The Oxford Day Academy is a public charter school in East Palo Alto, Calif. that focuses on social justice and leadership development. It was a perfect learning laboratory last term for students in Prof. Christine Henseler’s education social innovation virtual internship course.
ODA uses the Oxford Tutorial system and the Harkness model with interdisciplinary, real-world learning experience and leadership training to, in the words of their mission statement, “engage and develop intelligent, compassionate young leaders with the character, ability, and passion to create positive change in the world.”
Most of the students at ODA are first-generation and from LatinX, African American and Pacific Islander backgrounds.
Through virtual internships, Union students worked with ODA faculty and staff on curriculum development, tutoring of English-language learners, computer systems integration, digital marketing, branding and design.
“I was quite floored by how much students got out of this opportunity and how many of them are continuing to work with ODA or to develop projects in education,” said Henseler, professor of Spanish. “For about half of the students, the class was only just the beginning. What more could I ask for?”
One student is helping to build a school in Pakistan. Another is working with Mallory Dwinal, co-founder of ODA, to create a financial literacy course handbook.
Lilith Haig ’21, a visual arts major and English minor from Saugerties, N.Y., was drawn to the class by the opportunity to learn about an organization that is advancing educational equity. “My interests in entrepreneurship, equity, creativity, and education made this course seem like a perfect fit,” she said.
Haig, who was on the marketing and branding team, put her studies in digital media into a real-world context. The pandemic required smaller schools like ODA to train teachers in new technologies, sometimes at the expense of other digital projects such as online marketing and branding. Haig was part of a team that updated the school’s website and planned for future updates.
Haig said she began the course with more experience on the creative aspects than the technical ones. “As a senior, I was at a crossroads as to whether I wanted to pursue marketing/branding or education post-graduation, and this opportunity was an amazing means to explore the integration of both,” she said.
“I gained the ability to communicate about front-end creative concepts and back-end technicalities within marketing and branding to a wide scope of people, from engineers to teachers to my peers in the course,” she said. “[The course] taught me a lot technically … but also broadened my communication skills and presentation confidence.”
Hayley Coakley ’21, a mathematics and English major from Lockport, N.Y., worked with the chair of ODA’s mathematics department to help students on a platform that uses equations and formulae to create digital art designs.
“Overall, this experience helped shape what I want to do as a career and the steps I need to take to get there,” she said. “It ignited my love of education, not just the teaching aspect, but the equity and personal development that stems from an educational institution.”
Teachers and administers at ODA were pleased to have involved the Union students
Irene St. Roseman, co-founder and head of school, said, “Our faculty absolutely loved working with the Union College interns and found that they did a great job with their assigned projects.”
Carolina Rojas, a history teacher at ODA, supervised Union interns in a class aimed at engaging students by incorporating native speaking into an English language program. “Bringing socioeconomic and racial diversity to the classroom through this immersion program for both interns and students was an amazing learning opportunity for everyone,” she said.