Work with kids, rub elbows with politicians

Andy Bailey ‘03
Lee Pesky Learning Center

Background

Sometime during the winter term I began thinking about my summer internship possibilities. I didn’t really have a set idea of what I wanted to do; I just knew that I wanted to return home to Boise, Idaho for the summer. It had been a long time since I had been home, and I wanted to spend one last summer with my old friends and family. Not knowing where to turn, a friend showed me how to use the INTERNCENTER website on the Dartmouth Career Services homepage. Limiting my search to those internships offered in Boise, I came up with a relatively short list of mostly outdoor, agriculture-based internships. While I certainly wasn’t against working outside, I preferred to do something closer to my interests. Then I spotted an internship at the Lee Pesky Learning Center in Boise near the bottom of the list, and became intrigued.

The Lee Pesky Learning Center is a non-profit organization designed to help provide assessment and remediation for children with learning disabilities. I found it a little strange that, being from Boise, I had never heard of the LPLC, since both of my parents are public educators and involved heavily in the local education community, and the LPLC seemed to have an educational focus. Education had always been an interest of mine, and in fact was my minor. To make things even more interesting, at the time I was looking for this internship I was taking an education class in special education for children, which included a large unit on learning disabilities. Needless to say, my interest was piqued.

I asked my parents about the LPLC, and they indeed had heard great things about it. I wrote a letter explaining my interest to the Center, and was able to set up an interview during my brief stay in Boise over spring break. At the center I was greeted with an energetic staff that seemed eager to have me join. I soon discovered that my interview with Hildy Ayer, Executive Director of the LPLC, wasn’t really an interview as to whether or not I would get the job (it quickly became apparent that I would), but to determine what my interests were in education and what I would like to gain from working at the LPLC. I left the Center that day excited for the summer to come so I could start working.

During the spring term I had a few email conversations with Hildy in order to prepare me for the summer. My first day was to be Monday, June 10th, and I would not be arriving home until the evening of the 9th. To make things even more interesting, my first day wasn’t even a typical day at the office; the LPLC was hosting an educational conference on early literacy for all the Northwest states, with the keynote speaker being First Lady Laura Bush. So I knew that I was in for exciting times.

The First Day

I arrived at the convention center in my suit, jacket, and tie, the first thing I noticed being that I was very overdressed. Not knowing what any of my colleagues looked like, I wandered around until a woman stopped me and asked if I was Andy Bailey. She quickly ushered me behind a table that the rest of the staff was manning, where we checked off names and passed out nametags as conference attendees arrived. Later, I was allowed to sit with the rest of the Center staff in a special ‘reserved’ seating section near the front of the auditorium to listen to the speakers. This was especially sweet in that my dad, a school district administrator, had to stare at the back of my head in envy from the rear of the auditorium.

The day passed much in this same manner until the afternoon, when I had to stand by the auditorium door, posing as a security goon to make sure all those in attendance for Laura Bush’s speech had the proper identification (meaning I had to look to make sure they were wearing their nametags). When all was in place and everyone was seated, Laura Bush entered the auditorium to great fanfare and thunderous applause. Even though I had tried to be as politically apathetic and unimpressed by celebrity as possible growing up, I felt the goosebumps crawling up my arm as she made her way to the podium. Her speech, though brief, outlined a few educational policies and echoed many of the pro-literacy stances championed by earlier speakers. After her speech, the auditorium quickly emptied and my first whirlwind day was done.

Hildy

The next day, and the ensuing weeks and months to come at the Center, though not holding the same level of breathlessness of that first day, provided to be just as interesting. I was soon able to converse with and get to know Hildy Ayer, the Executive Director of the LPLC.

Hildy was an energetic woman who always seemed to be handling five different projects at once. She was working in her office every morning when I arrived, and would be in the exact same position working every evening when I left. Hildy was extremely intelligent, and enjoyed discussing education or other academic topics with me at any time. She always had time for me when I stopped by her office to chat, regardless of her workload or the visible bags under her eyes from being so tired and overworked. Her concern and care for me and my experience at the Center was very evident, as well. She was actively involved in many of the projects that I took part in, and yet she would often send me home early on Friday afternoons, saying that “You need time to be a college kid and enjoy this summer, so get out of here.”

