Internships give Denison students the opportunity to mesh classroom learning with real-world experiences. Kristen Ago ’19 can attest to this. She has spent two summers interning in Boston, where she taught seventh graders biology.
As an intern with the Breakthrough Collaborative, Ago, a major in psychology and in education, was learning by doing. At the same time, she was helping middle school students work toward college. Like many good ideas, Breakthrough’s premise is obvious in retrospect: reverse educational inequity by pairing students from under-resourced communities with college undergraduates — all under the guidance of professional teachers.
In practice, it’s not quite that simple.
The program is concentrated over eight weeks, two of them training at MIT, six of them teaching in a Boston classroom. “It was interesting and fun, but really intensive,” said Ago. “At MIT, we had overnight retreats, bonding activities and classes in teaching.”
“We learned so much, including how to build a lesson plan, how to establish a teacher presence, behavioral management, recognizing and addressing social and emotional needs, how to motivate our students — we learned a lot of material in those few days,” she said.
Ago also was able to draw on lessons learned in her Denison classrooms.
“Not only did it make me fiercely passionate, but it made me a more creative, enthusiastic, caring, and empathetic teacher.”
“Professor Suzanne Baker’s class on teaching and learning gave me a real foundation in understanding how teenage brains work, their self-concept, and in adolescent development in general. Having that knowledge helped me build deeper relationships with my students and understand them better.”
“Kristen was in a course that combines theory and praxis, with students doing a curricular service-learning experience in a local school or non-traditional setting for 30 hours during the semester,” said Baker. “Because of Kristen’s energy, her passion, and her many experiences with youth, she made a big impact on the students she worked with at the YES Clubhouse in Newark. I am excited to see how she continues this journey of reaching out to inspire and motivate and help under-served youth succeed in school and life.”
Her “Issues in Feminism” class influenced her experience as a teacher in an urban setting. “Without the knowledge I gained from that class, I truly would have not been able to see or recognize the injustices that face urban classrooms. Not only did it make me fiercely passionate, but it made me a more creative, enthusiastic, caring, and empathetic teacher.”
Ago was inspired to study education by her sixth-grade English teacher, who was a source of support for her at a difficult time. “She listened to me and gave me my voice,” she said. “She made me believe that I had the ability to be a good student. During that year with her, I started realizing what I was capable of. I want to do the same for my students.”
Ago is still considering whether she wants to pursue a career in teaching. Through this internship, she’s discovered that the role is not an easy one, and that resources are not always abundant. “Teaching is both incredibly hard and incredibly important. The schools I taught in were underfunded — they lacked many basic items like a working copier or Wifi.”
But she wants to make a difference in students’ lives, as her sixth-grade teacher did for her. “I learned to really value the relationships I built with my students. I’m also considering counseling in schools as another way to have a career in education.”