Reflective Relationships: A Volunteer-Based Approach to Differentiation

IMG_7971-1024x684At 826LA we welcome interns, fellows, service learners, and more all throughout the year from several different institutions, and we have been lucky to have Dee Perez as part of our intern team for the past nine months now. Read on to learn more about her journey with us, and what inspired her to keep coming back.

I came to LA ready to learn. I was a transfer student, a service learner, an explorer, and a brand new adult in this big city. There was really no way I could’ve guessed what I’d learn—that’s the mystery of experiential knowledge—you can’t learn it until you get up and do it. So, I started doing. I discovered 826LA by good fortune. The work volunteers and staff were accomplishing at our Mar Vista location inspired me to join. The more I served alongside these wonderful people, the more I learned from them. And the more I saw how they were able to develop both effective tutoring and meaningful relationships with students, the more I wanted to understand the special approach that our tutors were using.

I didn’t know I’d become a researcher. I was just a learner; I was curious; I was inspired.

When Dr. Beth Goodhue from UCLA’s Center for Community Learning encouraged me to apply to the Astin Scholars Civic Engagement Program, I didn’t think I was the woman for the job. Still, I took a leap of faith. I wrote a project proposal based on my experiences at Barnacle’s Bookworms and was completely floored the day the program told me I’d receive a scholarship to conduct research at 826LA.

IMG_7985Today I can happily say I’ve learned a lot. As I graduate, wrap up my research, and finish my internship at 826LA, I am full to the brim with new knowledge. I presented my research findings, “Reflective Relationships: A Volunteer-Based Approach to Differentiation,” and am excited to share my work with our team. I learned from studying our volunteers’ tutor methods that relationships are an incredibly powerful way to guide and motivate student learning. I learned that the best kind of one-on-one tutoring stems from a deep understanding of the student you’re working with, and that personal investment in your student’s growth can inspire confidence. Strong reading buddy relationships help create a safe environment for student learning that empowers them to challenge themselves. I learned that a lot of the best tutor methods are borne from adapting to student needs day to day and then reflecting on how to improve. By observing and interviewing our tutors, I was able to collect a host of great strategies for a wide variety of students. I think this quote from volunteer Christina Heiser best sums up my work:

“It’s not about you and what you need the student to do, it’s about them and and helping them make progress from where they are. And in this kind of environment, students come in at all different levels. And it’s your job to adjust to that. It’s not their job to meet your expectations.”

Through these relationships and experiences, we can build a community of learners—kids and grownups alike.

~Dee Perez, 826LA Intern

Interested in becoming an intern at 826LA? Find out how here

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