Hello Capstone Class!
This is Julia Kirkpatrick, graduate of Zapoura’s Capstone class in 2011. I currently work at Bridger K-8 school in SE Portland as both a direct hire “Tech Assistant” (read: K-5 technology teacher and troubleshooting slave) and a contracted nonprofit Camp Fire employee (read: early intervention, support, and witty comeback specialist for middle schoolers).
My path to this amalgamous, largely self-invented position was kicked off by my practicum Capstone experience, where I worked at Youth Employment Institute (YEI). When I began my practicum, I remember feeling un-needed, un-integrated, and stressed out. The tutoring I was doing felt piecemeal. I was working with a different student each week. I began to wonder what I was doing, and if it was appropriate for me to represent the experience to my cohort as productive. Was I helping anyone at all?
My solution to this issue was to change my role within the practicum. It was important that it be done in a way that flowed with YEI’s needs and mindset; I didn’t want to switch positions just to end up with the same feelings of awkward uselessness. I began by observing; recognizing small needs that weren’t being met. This ultimately led to me jumping in and co-teaching a parenting class with the woman who was my supervisor. Through the parenting class I worked with the same students every week, slowly building relationships and using my skills as an educator to plan and adapt lessons. I felt much more fulfilled– I was working on my own professional development skills in a way that actually benefited the organization I was with, and helping to form a small community. After graduation I put the experience on my resume and was later told that it was the deciding factor in hiring me for my first post-grad job.
All that to say: I found a niche in my practicum that gave me more fulfillment. Since then I’ve been working (off and on) for Camp Fire Columbia running an early intervention and support program for middle school students that have been designated “at-risk.” This role allows for a lot of autonomy, and I am still constantly finding niches within my school site to make myself more useful to the kids and the community (and more employable to my bosses). This year my grant funding was cut in half but the school itself hired me on (as a tech assistant) not because I have a great aptitude for technology, but because they knew I would work my butt off to creatively adapt the role to fit the school’s needs.
When I graduated from PSU I had a strong sense that in order to better myself I had to move away from the community that I had known. I’m a Portland native,and when I moved back from New Zealand to finish my last two years at PSU I told myself it was only a temporary change. Living back in a community that I knew felt somehow like a backslide. Since graduation I’ve done a lot of traveling, growing, and yes, moving away. What I found surprised me: I had the same awkward dilemma that I had with YEI. Working within communities that I didn’t know, with people I had no connection to, didn’t feel like an environment where I could be a change agent. Now I’m back in Portland and I find being from the community that I work in as one of my greatest assets. I’m invested in this city because my relationships are in this city. I want to see my youth succeed because I see myself in them. Where I used to be embarassed to be a “townie,” now I take pride in being a Portlander improving Portland. The biggest niche I have now is something I would have never predicted: roots.
I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the potential “niches” availalbe for YOU at Bridger. Our SUN (Schools Uniting Neighborhoods) after school programs are always looking for volunteers and paid staff to teach after school classes to 1st-6th graders. This involves about an hour of homework help and an hour of enrichment– be it art, music, game coding, basketball, science experiments– whatever! If you are interested in getting involved for the winter term (Jan 26-March 12), email me at email@example.com and I will give you a virtual intro to our site coordinator.
Here are some discussion questions if you want guidance in responding:
– What is a way that you can find a “niche” in your practicum or community involvement?
– Before graduation, I incorrectly believed that in order to be a change agent, I needed to remove myself from my home community. What beliefs or assumptions do you have about life after graduation?
– What is a way that you engage and invest in your community?
– Do you need to be from a community in order to invest in it?