Summer Centered: Olivia Wong ’21 Gives a Voice to Philly Youth
As an intern for Philadelphia Futures, a nonprofit that helps prepare Philadelphia high-schoolers from underserved populations for college, Wong’s students have consistently stunned her with their creativity and resourcefulness.
As an intern with Philadelphia Futures, Olivia Wong ’21, who has been paired with high school history teacher Matthew Bunn to teach a class in the nonprofit organization’s summer school, is doing her part to “give a voice to the youth of Philadelphia”—though it isn't always easy.
“Truth be told, our class has been a challenge,” she says. “Discussion questions, typing games, and even group work are filled with silence. For the first two weeks, some students would show up half an hour late or not at all. But [this experience has taught me] that the teacher must alter activities to fit the students' learning style, not the other way around.”
Every so often, however, there’ll be a moment that knocks Wong, whose summer work is being funded by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, for a loop and makes even the most difficult of days worth it.
“On the first day of a Futures event called ‘College Marathon,’” she says, “[I facilitated] a free write with the prompt ‘Write about a moment that changed your life.’ When we shared what we wrote, one student told us that he wrote about something so deeply buried that he had never talked about with anyone, or even taken the time to reflect on. That was the moment I knew I was going to meet some amazing students during my internship.”
Started in 1989 to provide low-income, first-generation college students with the “tools, resources and opportunities necessary for admission to and success in college,” Philadelphia Futures often serves to counter the impact of the underfunded Philadelphia public school system, where higher education can often feel like a pipe dream. And it doesn’t shutter its doors once the school year is over, either, hiring interns to T.A. classes on everything from environmental science to financial literacy throughout the summer months to combat what is known as “summer slide” or “summer learning loss,” which can particularly hurt students from historically disadvantaged groups. For Wong, who’s planning to major in English and minor in education, T.A.-ing has given her a taste of what teaching full-time is like.
“I typically grade papers, teach some basic lessons, and assist students with their research papers,” Wong says. “The class [I T.A.] is centered around the topic of genocide, culminating with each student writing a research paper on a genocide of their choice. At first, I was shocked that incoming sophomores were being asked to study such a complex, heavy topic. However, the more time I spend with my students the more I realize what insightful perspectives they bring to class. Living in Philadelphia, these students are no strangers to tragedy.”
It’s work that Wong describes as “[her] bread and butter,” though she’s realistic about the impact she’ll have on her students’ lives in the long run.
“Truthfully, I'm sure I am receiving more from this internship than I am giving,” she says. “However, my goal during this internship is to do whatever tasks I can to help Philadelphia Futures' mission and to let these experiences shape my future as an educator—whether that looks like teaching English abroad, being a wildlife educator, or being a public school teacher.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.