It was an incredible pleasure to work with Hildy. I credit her for helping me to not only get acquainted to the LPLC and its staff, but to introducing me to how a nonprofit organization and businesses in general work. Hildy was well-loved by the entire staff, and very well respected too. At meetings, she only had to say something once, such as: “I would appreciate it if everyone started arriving exactly at nine for these meetings,” in order for those who arrived late to lower their heads and for everyone else to get the picture. Hildy was a patient and trusting supervisor, one who really made me want to give her my best work.

My Work

My duties constantly changed throughout the summer. As an “administrative Intern” I wasn’t assigned a specific department, but instead was allowed to work with all of them. Oftentimes it seemed as though people were competing for my help; I had become a hot commodity at the office. I usually had a few projects assigned to me at once from a number of different people. Though the LPLC was small in size (about 15 full-time employees), there was always plenty of work to go around.

One of the most interesting assignments I took part in was with the fundraising department. I entered my internship not fully understanding the nature of nonprofit organizations, and was indeed surprised by the effort and work that goes into generating money necessary to operate the Center. My assignment was to research possible grant-giving foundations and then write letters of inquiry and complete any applications in order to apply for grant money. This was a much more involved process than I had originally thought. Researching the foundations entailed not only simple online searches, but also arranging a meeting with the director of the Boise Public Library’s foundation research center. From there I had access to the tax returns of practically any foundation or grant-giving organization that I wanted, and was able to discern if they would be likely to give the LPLC grant money.

After choosing the organizations to which I would apply, I had to actually write the letter of inquiry. This took the help of the LPLC’s official director of fundraising, who gave me some samples of her work and critiqued my approach. I sent these letters away, requesting an application and any other relevant materials. At the time that my internship ended, I had not heard back from any of these organizations, but have asked the fundraising director to keep in touch with me and let me know if the LPLC does end up getting a grant from any of them.

One of the most interesting projects I had was with the public relations department. Designed to give the LPLC broad exposure, the public relations intern and I edited a master video tape copy of the early literacy conference that would eventually air on PBS across the Intermountain and Northwest states. This was a time-consuming process, involving constant pausing, rewinding, and fast-forwarding in order to come in under the time limit while including the most interesting parts of the conference. We also met with a representative from PBS about the project in order to get a solid idea of what we needed to do in order to make the show as interesting as possible and in order to get maximum exposure for the LPLC.

The last part of this project involved writing the introduction to the show, to be read by Hildy and the First Lady of Idaho, Patricia Kempthorne. It was exciting to see them reading my lines as the cameras rolled. The presentation of the conference is scheduled to be shown on PBS in Idaho and several other states in early October, and a staff member from the LPLC promised to send me a tape of the final copy.

At the end of my very first week of work, Hildy called me into her office and told me that she had a very special project. I was to collaborate with Idaho’s First Lady, Patricia Kempthorne, on writing an article for the Idaho Arts Commission Newsletter on the importance of art in early childhood education. Being able to meet Patricia was very exciting; I had no idea that this internship would allow me such wonderful opportunities going in. I met and discussed the issue with Patricia, and left her office with a slightly elevated sense of self-importance, at least for a little while. How many of my friends working construction or waiting tables could boast of working with the governor’s wife?

For this project I had to do substantial amounts of research, both on the internet and in the library. I also interviewed an art therapist, who took me through a typical art therapy session for a child. This involved drawing a picture using various random shapes (something I hadn’t done since elementary school) and creating a rather complex story based on this picture. I found this interview fun and informative, and left feeling the importance of art in education. I researched throughout the summer, but was never able to meet with Patricia again as we had originally planned, thanks to her busy schedule. I turned all my research over to the LPLC in the hopes that it would eventually get to Patricia.

I was also involved in the making of the LPLC quarterly newsletter, designed to inform families about the Center’s services and highlight the various activities and offerings. My major contribution to this was an article profiling a student that had benefited from the LPLC’s help. For this I had to research the Center’s files in order to find a fitting student. I found a second grader whose reading level had improved by three grade levels with the LPLC’s help, and decided that he would be perfect for the article. I then had to interview him and his family, in order to get a better picture of the LPLC’s role in their life. The article pretty much wrote itself, and I was finally able to put to use my skills as an English major. The newsletter was in production when I left, and the employees of the Center promised to send me a copy when it was finished.

