Interns start projects at local schools

When Joshua Griggs ’03 started volunteering at the Vincent Mauro Elementary School last fall, he hardly demanded the teachers roll out the red carpet for him, but from day one he was up against Yale’s sour reputation in the school. An administrator warned him that in some classrooms, Yale volunteers were no longer welcome.

“It kind of changed my objective,” Griggs said. “Rather than focusing on bringing in new programs, I wanted to make sure teachers and administrators were comfortable with who they had coming into the school.”

Griggs and eight other volunteers in the Yale Public School Interns program act as liaisons between the plethora of Yale volunteer groups and school administrations, spending up to 15 hours a week putting the needs of schools first. Before the program’s 1996 inception, minimal dialogue existed between school administrators and volunteers, and Yale students ended up providing services that did not always match a school’s specific needs.

“Each school has its own personality,” said Pamela Bisbee-Simonds, the associate general secretary of Dwight Hall. “It’s not like there can be a cookie-cutter way of doing things.”

Sara Aviel ’02 has been learning that lesson for the past two years as a volunteer at Timothy Dwight Elementary School.

“I went in expecting that there would be so many things I could do — implement this, implement that,” Aviel said.

But she and the principal of Dwight Elementary agreed to start with small, manageable projects.

“I think that Yale students tend to be really enthusiastic and idealistic but not necessarily able to translate that into effective programs,” Aviel said, emphasizing that on the whole Yale students are an asset to New Haven schools.

Before the Public School Interns program entered the scene, administrators were scrambling to schedule meetings with too many individual Yale volunteer groups. Now the Public School Interns program coordinates the efforts of the various service groups with schools’ needs. By joining Yale with school administrators, the program ensures that Yale volunteers never undermine but promote education in these schools.

For instance, Aviel organized an after-school chorus program for Dwight Elementary when the school lost its music instructor. She enlisted the help of Yale’s singing groups and the music program is now flourishing.

Baronberg said the public school internship, which doubles as a work-study position, is a good solution for students torn between a need to earn money in a job and the desire to do community service. And those who do not qualify for work-study receive a stipend of $250 each semester. Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs provides the program with a grant that pays for the stipends.

Despite a start that was at times frustrating, Griggs said his efforts are now reaping rewards and thus far, no teacher has complained about Yale’s volunteers at Mauro Elementary.

“I see things getting accomplished,” Griggs said. “[There is] more accomplishment on Yale’s side and more trust on New Haven’s side.”

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