Making Connections through Community Engagement

Having grown up in Walla Walla, I really wanted to devote part of my time at Whitman to also becoming more involved in my community. Whitman’s volunteer and engagement programs have provided many ways to do so.

Last winter, I participated in a program called Whitman Teaches the Movement, which was created in response to Washington’s poor score on civil rights education. Run through Whitman’s Student Engagement Center, this program trains students and sends them into Walla Walla public school classrooms. Together with another Whitman student, we taught a class on Jackie Robinson to a group of fifth graders from Sharpstein Elementary. The students learned about his contribution to civil rights history, as well as discussed current issues relating to civil rights. This was an amazing experience as I got to see all the passion and interest these students brought to this subject, as well as all the things that they had been learning in their class.

This spring, I also participated in an annual service trip that takes place during Whitman’s spring break. The trip I attended was focused on incarcerated identities, an especially relevant issue to our community given the proximity of the Walla Walla Penitentiary. During the course of this trip, we toured several prison facilities and also met with community organizations that interface with the issue of incarceration and the rehabilitation of previously incarcerated individuals who are now re-entering society.

While I valued the time I spent in those programs, this year I wanted to volunteer in a setting that met on a more regular basis. This semester, each Wednesday after my sociology class, I walk to Green Park Elementary and spend an hour in a fourth grade classroom volunteering for Bilingual United.

Whitman’s Bilingual United Program sends student volunteers to Green Park and Edison Elementary School, where they assist students in transitioning from learning in Spanish to also learning in English. While Whitman has a multitude of volunteering programs, Bilingual United appealed to me because it allowed me to practice my Spanish conversation skills, as well as explore my interest in the education system. It has also given me the opportunity to connect with new people that I would not otherwise meet.

So far, I have loved my time with this class. The students are friendly and curious, wanting to know about my life and what I do as a student at college. Although I was once their age, it’s an amazing experience talking to these kids and hearing life from their perspective. It really serves as a reminder that there is so much happening beyond my immediate life at Whitman and what I am learning and doing in my classes.

While I have not been in this program very long, I love the energy of these students and hope to continue to work with and learn from them. I would encourage everyone at Whitman to find a way to get off campus once in a while and make a connection with the larger Walla Walla community.


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