Interview with Mr. Taylor: What is the Co-op? and More About Community Engagement

Lindsay Igoe, Assistant Editor

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In the spring, Bancroft students start hearing about the senior co-op, yet many don’t know what the program involves. Beyond the co-op, many students are also unaware of the other ways that Bancroft interacts with the surrounding Worcester community. To learn more about the co-op and other aspects of Bancroft’s community programs, I sat down with Mr. Taylor to talk about his work as Director of Community Engagement.

So, could you give just a short description of the co-op?

It is a program that asks seniors to go forth and contribute 50-60 hours in the month of May to organizations in the community, and the focus is on specific project work. It isn’t on job shadowing or just learning about the organization — it’s actually adding value to the work that the organization does.

Do the seniors find those organizations and choose them themselves or is it assigned in some way?

They are allowed to find their own organizations, and I have a couple of students who did it last year and a couple of students who did that this year. Then the majority of them get matched through a process in which I share a catalog of projects, and then they select the ones that they’re most interested in. I match them depending on interest, schedule, location, and their own skill set.

Could you maybe give me some examples of particularly interesting or successful co-ops?

Yeah, I’ve got to be careful here because I want to make sure that I don’t single out some and not others. But we’ve had years of partnership with the Greater Worcester Land Trust, and those have been very successful because there’s, I think, a hunger for many students to be outside in May, and the Land Trust does a really good job of giving them a lot of independence but also telling them what the project is that they’re working on. And so we’ve had students working there for years, and we’ve done well enough where they now can camp and do nighttime wildlife observation, so they’ll be off for 30-36 hours doing their co-op off camping. That was a popular one last year, and I’m sure it’s going to be popular again this year, so partnering with them has been great.

There’s also a camp out in Leicester called Turn Back Time, and the camp was created for kids to be out in nature and to unplug. Their whole mantra is “challenge by choice,” which means that if a kid wants to climb a tree, the kid can climb a tree — they just need to figure out that they have to come down. And so we’ve been doing a lot of work for them as well, and that’s been either working with the kids or doing construction and gardening projects for them. So those are some of the outdoor ones.

But then we’ve also done some pretty interesting lab work with WPIusually we’re at a lab almost every year doing very interesting research. One project that we did last year was called — it was basically figuring out how to use light to go through water to move cancer cells, and so the professor explained it as almost optical chopsticks, in which you have the light coming at the cell from two different angles, and so the pressure of the light would move the cell and actually pick up the cell. And so they’d be running those tests. So that’s pretty fascinating stuff.

But, I mean, it goes on and on, and it really depends on the specific student and the specific project. It’s impossible to figure out which the best will be before the month actually unfolds.

What are some other aspects of community outreach that are new [at Bancroft]?

Right, so the community engagement work is really focusing on Bancroft leaning outward, and not focusing in on itself and the programs it has on campus, but it’s really engaging with different organizations, either to partner with them or to find places where our students can learn.

So two examples recently that I think have been meaningful for our students have been a safety around water project that three of our students worked on. They were volunteer swim instructors for older kids, nine year olds, who don’t have any swim experience, and so they are particularly susceptible to drowning. After you hit age 8, if you don’t have any experience in water, you’re likely never to have it because of your environmental factors impacting your ability to go and get proficiency around water, if you will. So the Y has a national campaign called Safety Around Water, or SAW, and we identified an organization called the Guild of Saint Agnes that provides after school programs and early child development for a variety of people in Greater Worcester. We found eight kids who had never been in the water before, and they did four weeks of sessions with the Y’s aquatics instructor and three of our students. And the kids became proficient, so they’re now safe around water. What we’re going to do next is figure out a way for those kids to get to Regatta Point and either do paddle boat, games around the water, kayaking, or, if they’re strong enough swimmers, they could sail. And Regatta’s point of emphasis right now is increasing access for all who want to have fun on the water. So we’re going to support that, and so it’s kind of piecing all of these different steps together. I think in about a year we’re going to have a pipeline where a kid from the Guild who’s never been in the water before can end up being in a kayak or a sailboat at Regatta. And it’s partnering with these different organizations that allows that to happen.

And then the other one is working with a refugee assistance program started by UMass Medical students for Burmese refugees. We did soccer mentoring this winter with them, and that was really successful. We typically had about twenty to twenty-five Bancroft students every Saturday morning working with these kids. And I already have two or three Bancroft students who are continuing to work with WRAP, and we’re going to do a co-op with them, and then there’s also summer opportunities and beyond. But we’re looking to solidify that partnership, and so I would hope that every winter we would be doing soccer with them. And then we’re trying to figure out what we can do during the year — it could even be driving kids to Worcester Youth Soccer and staying there and cheering for them. Because these kids don’t have the typical soccer parent who’s hovering around them — nothing against soccer parents, they’re very nice people — but I actually know a kid who my neighbor ended up picking up and driving home because no one had thought through the fact that he needed to get taken home from soccer. And so they’ve actually asked if we can identify Bancroft students who would want to find one or two kids from WRAP and make sure that they like soccer. It’s things like that that a lot of my energy is focused on right now.

The last thing that I’m really excited about, and I’ll be announcing this at an assembly in May, is that we have developed a summer course called “One City, Multiple Lenses.” The focus will be on looking at the city of Worcester from four or five different angles. Every two or three days, you go through a module, so the first  is going to be geologically how is the city formed, and what are the physical features of the city. And then the next will be looking at it from a community health perspective, and figuring out what problems are being solved in Worcester right now, because the Department of Public Health is way ahead of the game with addressing community health issues. Just for example, if someone gets to a hospital, the hospitals do a tremendous amount to help them out. But what the hospitals are saying is, “If they’re at our door, that means that some infrastructure wasn’t available to them, so how do we actually create a healthier living environment?” We’re partnering with a group called the Coalition for a Healthy Greater Worcester to identify, well, how does the puzzle of community health get solved? And so the students would then be learning about that. Then it would be on environmental sustainability for two or three days and find out what’s going on in the city around those issues. So it’s going to be maybe a two to two and a half week course. But the exciting part is that it’s not going to just be Bancroft students. It’s going to be a cohort of students from different schools — it’s obviously open to Bancroft students, and we’d love to give them course credit — but it’s really about the experience of being with a cohort of people, and so that framework of multiple lenses will work for the cohort of students in the class as well because they’re going to be coming at it from very different perspectives, from these multiple lenses. And so that’s something that we’ve just kind of cemented and we’re going to continue to develop over the next few months.

That sounds really cool. It’s really interesting to see the way that Bancroft is looking outwards and developing these programs.

Yeah, it’s exciting. It’s really fun for me. I love doing the work: I get to meet people around town and then find opportunities for our students. So it’s a blast.

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