From: Mercedes Monaco
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Date: 12 Dec 1996
I think I learned the most through this course through the practicum at Barrios Unidos. The practicum gave me hands on experience working with Latino children. Everything was new to me. I had worked with children before. This experience was different though. This was the first time I worked with kids since I started studying psychology.
Working with the kids at Barrios Unidos was a lot of fun for me. It took me a while to get there though. I found it difficult to balance enjoying the kids and trying to be aware of their behavior. At first I found myself jumping back and forth between the two. I'd just be hanging out with a kid and see something that reminded me I should be observing and I would switch to a "psychological observation mode." I don't know how, but I got over the problem and found the balance. This wasn't a conscious transformation. Its not that I struggled with this and then came to a solution. As time went on I simply was able to enjoy the kids while still looking for evidence of learning, or what ever I was interested in.
I learned a lot about myself too. I don't really like being in a large group of kids. Its not that I don't enjoy it. I just become overwhelmed. I found I had the most fun and left the happiest when I had spent my time in a one on one interaction with a kid, or if we went into the other room and there were just a few kids. I saw classic signs of introversion in myself during the practicum. I preferred one on one interactions, became overwhelmed in a large group, and felt drained by loud noises and a lot of people. This is very interesting to me because I've never considered myself an introvert, quite the contrary actually. It was very good for me to learn that I don't enjoy being with large groups of kids as much as small ones. For a while I was considering teaching at the elementary school level. I had decided against it, but this experience was an affirmation of that decision. This is a good time for me to learn this. With this being my last year, I'm making decisions about what field to go into and I need to learn what I really enjoy.
I feel that working with Latino children in particular was a good experience for me. I feel that I learned a lot from the children about their culture. Seeing what was important to the children, how they interacted, and what they enjoyed was very insightful. The majority of the children I've worked with before have been white. I was impressed by many of the children at Barrios Unidos. There was a strong sense of family. Brothers and sisters and cousins got along well. Of course they had their disagreements, but I never felt I had to intervene. This is in definite contrast to other kids I've worked with. I also found that the Latino children were extremely well behaved. Again, I'm not saying that there weren't problems, but it seemed that they occurred less often and that the kids dealt with them in mature manners. Obviously this can not be generalized to all Latino children. I just often found myself impressed by these kids. They really were great.
It was also a great experience for me to see some insight into what Barrios Unidos is doing in the community. I've been seriously considering going into community service for a few years now. Exactly what that will mean is a big topic of mental debate for me. Do I go into Community Psychology, Social Work, or what? While, I did not find the answer to this dilemma (and did not expect to), I did get insight into what community service looks like for one agency. Barrios Unidos seems to be making a positive impact in the community and that was nice to see.
The class also helped me to see there is no ideal way to teach or learn. I was able to experiment with many styles of both. I found that the best thing to be is flexible. Different children and different contexts call for a variety of teaching and learning styles.