Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Tatiana Patiño- The Story of Me

First, an Introduction
I am Tatiana Patiño, a sophomore at Harvard College studying English and looking to pursue a career in Secondary Education. I was born in Cali, Colombia, but my family moved to Atlanta, Georgia when I was four years old. As a first-generation Colombian-American and a first-generation, low-income college student, my identities have defined the roles I have chosen to take on at Harvard.
My Time at Harvard
In addition to my classes, I have focused my time at Harvard mostly in youth development, mentorship, and education-themed extracurricular activities. In high school, I came across the Hispanic Organization Promoting Education (HoPe), an organization based in Georgia with the mission to increase graduation rate among Hispanic high school students through leadership, education, and community service. With the help of some friends, we founded our school’s first HoPe chapter, which became the center for information, resources, and community for Hispanic students at my high school. Since graduating from high school, I have continued to volunteer with HoPe as a Graduation Coach and an Education Coordinator. In my roles, I mentor high school juniors and seniors through the college application process, and I create resources meant to guide students through high school and through the college application process. Additionally, I am a Peer Advising Fellow (PAF) for a group of 28 freshmen in the Holworthy Freshman Dorm. In this role, I plan and lead weekly study breaks meant to provide students with a stress-free activity once a week and to foster a sense of community in the entryway. Additionally, I meet individually with 9 of those students every month to check in on their semester and provide mentorship and guidance. I am also the director of Keylatch Afterschool Program, which is an afterschool program in Boston's South End. For this project, I will be focusing on this role as one of the two directors of Keylatch.

My Role With Keylatch

As one of the directors of the program, I am in charge of taking care of all of the logistics that allow the program to run. My co-director and I communicate with the two elementary schools that we serve, send out and review participant applications to elementary school students in the program, and we participate in training sessions and monthly cabinet meetings. We also recruit, coordinate, and manage our volunteers, and we meet once a week to plan the following week’s activities.  In addition to the logistical work, I go to the South End Library twice a week to actually work with the kids. This involves picking up the students from school in a PBHA van, driving them to the South End Library, helping them with their homework, providing enriching recreational activities for the students, and driving them each to their homes.

A Typical Day
The highlight of my Tuesdays and Thursdays is going to spend time with my kids at Keylatch. I pick up the keys to my big, red van from PBHA at 2:00 and walk with my Harvard volunteers to the garage behind Northwest labs. I then drive thirty minutes into the South End of Boston. This was stressful when my classes ended at 2:30, but now that I have plenty of time to get to the South End to pick up the kids, it is a great way for me to bond with my volunteers. It is on the commute that I have been able to build a relationship with my volunteers because when we are at the site, we are not able to talk to each other very much.

We then pick up students at the Blackstone School at 3:00 and at the Hurley K-8 at 3:15, and we drive straight to the South End Library. There, we are greeted by Margaret, the librarian. Margaret has been working with Keylatch since it started 30 years ago, and she knows all of the students and their parents since they were little. She has come up to me and said, “you know, I knew Jessy’s mom since she was Jessy’s age, and I met Jessy when he was just a baby.” It is moments like those, which remind me that I am a part of a tradition much bigger than myself.

After we arrive at the library, we spend the first 15 minutes of program eating snack and catching up with the kids. This is usually when the kids share the highs and lows of their days, and where they tell the tutors all the drama in their lives. It has been nice seeing how they have come to trust us more and more with what is going on in their lives. We then spend an hour helping students with their homework and making sure that they read for 15 minutes. When the students are done with homework, we do team building activities, play educational games, or go outside to play tag. This is where tutors are really able to bond with the students outside of their tutor role. To end the day, we get in the van and jam out to some music as we drop off each of the students in their homes. I then drive the Wellesley volunteers to MIT where they are able to take the shuttle back to campus, and I drive back to Harvard campus with the Harvard volunteers.

