Sophomore Brian Long expected a gradual initiation when he showed up to work in the seventh-grade classroom at the Christian Brothers' De La Salle School in Memphis for his January Term Christian Service Internship course.
Instead, the regular teacher handed Long the lesson plan and left the rookie instructor alone to teach the class.
"Not only did he leave the classroom, he left the whole building," Long said to a chorus of laughter from fellow interns during a Feb. 17 reflection session at Delphine Lounge.
Long was one of 44 students who accepted one-month assignments in the Jan Term service course led by Brother Michael Avila and professor Randy Farris. They were placed at 25 schools, hospitals and orphanages among poor and underserved populations throughout the United States and abroad.
Long said his one-month teaching stint turned out to be a great experience, especially once the kids realized he could "hang with them."
"A teacher told me that one of my students had never scored as high on a test before," Long recalled. "And then he said that the student - who is African-American - had never had a young black man like me really talk to him before. It felt great to have made a difference for that one guy."
During the class' final session, internship participants gathered to share stories from the field, ranging from teaching Spanish to Algerian immigrants in the Basque region of Spain to providing day care for single mothers in Mexico.
Senior Vanessa Barbosa and junior Cynthia Valenzuela, who worked at a Lasallian Sisters' orphanage in Mexico City, said they were warmly received, especially when they came to the kids' music recital.
"The auditorium was mostly empty because these kids are orphans," Barbosa said. "They were so happy to have us there."
Sophomores Kyle Pounder and Jeff Morgan and senior Tony Zapien were also in Mexico City, tutoring 160 boys at a Brothers' orphanage.
Pounder expected the orphanage might be a sad place, but he was pleased to find the boys had more joy and happiness "than most people I've been around." He said they bridged language barriers through humor.
"My Spanish is not the best, and their English isn't the best either, so we'd laugh at my Spanish and their English," Pounder said. "We all had to be vulnerable."
Several internship participants indicated they want to return to their placements to work during summers or after graduation. Sophomore Ava Nagel said her work at the St. Rose Hospital Emergency Room in Hayward has inspired her to continue her pre-med studies.
"I'd never seen anything like it, where people come in who really need you to take their lives in your hands and help them," Nagel said. "It made me want to get through college so I can be there to help."
Brother Michael intends to offer the Christian Service Internship course again in 2009, and looks forward to placing another group of students at service organizations next January.
"You've created a reputation out there about Saint Mary's students," he told this year's group. "People want you to come work for them."
Office of College Communications
Photo by Gorbachev Lingad '10
Students who want to learn more about the Christian Service Internship program or who are interested in applying for 2009 should e-mail Brother Michael Avila.