Remediation

Perhaps the most rewarding times of my internship came when I was actually allowed to sit in on student-teacher remediation settings and interact with the children. This first occurred about halfway through the summer and I initially though that I would just sit in the back of the room as an observer. But the teacher actively got me involved from the start. The first session I sat in on was with a first-grade girl with number and letter problems. She and I teamed up against the teacher in a number of different games, such as math bingo and letter trivia. She seemed very excited to have an ally against the teacher; he was the one making her learn while I was just her lackey, going along with all sorts of crazy plans to help us win, including using her imaginary fairy wand to cast us a magical spell to ensure our victory. She left her session that first day with a smile on her face, but not as large a one as I had. It was rewarding to actually see the tangible evidence of my service, as I did with this girl.

Another student I was involved with was a fifth-grade boy with Asberger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. He was extremely intelligent, with reading and math skills well beyond his grade level, but had big problems with interpersonal communication, such as reading other people’s emotions. This would cause him to act up in class, and therefore had an incredibly negative effect on his education. During these sessions, we would play number and letter games similar to other students with learning disabilities, but would focus more on the communicative aspect. We had strict rules about speaking up or out of turn, and the teacher politely but firmly reprimanded the student every time he acted inappropriately.

I left these sessions with mixed feelings. While it was clear the boy enjoyed my presence (as did most other students, I think that my age helped them identify with me as a friend rather than teacher), his progress was slow coming and at times it seemed like he was regressing, going backwards and acting more immaturely with each session. As the teacher explained to me later, such was a common frustration in education. These feelings of inadequacy and helplessness do exist for teachers, who can only do the best they can. It was a rather stunning realization, after being taught an idealized version of education in my classes, but one that will only help me grow as an educator and person.

Alan Pesky

On numerous occasions I was able to meet with Alan Pesky, father of the late Lee Pesky and Tuck School graduate. He had known some of the members of the DPCS board, and his wife’s brother had helped start the program. Though he lived in New York, he often traveled to Boise for conferences or LPLC board meetings. He was an exciting man, who had a genuine enthusiasm about the mission of the Center. He and his wife had started the LPLC with the idea that it would be a small, remediation-oriented service for a small customer base. The Center has grown far beyond what either of them had imagined, and that growth has brought a whole range of ideas and problems that they had never imagined either. Alan is planning on speaking at the Tuck school this winter, and wants me to attend and give insight as someone who has spent time working at a non-profit organization.

At a board meeting I attended with Alan, I was able to meet my DPCS alumni mentor, Matthew Weatherly-White. Matthew and I were able to go out for coffee one morning, and spent a good amount of time just chatting lazily about Dartmouth and our experiences there. Seeing as I had grown up in Boise and really needed no help around the city or in my work, Matthew and I had more of a casual relationship rather than professional. Because of his extremely busy schedule I was only able to see Matthew one other time during the summer, and just briefly at that, but was very glad that I got to meet him and have that connection.

Final Reflection

My internship at the LPLC provided many more experiences than I ever could have expected. I was able to meet an array of incredible and talented people, and learned a lot about the workings of a non-profit organization and about office life in general. Just walking into my own little office everyday gave me a sense of satisfaction. This was the first job that I had where I was genuinely excited to come to everyday, something that surprised even myself.

I feel as though I improved my organizational and communication skills, and the experience I received while in remediation sessions with children was remarkable. At the end of my internship, Hildy made it clear that I would have a place waiting for me at the LPLC next year if I were return to Boise. This caused me a great deal of hard thinking, not just about my plans for after graduation but for what I am looking for in a job and if this was something I could see myself doing. Location aside, I found the non-profit experience fun, but feel as though I gained more from the educational aspect of my internship. I enjoyed working with the children much more than I enjoyed completing spreadsheets or researching corporations, and liked the emotion that children carried with them into the classroom. In fact, the one thing I would have changed about the internship to make it more enjoyable would have been to work with children more.

consider myself extremely lucky that I signed onto INTERNCENTER those months ago and happened upon this internship. Not only did I learn a lot about education and non-profit management, but about myself. The internship has again reminded me why I have such an interest in education, and renewed my drive to pursue it. This has been one of the best summers of my life, and I thank the Lee Pesky Learning Center and the Dartmouth Partners in Community Education program for making it happen.