Oberlin Blogs

Switchin' It Up and Movin' It Down South

January 7, 2014

Alexandria Cunningham ’16

Happy 2014 everybody! 2013 is a fond memory now so hopefully the new year we are in brings many joys, opportunities and much love to you all.

Since ringing in the new year, I have come into a new appreciation for the phrase "be prepared for anything." Between getting sick over winter break with a cold and stomach flu to the chaos of trying to fly from the Midwest to the South in the midst of a snowstorm, I have certainly had an eventful year already. Getting back into the swing of things is its own challenge now that Winter Term (WT) has begun and I have found myself in a new charming location.

Winter Term '14 has taken me to New Orleans, LA (NOLA from here on out), where I am exploring the educational dynamics of the area at both the high school and collegiate levels. Specifically, my internship at Sci Academy, a charter high school in the area, is opening my eyes to a whole new level of educational experience that I was unaware existed. Though I have only been in New Orleans less than a week (and interning even less than five days), I see so many differences between the educational dynamic in Chicago and here. Reflecting back on my own experiences in high school, the things that I am observing are so similar yet incredibly distinct. The students face a variety of challenges that I did not (or maybe the degree of impact seems novel to me), and there seems to be a sharp difference in value systems as well. However, I guess that is some of what is making this experience rewarding--I am moving from one framework into another, and in switching it up like that I am really opening myself to a new environment and deeper insight.

Perhaps the best place to begin this post is a recap of what winter term is... The College describes it as a time meant to "enable students to pursue academic interests outside of Oberlin's regular course offerings," but it usually turns into something much greater than this. As the roughly four-week period between the end of winter shutdown (Christmas break) and the new spring semester in February, students are delving into all things creative and self-reflective to expand their own academic and professional opportunities. Simply put, winter term allows you to do what the school year does not--have chill time to figure out/continue doing things that you want on your own time without the stress of courses. And it is nice. In the sense of having a month free of class to literally "do whatever" and just grow as a person, WT is a memorable time. Some of my friends are truly doing some amazing things like traveling abroad, doing social justice work, educating the masses, sprinkling magic 'gon-wit-ya-bad-self dust all over this world changing lives, and I love it! New year, new us, right? Well, s/o to all of us who are doing what we love as we love it.

Now, on to my project. In a way, I am here in NOLA to do a multitude of things, and quite honestly, each activity could be a separate blog post in of itself, but the all encompassing answer is that I am exploring educational systems in New Orleans in ways that connect back to me academically, professionally and empirically as a researcher. In two of my other posts (Declaration Trumpet and Make It or Break It Week: The Mellon Chronicles), I have alluded to my passion for education and how it affects the black community. My Africana Studies and Sociology majors at the College allow me to explore the dynamic of black life in innovative and intersecting ways that honestly make life a more enriching experience coming from where I come from. Moreover, becoming a Mellon Mays Fellow is allowing me to transform passion into research as I explore racial stratification in the urban education system. My interest is in dissecting the black achievement gap--its origins, causes, its perpetual factors and all-- and then presenting two case examples of how the question of black scholastic achievement is answered.

The opportunity to intern at Sci Academy is a perfect first step to delve into my research, and now that I am here I am realizing just how huge of a task I have taken on. Currently, I am doing a mix of a few projects to make my time in NOLA the most productive. Firstly, I have my internship at the high school which has its own amount of projects and presentations to be done, but it is a good time so far. Then, I have all this fun blogging to do! I have decided to switch it up and have my actual WT project be a photo blog (to be designed at a later stage in time) that documents my time in NOLA via photos and short paragraphs. I also want to keep posting for this blog here so check every so often for more written gold about what I am doing over the course of the month. And last, I am working on a pre-stage of work for my Mellon research as far as really diving into the literature and becoming acquainted with the circumstances of the black educational experience. So I will leave you with this quote about switchin' it up and opening yourself to new experiences:

"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man." ~ George Bernard Shaw

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