What began as a middle school community service requirement has blossomed into an empowering and perception altering experience for one civic minded KO student. Colin Regan ’18 began volunteering at the Fox School in Hartford, one of the state’s most impoverished schools with a majority of the students living below the poverty line, as part of KO’s service learning during the school year at the end of his sixth grade. For five weeks this summer, Regan spearheaded a group of approximately thirty five students in the Kingswood Oxford Community Ambassadors program (KOSA) who supported the Fox teachers in their summer classes.
Fran Clarke, the former administrator at the Middle School, began the program approximately twelve years ago where KO students worked in the classroom with Fox students. When one KO parent realized that the Fox School offered summer school for its students to bolster their math and reading skills, she asked if KO students could work with students in the summer months as well. For the past several years, KO students have participated in the program and learned a few lessons of their own through the experience.
Monica Bisgaard, wife of the head of school Dennis Bisgaard, and a supporter of the program worked through the challenges in building this robust program. She said after speaking with some KO student volunteers, many of them had the false idea that the Fox students didn’t want to learn. As an educator, Bisgaard understood that this was a valuable, teachable moment for the KO students. She said, “I felt that this was an area that we needed to debrief and talk about. What’s it like to work with a community not like your own? I would ask them, “What could these kids think about you?” Some things are true, and some things aren’t true. There is an intersection of where we can come together.”
Bisgaard instituted Wednesday lunches for the KOSA group in the summer to discuss their experiences and explore deeper ideas of bias and socio-economic impact on education. The lunches also features guest speakers, like Joan Edwards, Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Cultural Competency, Dean of Students Will Gilyard, Head of School Dennis Bisgaard, State Senator Beth Bye as well as Ted Talks that tackle cultural issues. Bisgaard said, “These Wednesday's meeting are really crucial and expand their thinking so that our students are really great ambassadors. Regan concurs, “These meetings are really valuable and help everybody see these issues. I used to believe that I was alone in my thinking, but when the group meets you understand that this is a much bigger deal than I thought”
Initially, Regan felt that the Fox students wouldn't be receptive to him because they would view him as a privileged boy. By steadily building trust with the students Regan has been able to make deep connections with several students. He has worked with students from Kindergarten through sixth grade, but has an affinity for working with the special education students.He related how one student who was on the autism spectrum frequently had outbursts due to his frustration when placing blocks in a pattern. “I sat with him and worked with him. I would tell him, “If you do your work, I will help you. Since that point forward, I was successful with teaching him.” The Fox summer classes contain approximately 10 to 15 students, and Regan empathizes that the teacher’s job is a difficult one since many of the students are there for different reasons. “It’s hard for the teachers to teach in a way that helps everyone.”
In the beginning of his junior year, Regan started an official club on campus for the Fox School but acknowledged that he had some difficulty finding space and meeting times. The group shares facts about Fox at the assemblies so that KO students understand about their neighbor school. In his role as lead student coordinator, Regan creates the signup sheet, shares it on the daily bulletin, manages the costs associated with the program for gas and Wednesday lunches, coordinates the assigning of the volunteers to a class, and most importantly, once the program starts, makes sure that all the volunteers get on and off the bus. He said, “I like the responsibility. It’s been a good learning experience. Every time a new person signed on for their week to work, things are constantly in a state of flux that you need to manage.”
Through his work at Fox, Regan believes that he would like to teach in some capacity and knows that community service work will be definately be a part of his future plans.