Service is an integral part of Wellesley’s mission, which is to educate “women who will make a difference in the world.” A passion for service work resonated in conversations with Wellesley’s after-school program leaders: Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center (BCNC), Let’s Get Ready (LGR), Mission Hill After School Program (MHASP) and Recreational Experience and Arts Creativity with Harvard (R.E.A.C.H.) are four after school programs at the institution that offer helpful and creative services and mentorship to children.
Founded 40 years ago, BCNC provides low- income students in the Chinatown area, about 70 percent of which are of Asian descent, with tutoring and mentorship, giving them the necessary resources to thrive in a classroom setting. In addition to the middle school program, volunteers also work with younger students in elementary schools, concentrating on fostering close-knit relationships through recreational and literacy activities. Volunteers are encouraged to read to kids for at least 30 minutes per session as part of BCNC’s literacy focus.
Michelle Wang ’18, the site leader for Wellesley’s chapter of BCNC, highlighted the significance of service learning, which integrates academic service projects in an academic context.
“Whatever we do, we should be thinking about the greater community. Wellesley, however, is not promoting service learning,” Wang stated.
Wellesley does not offer courses on service work or volunteerism. MIT, however, offers courses on service learning. The MIT Public Service Center is an institute that provides students resources for the outreach and humanitarian efforts of the MIT community. Namely, it encourages students to think about the community around them by providing them with opportunities in the form of internships, volunteer programs and courses focused on service learning. According to their website, classes focused on service learning encourage students to think of the humanitarian impact of a discipline.
Wang emphasized the importance of these volunteer programs in exposing students to communities in need, which help broaden students’ perceptions of the world we live in and also encourage individuals to think of ways in which they can make an impact on the community in any academic discipline.
Wang and her peers work with middle and elementary school students. In the middle school program, volunteers are paired with two or three students and work on homework and preparation for standardized tests, which are used to place students into different schools, the most desirable of which is the prestigious exam schools such as Boston Latin. With Boston’s strict high school ranking system, more pressure is put on middle school students to outperform their fellow peers.
Students are required to commit at least one afternoon per week to the program, which can quickly become a hefty time commitment. Wang, however, explained how rewarding it is to develop strong friendships with kids through weekly encounters.
“The long commute and time commitment can be really stressful, but seeing the kids makes it all worthwhile. The kids really enjoy the program. Some kids share personal stories, and you learn a lot about their life,” Wang said.
Let’s Get Ready (LGR) is another non-profit organization where college students can volunteer by providing low income and underprivileged high school students with preparation and support throughout the college application process. At Framingham High School, volunteers teach their assigned subjects, which are usually either math or verbal. The organization recruits 10 to 20 college students as volunteers, each responsible for three to six students.
Through intense tutoring, volunteers are encouraged to establish personal bonds with the students, which makes it different from other tutoring programs. Ruby Ye ’17, one of the site directors for the Wellesley-Framingham site, noted the uniqueness of LGR.
“We promote a family-like atmosphere between coaches and students that we hope develops strong mentor-mentee relationships that persist even after the semester-long program ends,” Ye stated.
Low-income students are inherently at a disadvantage, as Ye explained, because they generally cannot afford the materials for test preparation to which other students may have access. They also have less access to people who can edit essays and give advice for college interviews. Volunteers at LGR are able to provide students with the necessary resources, allowing them to thrive in an academic setting.
R.E.A.C.H., another mentorship program that Wellesley students can participate in, is unique because it is for children with special needs. Volunteers from Harvard and Wellesley devote their Saturdays to this program, participating in recreational activities and working on creative art projects like making hand puppets.
Alexa Pagliara ’18, the President of Wellesley’s R.E.A.C.H. chapter noted the safe space the program provides for these children, while allowing them to develop strong relationships with both counselors and fellow students. “R.E.A.C.H. is such an important program because it gives these kids a safe space to play and express their creativity while fostering friendships with other program participants and their student mentors,” Pagliara stated.
Mission Hill After School Program (MHASP) is one of Boston’s oldest and largest student-run after school programs. With the aims of providing a safe, fun and positive learning experience for children in the Mission Hill community, volunteers seek to provide the fullest and most rewarding experiences for all of the participants.
Under the Phillips Brooks House Association at Harvard University, MHASP is one of the various service groups in the Boston area that PBHA runs, including BCNC. Participants of the program, who live in the Mission Hill area, are split up by age and individual maturity. In each group, there are four student coordinators from Harvard, Wellesley and Simmons. Each counselor is paired up with one or two students for the whole semester and engages in individual tutoring and mentorship. With around 140 counselors from seven Boston-area universities, the program is led four days a week with rotating counselors.
Volunteers dedicate one afternoon a week to the after school program. On a typical day, students will pick up their kids from either their bus stop or from their house and walk them over to their respective centers. On the way to the program, it is common to see volunteers and kids playing tag or “red light, green light,” while also sharing memorable moments of the week.
The first component of the program is solely dedicated to homework help and reading, in which college volunteers closely work with students on understanding and finishing their homework. The latter half is spent on the “curriculum,” working on their weekly project. Some past projects include creating self-portraits out of natural objects, making homemade lava lamps and writing a comic on their ideal hero. Curriculum time is meant for students to engage, learn and explore the topic of the week. Outside of the program, MHASP hosts a variety of field trips throughout the semester, allowing students to learn and bond with counselors outside of the classroom.
Weekly programs, field trips, devoted volunteers and a great group of kids make it easy for counselors and students to form sincere friendships. In fact, the majority of counselors return for the following semester, mainly because of the close relationship they foster with their respective kids.
Juliet Liu ’17, a returning counselor, emphasized the close relationships she has formed with students in the Mission Hill Community, seeing them grow and develop throughout the years.
“The special thing about MHASP is the emphasis on program being a fun and positive space for kids via those steady counselor-kid pairings. It’s such a wonderful thing to see kids start out in red group and go all the way to orange, for example. Program is all about the kids, and I think the friendships that come out of MHASP are what makes the program so special,” said Liu.
Through the commitment and compassion of students, after school programs at Wellesley have been thriving for years, serving various communities and groups of people in need. Whether it’s through collaborative, creative projects or one-on-one homework help, it is clear that children have been benefiting greatly from these student-led after school programs.