May 2, 2014

Give and Take

posted by Swearer Center

Sujaya Desai ’14 and Sandra Yan ’15 are coordinators of PAL (Partnership for Adult Learning), which partners student tutors with adults with developmental disabilities in the greater Providence community to provide opportunities for mutual growth through personal relationships and the shared pursuit of continuing education. They reflect on their experiences as well as the relationships they have formed over the past three years.

Apprehension. That was what we were feeling as we walked to our very first meetings with our respective learners. What would we talk about for an hour? Would they laugh at our jokes? Would we get frustrated easily? It did not take long for us to realize these fears were unfounded. Our learners were happy, eager people who were excited to play matching games, wanted to learn how to write their names, and loved listening to the Beatles. In those early days as tutors, PAL to us meant making our learners laugh at least three times each week, finding out how their week went from their staff members, and accomplishing a task over the course of the hour that would leave us feeling satisfied with our progress.

Over the semesters, our relationships grew into those of trust and mutual give-and-take. Yes, there were days when we would get flustered, and yes, there were days when our learners would lose interest on what they had been working on. But the beauty of each one-on-one tutor-learner partnership was that we gradually came to understand when the other had an off day and came to know each other well enough that our relationships became less along the lines of tutor/learner and more along the lines of confidante/support system.

It’s been three years, and as Community Fellows for the program now, we continue to be humbled by all of our amazing tutors who are as filled with the same nervous energy as we once were. Watching our new tutors meet and begin forming relationships with their learners is just as rewarding as observing returning tutors continue years-long partnerships forged over countless hours spent together, challenges faced, and successes achieved. It is this mutual dedication and enthusiasm that both our tutors and learners bring to the program that continue to remind us every day why we do what we do.

Working as Community Fellows has also allowed us to pursue the juicier questions related to the overall work that PAL does. For instance, why is this work necessary? How can we best go about doing our work? We should be careful to preface our thoughts by clarifying that we do not speak for the community of adults with developmental disabilities. It is easy to answer with a simple reason along the lines of: the community of adults with developmental disabilities has long been marginalized, and though the situation has improved some, there is a long way to go. Though we think that may be part of the reason, we think another part of the reason is to raise awareness and educate our peers, starting with our fellow students on campus. Too many times have we heard people using offensive language, not realizing that their mere words carry a significant amount of weight.

Perhaps most importantly, this work is important because it allows us to grow. We hope that the tutoring relationships that PAL establishes allows our learners to not be seen as people “deserving pity,” but rather as unique individuals, as our equals who deserve our full respect.

Our final celebration will be on April 28th, from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM, in Petteruti Lounge. Please join us in celebrating our learners and tutors.

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