LearnServe Fellow 2011
We’re often told, especially during our childhoods, that anyone can go out and change the world. The immense effort, thoughtfulness, sensitivity, and collaboration that social change requires is veiled behind the fierce positivity in that statement. Because it’s better for people to think social change is easy and not hesitate to get involved. Right?!
Almost. One critical detail was left out of the notion that everyone can positively change the world. Julia Child captured it best in her monumental cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Child and her coauthors wrote, “Anyone can cook in the French manner anywhere…with the right instruction.”
With the right instruction. For added accuracy, Child could have told us we need a pinch of experience as well. She was on to something about croissant-making. But that same logic also applies to social change-making: the makers can be anyone, but we need a little know-how.
Okay, that’s nice, but I am sixteen-year-old Julia Peck and I want to change the world astronomically. Who is going to instruct me? Where am I going to get social change experience more meaningful than my own improvisations?
LearnServe International answered me, as it has answered hundreds of other students asking the same question. LearnServe got me thinking about community service as a skill and not just a hobby.
I was asked on the first day of the LearnServe Fellows Program to think of problems in my community that made me angry. The list each Fellow made was long and daunting, but LearnServe’s advice to us was both encouraging and practical: pick the issue and the scale that you have the potential power to change. The goal was not to do service because it looks good and feels great, but to work towards a solution. So, before we could even think about starting to serve, the work and learning began.
One year later I found myself in the kindergarten classroom of a DC public elementary school, one school district away from my own, shaking hands with the principal as he congratulated me on and thanked me for the launch of my LearnServe project.
I had zeroed in on the issue of early foreign language education. I had grown increasingly disturbed that the advantages of learned bilingualism – increased cognitive ability, enhanced literacy, travel and exchange and fellowship opportunities, and future opportunities in the job market – were not being offered to all the students of the nation’s capital. Foreign language learning is exponentially more successful when started at an early age. Yet my school system missed this opportunity and began offering students – especially at under-resourced schools – language classes in high school, which is often too late.
With a LearnServe education, a Youth Venture seed grant, an entrepreneurship award, and a request from an enthusiastic principal backing me, I began running a free after-school French learning program called the B.U.T.T.E.R.F.L.Y. (Building Universal Thinking Through Early Rearing in Foreign Languages for Youth) Initiative for kindergarteners at Garrison Elementary School. Families voluntarily enroll their children in the program, which meets twice a week and uses a curriculum designed by the team of advanced high school student-teachers and professional French instructors.
The B.U.T.T.E.R.F.L.Y. Initiative just entered its third year of operation, retaining students from previous years to build on their knowledge and expanding to new classes of kindergarteners. When the DC School Board threatened to close down Garrison for budgetary reasons, the Garrison parent association demanded protection for the school and various improvements. Among them: a foreign language program integrated into the daytime curriculum, for all students. This dream has yet to be realized and the fight is still in progress, but we are closer to the ultimate goal of a non-profit: eliminating the need and putting itself out of business.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but LearnServe taught me that.
I’m now just a supporter and admirer of the new, younger directors of The B.U.T.T.E.R.F.L.Y. Initiative, but social change work remains at the core of my being. At Columbia University, where I’m a sophomore studying anthropology and linguistics, I serve on the executive board of the Alternative Break Program to advise, fund, and train students for sustainable, solution-based service travel projects. I’ve had the opportunity to travel, work, and learn myself, too – in Nicaragua with an educational non-profit and in Louisiana each spring break with the Columbia Habitat for Humanity trip I run. I will hopefully spend next fall in a human rights and multiculturalism program studying social change in Morocco and doing my own research.
All of this means I’m still doing a lot of thinking about social change and how it should be done – learning and serving. It means that every day I’m building on a foundation that took root the day I started the Fellows program three years ago. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll be building on it for life.
Julia Peck graduated from the LearnServe Fellows program in 2011. She is a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School and is a student at Columbia University.
LearnServe 10×10 interviews and profiles compiled by Melanie Barlow (Fellows 2010) and Julia Peck (Fellows 2011)
Celebrate our 10th Anniversary with us on November 6th.