The Simmons and Boston Teachers Union School partnership is an interesting partnership, but one that I have enjoyed working with. Beginning my VISTA year, I spent time getting to know learn more about my role as a VISTA, figure out what was done last year and make a rough draft of a plan for the year to come. A few of the main foci were to build a stronger relationship between Simmons and the BTU School, to build a more robust after school program and to get more volunteers from Simmons into classrooms. With these three things in mind, I began to plan out ways to make this happen.
I started my recruitment for volunteers by attending recruitment fairs where I was able to get many students at least interested in working with the partnership. I also reached out to many departments and organizations on campus including, the Social Work and Honors departments, as well as, the Black Student Organization and Nutrition Liaison. I was able to recruit 30 volunteers to work in classrooms between Fall and Spring, as well as 5 one time volunteers to put on events at the BTU School. 8 volunteers from the Fall semester decided to stay on and volunteer for the whole school year. Although I had a few challenges recruiting volunteers, I learned a lot fall semester and was able to apply it during spring semester to recruit more volunteers.
Building a robust afterschool program was happening simultaneously while recruiting volunteers. I spent time screening volunteers for special skills and interests that they had that could potentially turn into an afterschool program or club. I had 2 volunteers, one who started a composting club during lunchtime and the other started a book club after school for the 4th and 5th graders. I also reached out to many organizations at Simmons to try to organize after school clubs pertaining to their club values/focus. With not much luck, I decided to use my own skills to teach a cooking class to the 6th-8th graders. This was an amazing experience and helped me to get to know the students on a different level, which in return helped me with my outreach efforts.
Additionally, I researched different schools who partnered with the YMCA to learn more about partnership options, since the BTU School already had them as an afterschool partner. Through my research, I found that a club model would be the best option for the school because we already had the YMCA system and the after school clubs. I then planned to set up a meeting with the Lead Teachers at the school, Daren, and the YMCA Directors. After about four meetings, we were able to come to a conclusion to pilot the club model for next year’s after school program. This was probably one of my biggest accomplishments throughout my year because it was a sustainable model that is beneficial to the school while still partnering with Simmons to get volunteers for tutoring, leading clubs, etc.
I can definitely say I have grown throughout this year, both personally and professionally. Personally, I have become more confident, learned how to be an active listener and how to handle a lot of tasks under pressure. Professionally, I have become more comfortable with public speaking, writing emails, facilitating meetings and being efficient while working in both a team and individually. I have learned to connect with so many different people and still remain professional. Overall, my experience as a VISTA was challenging, but well worth it.