Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn

Four seniors to complete four years of volunteering with America Reads/America Counts


Elizabeth Friedman, Staff Reporter

Olivia Sasaki, Julia Karschney, Elise Frank and Paul Minor will graduate this spring after working with the America Reads/ America Counts (ARAC) program throughout their four years at Whitman. The program works to enhance grade and middle school level reading and math skills of children in the Walla Walla community. The four seniors have each worked via a work-study program in the schools, five to eight hours a week, every week school is in session. ARAC was founded in 1996 by the Clinton Administration, in an effort to raise the national literacy rate. Originally the program was only open to students with work-study, but expanded last year to allow students who wanted to join just for fun or experience to participate. 

Senior Biology major Olivia Sasaki is the only student graduating this year to have worked in a high school all of her four years with the program. Sasaki usually helps students in study halls but occasionally will help out with a math or English course. She considers herself lucky to have been able to work with one teacher all four years. Since the school she’s been placed at for the last four years only has about 60 kids, she’s been able to form relationships with students and teachers.

“I’ve just really enjoyed getting to know the kids…it’s so much fun to have a relationship with them and we can greet each other and I can ask them about their soccer games or their auditions for the play…I definitely recognize now that is the aspect of teaching that I like the most,” Sasaki said.

Sasaki says that working in the high school for the last four years has definitely been a contributing factor to her desire to be a teacher to middle or high school students after leaving Whitman.

“When I first got to Whitman I thought about going into education as a career after Whitman but I definitely think that being immersed in a school environment, like the non-college school environment, has definitely helped me to decide that that’s what I want to do for sure.”

Julia Karschney, a senior Sociology major, has been placed at Blue Ridge Elementary for the last four years.

“I’ve had the opportunity these past few years to build relationships with teachers and students in a school I love.” Karschney wrote in an email to The Wire. “The community at Blue Ridge has welcomed me with open arms and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

Karschney wasn’t sure how the program impacted her beyond Whitman, but is considering working in education after graduation.

Senior Elise Frank, graduating with a major in Race and Ethnic Studies, enjoyed getting off campus and interacting with people different from students at Whitman.

“Regularly working off-campus with a population outside of the 18-22 year old range was crucial for my sanity during my time at Whitman. Interacting with kids and teachers in ‘real life’ is an energizing reset that regularly gives me some needed perspective back on campus,” said Frank in an email to The Whitman Wire.

Frank has been assigned to Green Park elementary for the past four years. She has primarily worked with first graders during that time, and gets to see her former students grow as the years pass. Frank worked mostly with the same first grade teacher from her first year of college through her junior year, until he moved to teach abroad. While she misses his guidance, his absence has allowed her to work with other teachers and learn from different techniques to teaching.

“Education is a big deal. Elementary school is a big deal,” Frank said. “Teachers deserve so much more. The system is messed up, but kids are growing up every day and teachers (and all of the other people working behind the scenes to run a school) are showing up every day.”