Cutting student employment at local educational institutions harms the community

Amy Sosne

The Center for Learning in Action (CLiA) has a long-lasting impact on students at the College — there are students who begin in their first year teaching as a Science Fellow and continue for the next four years, working with the same teacher and gaining confidence and teaching experience. There are other students who come to CLiA as seniors, who have not had the opportunity to teach in a classroom and are testing if they want to pursue a career in education. It is crucial that these students are given the opportunity to gain various teaching experiences so they can make a more informed decision about their career trajectory after leaving the College. Community engagement jobs are essential to the mission of the College.

Students come to the College to immerse themselves in the classroom. They also seek to apply their learned skills outside of the College in surrounding communities. Engaged scholarship in the form of teaching science and instructing small English and literature arts (ELA) and math groups — in neighboring districts and others — is essential for students to get a well-rounded education. Learning in the classroom and then applying these experiences in a real-life setting is essential to an individual’s intellectual growth, mental health, and career preparation. Students in the sciences apply what they study in the lab. Students in the arts apply what they learn through creating art. There needs to be space for students in social sciences and other studies to apply what they learn in the classroom. CLiA helps students apply their knowledge in a real-world setting, where they otherwise would not have these application opportunities that are essential for self- confidence and direction.

In a Nov. 9 Record article, these CLiA positions were described as “perceived as less central to the College’s academic mission” and “more likely to be cut.” This would be a direct affront to the core tenets of the College. Arguably, the budget for these positions should be increased. There are not many opportunities for students to receive academic credit for immersive experiences in education. As a result, some students must choose between spending time volunteering in schools to gain this invaluable experience — but not earn a much-needed income for their own wellbeing and perhaps that of their families’ — and earning a supplemental income. This will directly impact the socioeconomic diversity in mentorship in local schools, which can negatively affect elementary students from lower income and under- served communities.

In many ways, the impact of mentorship is modeling that a college education is equitable and attainable. Cutting student employment in community engagement settings clearly demonstrates a non-inclusive and inequitable experience; students who can “afford” to just volunteer can gain this rich experience and include it on their resume as they apply for possible teaching jobs, for example, while students who need supplemental income are denied this opportunity at a school that preaches a mission of inclusivity and equity.

The College seeks to be an equal opportunity school. We pride ourselves on our ability to give each student a well-rounded liberal arts education regardless of socioeconomic status. This commitment to equity of educational opportunity extends beyond the campus boundaries and into the wider Berkshire community. An additional part of the liberal arts experience and the mission of the College, according to the College Mission webpage, is that the College is “surrounded by communities that enthusiastically support and participate in its educational project… The College strives to be a responsible citizen and employer, and contributes both expertise and resources to numerous local initiatives.”

The College needs to engage with the surrounding community so that local students don’t feel cut off from such an educational, intellectual community resource. The marginalization of individuals and communities by COVID-19 cannot be forgotten, and the integration of communities inside and outside of Williams is at the core of the ethos of providing an equal and inclusive education.

All over the country, “it is common to see more significant numbers of teachers leaving in areas where the school districts serve a more impoverished population,” an October 2022 article from The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, UMass’s student newspaper, reads. National Education Association Summary Poll results cited from the article showed over 55 percent of teachers saying that they are more likely to retire from teaching sooner. There is a great need for young students to enter and learn about the teaching profession, and College must provide such opportunities. Many students from neighboring communities do not have the benefits or resources outside of school to optimize their learning and experiences. The impact that college students have as role models, mentors, teachers, and partners in these schools cannot be taken for granted. It is enormous, and the College’s students feel this impact, which fuels their self-confidence and motivation to pursue such meaningful work in the future.

According to a Nov. 4 article in The Berkshire Eagle, 35 percent of North Adams sixth graders met or exceeded expectations in English language arts in 2019, and in 2022, that dropped to just 17 percent, compared to a drop from 53 percent to 41 percent at the state level. Given that education is an essential part of the College’s mission, and the College contributes both expertise and resources to numerous local initiatives, doesn’t it only stand to reason that the College should support teaching initiatives in the surrounding community? Such work serves to further enrich the college experience as well as give hope and attainable goals to local students. This invaluable experience of teaching at local schools and partnering with community members is the epitome of promoting equity and inclusivity for educational opportunities.

Education is essential; it should be perceived as essential. Teachers are at the core of all educational institutions, and it is imperative that our talented youth are exposed to the very real opportunities in this profession and the importance of teaching equity, inclusivity, and diversity. Community engagement jobs are essential to the mission of the College.

Amy Sosne ’05 is the North Adams Coordinator for Williams Elementary Outreach.