Oberlin Blogs

My Experience with Civic Engagement

January 7, 2020

Tosh Phoenix ’23

If you have read my bio, then you know that I am a Bonner Scholar. The Bonner Scholars Program is a community-service based scholarship program. I applied for the program a bit after accepting my offer of admission to Oberlin and was accepted into it late May, early June. I was extremely happy to become a Bonner, for I anticipated continuing my service to my community throughout my college experience. And becoming a Bonner would, and has, permitted me to do precisely that, but more efficiently. 

In high school, I was a reading tutor for elementary students; I genuinely enjoyed being a tutor and hoped to continue this service in college. Luckily, one of the several Bonner-approved service sites is a math tutoring position within the Oberlin City School District. Last semester, I tutored students in grades 6-8; it was quite the transition.

I was terrified while walking into the middle school. As I have already mentioned, I tutored 6-year-old students. Now, there I was, about to tutor students in varying developmental stages. I thought: Is this even a good idea?

But I thought back to the learning goals that I identified for my service site: reflection and communication.

At this point, I feel like a broken record. Because I am pretty sure that I have mentioned how important reflection is to me in my previous blog posts. But, if this is your first time reading a blog written by me, there is something you should know:

Reflecting upon my experiences and the feelings associated with them is, without a doubt, one of the most important things to me. 

I identified reflection, whether it be physically written/typed or a verbal reflection, as one of my learning goals because I wanted to track my progress as a tutor, as a supporter, and as a person. I wanted to ensure that even if I had a few experiences that were not the best, I learned from them and practiced resiliency moving forward. So, if I felt intimidated when walking through the middle school’s hallways or finally had a breakthrough with a student who had been having math difficulties or even had a personal conversation with a student, I wanted to devote some sort of reflection to these experiences. 

This is closely related to my second learning goal: communication. I was in a new environment, working with a diverse group of middle school students. Communication was key if I were to be a successful tutor. And I knew that, with practice, I would make great progress. There were a number of aspects of each student’s identity that I had to consider prior to supporting them. Though it is no mistake that communication was one of my learning goals. 

In a nutshell, though my experience with civic engagement was a challenging transition, I also achieved a number of milestones and consistently applied my learning goals to my service. And in so doing, I was able to fulfill my personal values, resulting in a meaningful and inspiring experience. Also, because Oberlin is a small community and the college’s culture is distinct from that of the city of Oberlin, I had the opportunity to navigate both and function within the two distinct environments. 

Before closing, I would like to say that I am genuinely excited to return to the Oberlin School District this upcoming semester as a math tutor. I am content with the service I have committed to, and I foresee myself continuing this sort of service (even in similar capacities, perhaps) during the rest of my Oberlin experience. 

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