A GEAR UP Coach Testimony on Building Connection and Trust

Posted by PHENND on July 3, 2018

Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) is a competitive grant program through the U.S. Department of Education. The purpose of GEAR UP is to help low-income students succeed in school and post-secondary education. PHENND is playing an active role in the implementation of the School District of Philadelphia’s GEAR UP Grant. Through six university partnerships, PHENND mobilizes college student volunteers, called GEAR UP Coaches, to serve in twelve Philadelphia high schools. They provide tutoring and college readiness support. Below is the testimony from one of our GEAR UP Coaches, Daniel Woody-Guyton, an undergraduate student at Drexel University.

“I’m currently working as a GEAR UP Coach at Ben Franklin High School. This experience has honestly been life-changing in some of the most unpredictable ways. I did not have any expectation of walking into the school like someone’s savior. I am just a student trying to help others. There’s a certain level of authenticity within the students one can never fail to appreciate. It is important to communicate with the same level of genuineness.

There was one instance in which a student asked about the prevalence of shootings across the country as we were working on polynomial equations. Trying to avoid talking about classwork is a common practice I see when tutoring high school students, but this seemed to be a very important topic to her. She brought up how the outrage surrounding the violence only focuses on guns when it happens at Predominantly White Institutions (PWI’s), and places with a comparatively lower concentration of racial/ethnic minorities.

She spoke about her own personal experiences with gun violence and how it had affected her life, and I also discussed my own personal experiences. This sort of conversational authenticity and mutual respect is a clear example of how talking out issues can serve as a form of healing and mutual understanding. What does it mean to listen? What does it mean to be a mentor? While working through this conversation, I was engaging with these questions. She asked me about my perspective, and I shared my truth, of concern over the trajectory of gun violence in some of the most vulnerable areas of the United States. Clearly this was not just important to her, but to many other Franklin students, as they participated in a walk out (with coordinated assistance from the teachers) to protest gun violence in their communities and all across the country.

It is important to be able to have these kinds of authentic conversations with students as it builds trust and allows you to learn a little more about yourself. It is crucial that you seek to understand the viewpoints of young people and how their experience contributes to their state of mind. Using the platform of coach, mentor, teacher, etc. to actively examine and empathize with the concerns of students is a critical role in promoting free, open, and informative discourse on relatively harsh topics. This experience has taught me to think about the impact of interactions with young people, and how to create spaces for growth, innovation, and understanding.“

If you want more information about GEAR UP at Penn/Drexel, check out our Facebook page!

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