Emily, Undergraduate Student in Human Biology, CA
Emily is a undergraduate student at UC-Santa Cruz studying human biology. During the summer, she worked as a nanny for Callie, another RE-ENVISIONED Catalyst, and became inspired by the movement. She was interviewed by her Mentor Catalyst, Nicole.
Think about a child in your life that you care deeply about. What makes them unique or special?
Her name is Katie and she’s 10. She is very unique and special. She’s very creative and very intelligent. And she’s very much so an introvert. We bonded over her eclectic style of thinking, her creativity. She likes to ask intriguing, big questions. World view questions, which is very unique for someone at that age. I love all of the children [I nanny for], but feel like Katie and I especially bonded.
When you think about Katie when she’s 30 years old and into her adult life, what would make it a good life for her?
I would hope that she has found a core group of friends to connect with, hopefully on a daily basis because I know she struggled with it in school. She’s so sensitive and so sweet, but finding good friends is something that can be hard to find as an eclectic person.
I also hope she’s able to have a form of income that gives her a fulfilled life and makes her proud of what she does. For Katie particularly, she always loves to help people. It’s something I’ve noticed in her even now in school. But she needs to feel ready and safe in order to express her creativity. I hope that whatever job she has, it will probably be some sort of creative writing related job, that she can still feel fulfilled and that she’s helping people. So that she can combine those two strengths of helping others and her creative energy. I don’t think she would like a corporate mainstream job, but I could see her as a book editor or a writer for a political figure... she could do so many things with the skills she’s already developed. I want her to be able to support herself and feel like she’s helping people every day with her work.
You also mentioned that you want her to have a sense of belonging and strong friendships. What might that look like in her adult life?
I want her to feel that she’s part of a community. I also hope that she finds love. She always says she wants to have kids and a family, so I hope she is able to do that as well. I hope she finds someone who really appreciates her...someone respectful and kind. Right now, it’s something that she really wants.
For Katie, it’s hard to make friends sometimes. I hope she is able to find people who resonate with her since she has a hard time finding people with similar interests as her at this age. This has become less of a problem at her school and more when she is with her sister’s friends or a new environment.
What do you think the role of schools should be in achieving that good life?
In a broad view, schools should be helping each child grow and they should be given the tools to get what they want in life--for Katie, I always say that it should be to live a life worth living. That every day is a life that you want to live, or else you're going through the motions. Schools should cultivate that to a certain extent, or at least give students the tools to find and navigate that life worth living.
Specifically, schools should help kids understand their emotions more. Emotions are a science, and should be taught as such in school. We have a whole portion of the brain dedicated to emotions, yet it’s not talked about at school, especially emotional regulation. How do you identify your feelings in the moment? How do you address those feelings? Having that emotional intelligence as a tool can open doors and solve so many problems for people.
In terms of teaching a core of academic knowledge, a lot needs to be improved. How we teach kids right now doesn’t translate to real life. Life will never be like a textbook. We see the greatest amount of learning from people who go onto to internships or clinical work. Most jobs require real life applications that you have to learn to develop--students should learn this real world application in school. Students shouldn’t just passively sit all day to learn, but actually using your body to move around--kids are so active, you know? How can you incorporate movement and excitement into learning.
I think it’s also important to give kids a voice in what the school does. Kids are smart. They often know what’s best for them. For example, Katie’s sister, they are total opposites which I love. She is very practical and social and can easily identify problems in social structures. She’ll come home from school and say, “I liked this today at school,” or “this didn’t work well in my classroom.” They should get included in that adult conversation, plus it makes them feel excited and important. It could be something as simple as having a kids forum a couple times a school year. Asking students: “What is helpful? Not helpful? What's your ideal classroom?” It could also be a survey in class, or a role playing situation. “How would you like to arrange the desks? How would you teach this math concept?” This relates to the importance of teaching self advocacy--that’s a huge thing for me. Teaching kids how to ask for help in any situation and feel comfortable in that. I have plenty of friends who for the life of them can't ask for help. It's a huge problem for them.
What about in terms of forming connection and belonging?
