By Dwight Weingarten
Over my spring break, ten other William & Mary students and I went to Washington, D.C. to volunteer in two schools with different education systems. One school followed the KIPP model, while the other followed the STEM model. The focus of the trip was early childhood education and bridging the achievement gap. I was assigned to help out in a preschool classroom for two days at the KIPP school and in a pre-K classroom at the STEM school for another two days. I will never forget the relationships that I formed with these children in just two short days. I was accepted immediately by classes, showing me how are so tractable and welcoming children are.
As one who is studying to be a secondary school teacher, I may have had the notion that early childhood education was not as important as middle and high school education. But through this trip I realized that every stage in a child’s development is so crucial. If the students do not begin to recognize letters in pre-K, then reading in kindergarten becomes more difficult and as a result their first grade teacher then has to try to help a student catch up when he or she is only six years old. The same can be said of social development. If kids do not learn to interact with each other in pre-K then they might not fit in as they advance to the higher grades. These early stages cannot be dismissed as trivial. Through the trip I saw that this how this culture is beginning to change: both preschools had regimented learning activities that were much more difficult than I remember having at that age socially and academically.
Another thing that I learned is that we are privileged as college students. We have received education. It is our responsibility and duty to use what we have learned to give back. Going on this trip made me think about how I think about my own education. A particular moment in the trip helped me crystallize this idea. While working in some pre-K classrooms, I met I befriended a child that I met as I walked into the classroom. This child was not familiar with letters yet and could not read. He was only three years old. I tried to teach this child the letter “S”. He must have said, “I can’t do it” a half dozen times, because it seemed that at three years old he had already gotten in his mind that he could not learn. We persisted and he learned the letter, which he pointed out throughout the rest of the school day. No one can take that knowledge away from this child now. When I returned to W&M, I was back to reading hundreds of pages for my history classes. The question came to me: “What is the main purpose of my education? Reading this?” The answer came to me. The main purpose is to share what we have learned and give back to others. This constructive exchange of ideas is what colleges continually need to strive for.
This trip confirmed my sentiment that millions of kids need help. They not only need help in DC, but also in Williamsburg, my hometown of Baltimore, and all across the nation. On my trip, I was not the “teacher” but I did manage to teach. I taught kids something they did not know, such as the letter “S,” for example. I have taken these experiences back to the middle school tutoring that I do in Williamsburg in hopes of trying to teach to give back to others. When something real and meaningful is taught, it is never forgotten. In the transmission of information, relationships are formed, smiles are seen, and a positive impact is felt.