On Feb. 27, Mara and I visited the UC Links course and Bruin Club after-school program at the UCLA Community School in Los Angeles, run by Marjorie Orellena, students, and school partners.
We began the day by visiting the undergraduate course, which that week focused on linguistic diversity as a resource for learning About 23 undergrads sat in a U-shaped table configuration with Marjorie at one end. Class started with a “warm-up” activity – everyone gathered in a circle inside the “U” and took part in some improv games. As one undergraduate said, the initial activity really helped frame a class culture of active mutual engagement.
Much of the class discussion revolved around Freire’s ideas about reading the word and the world. The class shared excerpts from field notes, in which the students discussed their experiences with the young people at site and linked them to the readings, esp. those related to language as a learning resource. In the last part of the class, the students divided into groups based on which day they attend site and worked on planning activities for the week. These included activities related to language diversity and STEM. By the end of the class they had planned and sourced materials for volcanoes, lava lamps, and the old “egg in a bottle” activity.
The Bruin Club is located in LA’s Koreatown at a distinctive site, the UCLA Community School, part of the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools– home to six LAUSD schools on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel, where Robert Kennedy was assassinated. The setting offers a stirring historical context for why we do what we do. Bruin Club meets in the middle school dining commons (or cafeteria). Its activities are highly varied: arts and crafts, board games, sports (soccer, jump rope, dancing), read around the globe (globe and books about various countries), a laptop station where an undergrad guides the children through various college and career-oriented activities, and a number of science and other STEM activities. The Bruin Club starts out in a cafeteria room with windows that look out on a grassy field, surrounded by high-rise buildings (including a monolithic structure with huge letters ironically spelling out “EQUITABLE”). After this initial activity, the children, from highly diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and the undergrads, also very diverse, spread out in a wide range of collaborative activities.
During the initial home-base activity, everyone was working at their tables on a language activity, in which children discussed and wrote down the various languages that they speak on post-its and then stuck them on a poster in the front of room. One child marveled at the variety of languages spoken, and together with an UG, started surveying everyone in the room. They found that the children, UGs, GSRs, faculty, and visitors present spoke more than 20 languages.
As the children spread out after the home-base activity, sometimes one activity, such as the egg in a bottle experiment, would engage the majority of them. Undergrads presented the children with a glass bottle and a hard boiled egg and they all began to hypothesize about how the egg might get into the bottle. An UG then lit a small piece of paper, dropped it into the glass bottle, and set the egg on top of the bottle. Children were elated to see the egg magically slip down into the bottle, and together they began to explain the “magic” scientifically. Making volcanoes out of mentos and a two liter bottle of coke also drew a large, excited crowd.
At other times, the children and UGs worked together in small groups. One UG worked with groups of two in a PowerPoint activity focused on college and career. They looked at pictures of people “at work.” and the children guessed at what type of job the people did. Then they examined their reasons for making those assumptions and discussed stereotypes of occupations and professions and how people entered those careers. Another activity was the PEMDAS math activity. Earlier in the quarter, the undergraduates had talked about the challenge of engaging older students, especially the 5th grade boys. Later, at the site, the children happened to see an UG’s math problem, using the formula of P(arentheses) E(xponents) M(ultiplication) D(ivision) A(ddition) S(ubtraction) to solve the problems, and the 5th grade boys were amazed and began asking the UG to provide more and more problems to solve on a whiteboard.
The children were back at it this week. They worked on solving as many problems as the site coordinator could provide until it was time to clean up for the day. Later, as we were leaving site, we saw these boys back in the larger after-school program, where they spend the last part of their day. They told us that they were disappointed because when they arrived at the other program they asked if they could work on more math problems using PEMDAS but were told they had to work on the “boring” hand-out activity everyone else was working on.
- We saw team building in action at the beginning of the undergraduate course and the ease with which the UGs connected and communicated with each other both verbally and nonverbally both in class and at site. While the UGs were working in small groups during class to plan activities for site, they communicated easily and effectively to develop a broad range of activities and source materials in a short period of time. At site, we saw the Wednesday group in action moving fluidly among children and activities, keeping the energy level and engagement high for both children and UGs. The result was a vivacious and inspiring couple of hours!
- The ongoing challenge of navigating how to develop and sustain a program within a larger after school program and the difference between Bruin Club and the other after-school program, of which it is considered a part, became very dramatically apparent when the boys were not able to continue their active engagement in the PEMDAS mathematical problem solving when they moved to the other after-school setting. It was sad to see their enthusiasm shut down, especially because it had activated their excitement for math!
Thanks to everyone at the Bruin Club for hosting our visit. We really enjoyed it!