The first time Yan Yang ’05 went back to visit her old high school, she was mistaken for a regular student. She remembers the way the head of guidance approached her that afternoon:
“Hey honey, you got a pass?” he asked her.
Yang had to explain that she had, in fact, graduated a year ago, and no longer needed a pass to walk in the halls.
As a public school intern, Yang now spends a minimum of four hours each week at her old stomping grounds, Wilbur Cross High School. Seventeen other Yalies work in schools across New Haven as part of the Dwight Hall’s public school intern program, which is funded by the Office of New Haven and State Affairs.
But so far, Yang is the only person to intern at a school she attended.
Public school interns serve as liaisons between the Yale community and their assigned New Haven schools. For Yang, this can include leading a Yale tutor through the maze of red lockers and fluorescent lights to meet his or her tutee for the first time, or looking for opportunities to bring the high schoolers onto the Yale campus.
“New Haven gives Cross a lot of benefits already, and Yale is definitely accommodating,” Yang said. “But what these kids need mostly is mentoring and tutoring — what a better place [to look] than Yale?”
Yang was in the honors track as a student, like many of her friends. Now, as an intern, she works mostly with Cross students who are less academically inclined.
She said the most ambitious project on her agenda is Los Amigos, an effort to bring together Hispanic male students from Cross and Yale, so the high school students can have mentors to whom they can relate.
Yang said 45 percent of Cross students are Hispanic. And Hispanic male students have the highest drop-out rate at the school, followed by black males and Hispanic females, she said.
The goal of Los Amigos is to show students with potential to succeed that there are Yale students who were in their same position several years ago, Yang said. The first meeting took place in February when a group of seven Hispanic Yale students introduced themselves to a group of Hispanic Cross students.
Jason Leon ’03, president of Yale’s Latino-based fraternity, Lambda Upsilon Lambda, went to the first Los Amigos gathering. He said he comes from a low-income area in New York City, and thought he could relate to the Cross students. Before the meeting he was warned that many of the kids had a defeatist attitude, but he said he went there to talk to them and try to set an example.
“They think that education is someone else’s game,” Leon said. “[We wanted] to show them that education is not something that they are boxed out of.”
Yang said she did not stay in the room long while the guys were talking. After she helps to organize a program, she often ducks behind the scenes and waits to hear about how it went.
“For me, that’s my reward. Knowing that it did happen,” she said.
When she was in high school, Yang said there was a Yale public school intern, but she did not know at the time. She first learned of the program last spring, when her freshman counselor encouraged her to check it out.
“We thought [Yang] would be a great resource because she would have already pre-identified some of the resources that might be lacking that Yale could help with,” said Josh Griggs ’03, the public school intern coordinator.
Despite her familiarity with the school, Yang has been surprised since becoming an intern. She remembered a teacher steering her away from bringing in Yale students to discuss the college process with a particular class.
“That class is no good — they have behavioral problems [and] they can barely read a book,” Yang recalls the teacher saying.
Yang was surprised to hear these words coming from a teacher. But as her internship progressed, she came to understand the teacher’s advice.
Still, Yang said she thinks she has to keep an optimistic attitude.
“I know that there are those people [with problems],” she said. “But for me, it’s more like, okay, there’s this problem. How do I deal with it?”