Kara Moten and Khadija Bruce are assistant coordinators for Arnerich Massena’s I AM Learning Partnership’s Summer School program this year, but they aren’t just any teachers. Both were part of the I AM Learning Partnership programs back in 2006! They’ve now become educators, and have returned to Irvington Elementary to work with Arnerich Massena community service coordinator Kate DeGraw in a place that they say feels like home.
“Girls’ Club was so important to me,” says Khadija. “It was a safe space where we could be who we are, find friends, and feel like we had support from women in the community. It helped me learn about my own strength, and helped me through middle school, high school, and college.” Kara agrees: “it is really important to teach girls at a young age to be proud of who they are and fearless. In Girls’ Club, we felt like we weren’t alone with all our questions and problems. I didn’t necessarily understand the importance when I was there, but definitely began to appreciate and take advantage of what I learned as I got older.”
Both women decided to go into the field of education; Kara is finishing her degree in early childhood education and Khadija, who just graduated from George Fox University, will be starting her first job as a fifth-grade teacher in the fall. Khadija feels that through her experience in the I AM Learning Partnership, Kate taught her a great deal about how to educate children effectively. “You need so much variety! Lots of resources. And Kate always focused on building confidence in students with positive affirmations and communicating with respect.” Kara will take her experiences into her early childhood education work also. “You can’t apply the same teaching style to every child,” she remarks. “Learning should be fun, and you need to tailor it to each individual student.” Both of them have stayed in contact with Kate DeGraw, and found their way back through other volunteer experiences and through referrals.
The I AM Learning Project Summer School, which services three local elementary schools — Irvington Elementary, Sabin School, and Boise-Eliot Schools — is in its third (out of six) weeks. This year, they have partnered with Reading Results for the third year in a row for the amazing literacy results, and have added Playworks and VibeArt to their list of partners. So far, it’s a great success, and Kara and Khadija are a huge part of that.
“Our job is teacher and kid assistance,” they explain. “We explain activities, make sure things are prepared, and do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work.” Kate says that they provide a fresh eye on things, and can give her a heads-up when they need to make a change. “We’re really collaborative, and their feedback is making things better,” she notes. “I’m really glad they’re here!”
Kara is excited that, at summer camp, the kids have the opportunity to experiment with foods that they’ve never tried before. With fresh fruit available at any time and catered meals, the students are constantly encountering new tastes. “My rule is to encourage them to take a ‘no thank-you bite’ and try it even if they don’t want to.” She’s had some success, and a few of the kids now love sweet peppers! Khadija is impressed at the kids’ new abilities in sight reading. “They are so excited to share when they are able to do something they couldn’t before,” she says. “The ‘look what I did!’ comes from a desire to be recognized for their accomplishments.”
Both Kara and Khadija are looking forward to careers in education, where they will be able to help children realize their full potential. “I do it because I want kids to be more than I was, to have more opportunities growing up,” says Kara. Khadija says she sees herself in these children, and feels deeply committed to her community. Both of them are especially focused on encouraging and empowering girls and young women. “Girls need to see themselves represented in careers that have been male-dominated, like STEM fields and sports,” says Khadija. “Literature and media can really help with that.”
Kate DeGraw is deeply proud of both of them, almost like a mom, and excited to see them grow and flourish. Having the opportunity not just to reconnect after all these years, but to work side-by-side has been wonderful. “It’s amazing that they were here as young girls 13 years ago, and I’m thrilled to have them back as vibrant young women. It’s a testament to the enormous and lasting impact our programs are having.”