On June 20, students at Decker Middle School had the opportunity to engage in service learning with the help of a few special volunteers from the UWATX Young Leader Society (YLS). Summer Learning Day, a national initiative that we participated in, this year focused on bridging the access gap for summer learning options between high- and low-income students.
“It is encouraging to know we are providing this opportunity for students to learn and engage with their peers.”
The day was a chance for students in the UWATX Manor Summer Program to interact with volunteers and learn more about how to advocate for their neighborhood. Through interaction and discussion, they also had a chance to learn more about a wide variety of careers.
The day began with a financial education program that included four United Way bank-on partners to talk about their work. The students also had the chance to play two games that taught them about finance and budgeting with a little help from Smarties candy.
Next, the students participated in an advocacy session. Students and YLS volunteers participated in a letter writing campaign and in a unique photo petition, advocating to the Travis County Government for community change in the Decker area.
Later, representatives from the UWATX Navigation Center were on hand to talk about 2-1-1 and its role in the community. The presentation included a competition that encouraged students to learn about the resources available through the Navigation Center.
To wrap up the day, students learned more about the Success By 6 program and the basics of caring for a young child. Students and volunteers worked as a group to assemble literacy kits as a service project for the program.
The biggest takeaway for Katy Aus, AmeriCorps VISTA for Target Graduation at United Way for Greater Austin, was the engagement of the students and the interest they showed in learning more from the visitors and volunteers.
“They asked really thoughtful questions about finances, engineering and college, and demonstrated a genuine engagement with the volunteers.”
YLS Member Ward Hoffman, who is a manufacturing engineer at Brown Traffic Products, was also impressed with the engagement of the group.
“The most rewarding part for me was the assembly at the end. The kids showed genuine appreciation and thanked us for being there. I just went to have a good time for the day and here they were being so appreciative.”
Ward (who confessed to the group that he wanted to be a pro wrestler and monster truck driver when he grew up) continued by saying that “The kids were also really cool. I wish I was as cool as they are when I was growing up. They amazed me with the things that they knew and what they could do.”
Throughout the summer, kids that participate in the Decker program will have the chance to learn and stay active while avoiding the summer slide that happens when students stop learning over the summer and lose some of the progress they’ve made during the school year. Summer Learning Day gave students a chance to learn more about how to improve their community as a whole.
Jeremiah Bentley is the Senior Manager of Corporate Communications at Texas Mutual Insurance Company, the Communications Chair for the UWATX Young Leaders Society and a member of the UWATX Board of Directors. In his own words, he’s really “just a guy whose mom raised him to give back in every way possible.”