting the attention they needed at home or in school. This was not summer reading loss we were combating anymore; these students were reading and performing math far below their grade level. I did my best to help the less advanced students, constantly aware that they needed much more than a few hours I could provide. Even for someone like me who was aware of the challenges these children were facing, it was heartbreaking. Despite this, every single child met us with and immeasurable amount of enthusiasm and effort and showed some level of progress at the end of the session. Likewise, after every trip the volunteers expressed to me how much they had gained from the opportunity to help and how they would continue to try and help children like the ones at the sites in their own communities.
I had accomplished my mission. Furthermore, I made sure the community service was included in the final plan for the intern program for next summer. From now on, summer ED interns will have the opportunity to do community service every other Friday. They will constantly be reminded about the children they are working for at ED by the faces of the students they tutor. I could not have asked for a better job during my time at ED.