April 25, 2014

Forging Connections

by Max Kaplan

Max Kaplan ’15 is in his third year as a volunteer and first year as a coordinator for Brown Elementary After-school Mentoring (BEAM), a program that runs after-school clubs four days a week at William D’Abate Elementary School in Providence.

The first time I volunteered with elementary school students was a nerve-wracking experience. How was I, a freshman in high school, going to control five third graders for a whole hour? Somehow I managed it, and even grew to like it: over the course of the next four years I worked with third graders once a week, helping them with math homework and pushing them to think creatively.

When I came to Brown I knew I wanted to continue volunteering with students, and I soon found myself involved with Brown Elementary After-school Mentoring (BEAM). As the name suggests, BEAM is a program through which Brown student volunteers run after-school clubs four days a week at William D’Abate Elementary School in Providence’s Olneyville neighborhood. BEAM aims to provide an enriching experience for both our Brown volunteers and our Olneyville students, as well as to foster an environment of collaboration and mutual learning.

Additionally, BEAM aims to strengthen the connection between the Brown community and the Olneyville community as a whole. Working closely with students is the core of the program, and seeing each student grow and mature over the course of the year is inspiring. In my time with BEAM I’ve seen a shy fifth grader pluck up the courage to tell a story in front of her peers; I’ve seen a first grader comfort his friend who was crying; and I’ve seen a second grader try to coax his friend into doing an activity when his friend was having a bad day. Of course, there are more lighthearted moments too: I see kids chasing each other at recess and laughing together every day, and a kite making science activity this past week resulted in some creative designs!

The learning from BEAM is a two-way street, and it is just as thrilling to see volunteers transform into more effective and more confident teachers over the course of the year. Each week Brown volunteers meet to make lesson plans, aiming to engage students in learning through creative activities outside of their normal classroom experience. Personal interactions are another way volunteers get to practice their skills. Two weeks ago I witnessed a moment in which a Brown volunteer spoke privately with a disruptive student and explained to him why it is important to listen to and be respectful towards his peers. The difference I saw in the student after that conversation is one of the main reasons I love volunteering: volunteers have such a huge impact on such young students, and the students in turn have much to teach the Brown volunteers.

I am constantly inspired by the creativity and skill that our students exhibit, and I am especially motivated by interactions like this that take place between Brown volunteers and Olneyville students. So many strong connections have been forged, and I am confident that the experiences that our volunteers and students have with BEAM will impact them for the rest of their lives.

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