Why I do What I Do
I began my role as co-director of Keylatch last semester in the fall of my sophomore year. I knew I wanted to work with a PBHA afterschool program because I enjoy working with kids, and because I like to take advantage of any opportunity I can get to create and teach my own curriculum. The summer before my sophomore year, I worked in a PBHA summer enrichment camp with elementary school students, and I realized that I wanted to make working with kids an integral part of my college experience. However, the reason I chose Keylatch specifically, instead of one of the other twelve afterschool programs, is that I learned that the communities that Keylatch works with are primarily Latinx. My desire to serve a community like mine and to work with students that I could relate to, and who could relate to me as a Latina, played a major role in my decision to work with students in the South End instead of the more conveniently located Cambridge Afterschool Program. Additionally, the program was struggling to find a second director. When the current director for Keylatch reached out to me asking me if I would be willing to help, I decided to take up the challenge.

My journey with Keylatch has not always been smooth sailing. This year, we have had issues with volunteer recruitment and retention, which has made it difficult to provide our students with individualized attention and has caused us to cancel program on the days that our few volunteers cannot make it. Additionally, becoming a director involved about twenty hours of trainings and certifications, which felt overwhelming as I tried to balance them with the new position and with my academics. Lastly, I learned that working with kids is often a thankless endeavor. At times, it can be frustrating when I have deadlines for my classes, and I make the effort to commute to the South End, only to be met with my kids acting rowdy or expressing that they don’t want to go to Keylatch.

What has kept me involved in the program, however, are the relationships that I have been able to build with my students. There are days when the kids scream out “Taty!” and run to give me a hug or they interrogate me on my reasons for not coming to program or they are sad when I tell them that Keylatch will not be running due to a holiday. It is in those moments that I feel that I am adding something to Keylatch. Better yet, the moments when I spend a whole day of program working on a homework assignment with a student and see them finally grasp the concept by the end, or when one of the students that I have struggled to connect to opens up to me, I am reminded of the role I am playing in my students’ lives as a tutor, a mentor, and a role model.

How Keylatch has Shaped Me
Keylatch has added a sense of purpose to my time here at Harvard. It has allowed me to see beyond the Harvard bubble and to be reminded of the world that exists beyond the privilege secured inside the Harvard gates. I am so impressed by the way my students are able to deal with some of the challenges they have to face, and my own difficulties are immediately put into perspective. This role has made me feel a sense of agency within the University that I have not felt anywhere else. The fact that I am able to shape the program however I believe to be most fit, and that the adults in PBHA trust me and support me through that process makes me believe in my own abilities as a leader. I have felt that through this role, I have been able to put some of what I have learned in my classes, especially in my education-themed classes, to practical use. This role has also shaped the way I view my own adulthood. Before this role, I considered myself a student—somewhere in-between kid and adult. Here, however, I am the adult responsible for eight children. This has allowed me to mature and to see myself as more capable of taking on that title of “adult” than I thought possible. I often joke on campus about not being a “real adult,” but outside of campus, I am a real adult, and I must deal with all of the responsibilities of that title.

The main way in which Keylatch has shaped me, however, is that working with children has made me take myself less seriously—in the best way possible. The kids do not care about what my GPA is or where I am interning this summer or what my views on Bitcoin are. Instead, they care about whether I remember that girl that is flirting with the guy they like or whether I have listened to their favorite song or whether I am willing to read NO David! For the twentieth time. It has been an experience that has helped me stay humble among all of the privilege of a Harvard education.

My role working with kids, especially with kids that often struggle with school, has made me question my desire to continue to concentrate in English. While my peers are discussing the use of the word “civil” by Juliet in the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, I am wondering how this discussion is having any practical impact. I am bothered by the privilege I feel as I discuss Shakespeare knowing that my kids are struggling to even read and that without someone to motivate them to like reading, they may never end up reading anything by Shakespeare. At the same time, I have been led to think about how I can use my privilege to impact my students and students like the ones I work with.

This role has helped me be confident in my decision to become a teacher because it has shown me where my passions lie. It has caused me to spend a lot of time thinking how I can make lessons relevant and how I can help them believe that they can achieve things like going to Harvard. It has also made me realize that I want to take classes at the Harvard School of Education in order to feel as though my classes are relevant to what I will be doing in the future. I have spent a lot of time since arriving on campus thinking about the quote on Deter gate that says “Enter to grow in wisdom” and “depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.” This role has been my way of using the wisdom I am learning at Harvard to serve my country and my community.”

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