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Students Visit D.C. over Spring Break - To Teach

By M. F. Al-Salem

Twenty-five students spent their spring break in Washington, D.C. teaching underprivileged students. The trip, organized by Anthony J. Ives '96, ended up being a successful learning experience both for the young pupils and their temporary college-aged teachers.

The trip was was almost exclusively planned by MIT students who were inspired to spend their break "sparking an interest in science" in the minds of young, inner city students, Ives said.

The project was also sponsored by the Public Service Center, which funded the transportation; the MIT Alumni Association, which provided housing; and Teach for America, a non-profit national service organization that assists prospective teachers

The students were paired up and assigned to various junior high schools in the District. The local teachers were eager to have the college students help out in the classroom and bring projects and experiments which would inspire and excite their students, Ives said.

Each pair of students planned their experiments and lessons beforehand, Ives said. For example, Guang-len Cheng '97 and Jacobo M. Orenstein-Cardona '97 used circuitry donated by the Edgerton Center to teach the children how to make electric quiz boards.

For the young pupils, the lessons were a success, since the junior high students were eager to learn from college students not too much older than themselves, Cheng said. The hands-on nature of the projects taught them the practical applications of science, Cheng said.

The junior high students looked up to their college-aged teachers, and many got their first glimpse at the benefits of a college education. "We were the role models," said Ives, and "the kids were willing to learn" from us.

"Many of the kids recognized us outside of the classroom and would come up to us and say Hi,'" said Cheng.

"It was the first time I thought of public education in terms of a possible career," said Cheng.

Ives' inspiration for the project came from a week-long leadership seminar, Leadershape, held last summer. "We came up with a vision to improve the community."

Ives described the week as "eye- opening." Working in poorly funded schools was a change from the conditions many of the MIT students remembered from their school years.

The daily commute gave students a realistic picture of the neighborhoods and the difficult conditions in which their pupils learn. "Our country needs to focus on inner cities, the willingness is there, but there aren't enough resources," said Ives. "There are some tough problems facing our urban areas."

The group left Washington satisfied and more aware of the importance of primary education, especially in the poorer areas of the country. Schools receive far too little funding to allow for routine demonstrations, Ives said.

But "it was fantastic to see the kids enjoying it - they have as much capacity to learn as anyone else," said Ives.

"We got around to as many kids as possible," said Ives. The MIT students learned much themselves. They had managed to touch their students, despite the difficult circumstances they live in. Ives recalls that when they were leaving, a student asked, "Will you come back on Monday?"