I think some schools are working on bullying, which plays into the emotional regulation piece I was speaking about, because usually bullies have a hard time with that skill. Bullies typically aren’t “bad” children, they just don’t have the tools to understand their emotions or empathize with others and usually don’t have a positive role model or someone to look up to or talk to. They’re usually lonely.
Schools often create a hierarchy of popularity. The baseline of that hierarchy comes from bullying, and questions related to belonging and emotional regulation. Working towards eliminating bullying will cultivate a place where people will make friends and community
Do you think schools are currently playing this role for all children? Some children? Katie? Why or why not?
Absolutely not. In my mind, it's the opposite of what I laid out, for a lot of different reasons. As a sensitive person, school was very difficult for me. I have ADHD and was a bit socially awkward--I wasn’t diagnosed until college which made high school a real struggle. Special education students got extra help, gifted and talented students got help, but if you were in the middle chunk of students, which is where I was, you felt invisible. That was really difficult to me because I struggled academically, but no one caught it because people considered me to be aloof and not intelligent. I didn't get the community I wanted and I didn’t feel helped when I was a student. It was like, if you’re not an extreme, we don't have anything to offer you. I almost felt this pang of jealousy because I wished I had the help that these other students were getting. Then, I felt guilty because I knew I wasn't in as much need as them, or to that extent, but I’m floundering here. My family couldn't afford private testing so it wasn't until college when I got help. That was really hard to feel not intelligent in the eyes of my peers of teachers. It wasn't until college that I got tested and diagnosed with ADHD and things started to fall into place and I started to feel intelligent in my own right.
There were a lot of key subject areas that were overlooked in school, especially emotional regulation and sex education. In terms of emotional regulation, I was not taught anything about emotions or how to deal with them. And in the Palo Alto School District I don’t even remember sex education. I only remember learning about rape culture and consent. I learned the rest from my parents, which I am really grateful for.
I supposedly went to one of the best schools in the world and I felt like I got very little out of it. I felt a sense of shame because it didn't take 5 advanced placement courses or go to one of the top schools in the country. When everyone gets accepted to schools, they would list all of the colleges everyone went to--Brown, Stanford, etc. And then they listed my school, which was misspelled. They never expressed that it’s okay to not go to one of the top of schools in the country.
Do you think other people agree with you on these answers?
I think it’s a problem across the board. I’ve met people with similar experiences as me--feeling looked over in their education. And even the people who did really well in school, fit the mold and got that stamp of approval--a lot of kids feel like ok I made it, now what...what do I do now?
Definitely around here people don't agree with me. Silicon Valley is a special little place. As someone growing up here, you get the sense that people don't really care about emotions or feelings in a sense. For example, my sister and I tried to date in Silicon Valley, and sometimes it feels like you're dating people that are socially incapable. Yeah he has his PhD in astrophysics from Stanford, but he can't relate to me at all. The culture here is do or die, and if you can make it financially--get the $3 million home and the degree--then you’re fine. Forget the other stuff, I’ve made it. It’s a little aggressive here, so people aren’t always as nice.
I think it’s become a bigger thing with all of the suicides, which really put a damper on my high school experience. But it's pretty ironic that you have these desperate cries for help in this place where you don't ask for help. Its this total dialectic--I have to be perfect and get good get grades, but also I don't know what I'm feeling, I'm miserable and depressed, and I don't know who I am. There's no balance, and they ricochet back and forth between those two mentalities and can't find middle ground. There's a small group that's like, “Help, red alert! People are not happy.” Other group is like, “No, it's fine, and my house is worth millions because of the school system I’m in.”
What is the most empowering educational experience you’ve had?
This past year I was at Foothill Community College. I was taking Calculus and I had this fantastic teacher. He taught in a very specific way--it was amazing for me. It was gold. I walked into class and felt like I finally got everything. For the first time, I'm really loving my teacher, which is weird because not everyone liked his style. So, I created this study group and I was able to transfer the knowledge I gained from his teaching style to the learning style of my peers in the study group. It was incredibly empowering because not only were my needs being met, but also I was able to help people who were in my position before, struggling in school.