When I talk to most people about D.C., they think of our Nation’s Capital: the monuments and the Mall, the lobbyists and the legislature, the politics and the President. They rarely think of the local people and their school-aged kids, what I like to think of as the real District. As an intern at Turning the Page (TTP), I’ve had the unique opportunity to explore the D.C. community through the eyes of its residents and staff.
I expected to learn about local education policy and non-profit procedures, and I most certainly have. But at TTP I’ve learned the most about the people: the people in our office and the people we serve. As my first office workplace, TTP has set the bar tremendously high for future inter-office relationships. Through our staff meetings, I’ve learned to trust the team, partially because the boxes filled with children’s books in our office occasionally put us all in close physical proximity, snugly squishing chairs to fit all 9 of us around the center table. But also because together, we unpack our social identities and how they influence our work in the community. Building upon these deep discussions, our projects are born out of collaboration from every member of the TTP team, including me. For example, our “How to” session on testifying before City Council for our parent leaders came together because each of our partnership coordinators met with me to clarify, in painstaking detail, the concerns at each of our 7 partner schools, because our program director met with me (the intern) 5 times to go over the direction and progress of my research, and because each of the AmeriCorps VISTAs encouraged me as I ran my first office meeting to share relevant statistics and testifying procedures. In some ways, I think the way they have accepted me is emblematic of what TTP does. TTP tries to empower. They have empowered me. They empower their staff and they empower the Ward 8 students and parents.
From our Ward 8 partner families, I’ve learned that there is nothing wrong with a traditional phone call and sometimes that’s the best way to show someone you care and want them involved. Because the first day I made outreach calls, I was quite apprehensive, but the one family that does pick up and asks questions is worth every other voicemail or busy line. I’ve seen the lengths that parents and guardians will go through to do best by their children. They are ready to learn and try something new and unknown if it will enrich their children’s education. They boldly assemble marshmallow catapults, share their hopes and dreams about their children’s education with total strangers and prepare brave testimonies to share before the City Council. From the students- I’ve seen how much pride they take in their learning process. The puffs of borax in the air, water and glue all over the table might be messy, but it was that same goupy mix that made one kid smile and say to his grandmother “look I made that”. And mostly, I’ve learned the true definition of community-from the grandmother who walks into Community Night with 6 kids that are not her own and the countless other parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles at our partner schools who are looking out for more than just their children.
So when people ask me where I’m interning, I say Turning the Page, a local education non-profit. Sometimes they aren’t interested, sometimes they just want to hear about my peers’ flashy Department of Education or Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee internships. However, if they are interested and they do ask, I tell them about the people and their community. And most of the time, they get just as excited about Turning the Page as I am. Lucky for me, I have the privilege to work and learn here 4 days a week, and in some ways, this community has become my community too.
Vanessa Lusa has spent the spring semester as an intern with Turning the Page through the Duke in D.C. program. She has contributed in so many impactful ways at TTP and we will miss her enormously!