Last week I mentioned that I am doing an internship as part of my course of study, but I didn't give much detail. My course-load for the Fall semester includes three "regular" classes: H-107 "Educational Neuroscience," H-250 "Developmental Psychology," and AT-133 "Examining Achievement."* In addition to these three classes, I'm doing a Field Experience Program (S-997)—otherwise known as an internship. The following post is adapted from my first writing assignment for this course, which requires me to keep a journal to reflect on the experience. I've taken out some small parts that would be redundant for readers of this blog, as well as other bits to avoid airing the dirty laundry of organizations where I've worked in the past.
My decision to do the Field Experience Program, and my desire to do it with the YMCA of Greater Boston, is consistent with my focus on Youth Development programs. While I won’t be writing a thesis, I’m still designing my course of study in the Special Studies Program around a final project or product. My goal is to produce the first installment of a soccer-based curriculum for academic enrichment geared towards first-graders. In the spring semester, I plan to organize this work through an Independent Study (S-999), utilizing the resources of the Harvard Innovation Lab. My fall internship is an opportunity to embed myself at the senior level of a large Youth Development organization—the type of organization that might implement the curriculum I’m designing once it’s finished.
I have a lot of experience in Youth Development programs, including work in the non-profit, for-profit, and public sectors, both in the United States and abroad. I have worked in a management capacity in smaller organizations, and I have worked “on the ground” in larger organizations. What I lack is the experience of working at the senior planning level of a large YD organization. Specifically, I want to learn more about how large organizations design, select, implement and evaluate youth programs, particularly across multiple sites. Does a large organization like the YMCA start from scratch and design all of their own programs? Or, do they work with a third party to find or develop programs and curriculum to suit their needs and goals. The answers to this question will have an impact on how I “shop” my finished curriculum, and who I see as potential clients or beneficiaries.
(Out of Site Youth Arts Center - San Francisco, CA 2007)
(Informal Youth Development session - Sayulita, Mexico 2009)
In past experiences I have witnessed a disappointing disconnect between the espoused values of an organization, the fundamentals of a curriculum, and the implementation of that curriculum on the ground. In some cases, being embedded at one particular site hampered my ability to understand and examine the causes of theses breakdowns at an organizational level. I had my theories, but since I was removed from the workflow at the senior level, they were nothing more than theories. When approaching the YMCA, I made it clear that I was not interested in pursuing an internship where I would get bogged down with day-to-day site-level operations (i.e. playing with kids). While I love doing this work, and I learn something new each day that I do it, that scenario would not be a worthwhile Field Experience Program for me. Instead, my mentor is a Vice President of YMCA Greater Boston, who overseas all child development operations across 13 sites in the region. I will be well-positioned to learn more about how they address system-wide challenges, for example, the training of site leaders, or the demographic differences between sites. Ultimately, I want to understand their approach to large-scale quality control.
While I’ve done a ton of volunteer work, I haven’t been an intern since 2005, when I was an undergraduate student. All juniors in the Urban Studies Program at San Francisco State University are required to set up and complete an internship, very similar to the HGSE Field Experience Program. I worked as a Service-Learning Instructor at a local high school, The Urban School of San Francisco. I have a solid understanding of the challenges that come with being an unpaid, temporary member of a work team. As the saying goes, “sometimes free is too expensive.” With financial compensation removed from the equation, it becomes even more important for me to set clear expectations for what I want to get out of the experience. While most of my peers will be working for a paycheck (and for the love of children), they may not understand exactly what I’m doing there, and why I’m there. My meeting with my mentor on Tuesday will be an important step towards defining these goals. Likewise, I need a clear understanding of what the organization and my mentor expect from me. The good news is that I’m in a field that I love, and I am used to doing the work for free, for pennies, for pesos and for escudos. It won’t be hard for me to treat this experience like a “real job,” and that should facilitate my integration into the YMCA team.