Education for Underserved Communities
Funded by the REAL program, Child Studies and Psychology major Kat Kuwada ’21 learned how to engage students and lead in the classroom while teaching math to kids online.
By Sarah Stoddard ’23
When she graduates from Santa Clara University, Kat Kuwada ’21 (Child Studies and Psychology) hopes to become a teacher. Not just any teacher, however—Kuwada wants to become a leader in the classroom who can work to educate students from underrepresented and underserved communities. Over the summer of 2020, Kuwada participated in a teaching fellowship where she took the first steps to learning how to become this kind of educator. This experience, which was funded by the REAL program, solidified her goals for her future.
Kuwada’s teaching fellowship took place with Breakthrough Silicon Valley. “I got to teach math to rising 9th grade, first generation students who were primarily from underserved backgrounds,” she says. She had two classes of ten students in addition to being a chair on a committee that worked to organize events for the students and staff. The summer program was completely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Kuwada lived at home during the experience. Even with the time difference between Silicon Valley and her home in Hawaii that forced her to wake up at 4:30 AM, she was excited every day to connect with everyone online and begin her work. Kuwada’s daily schedule began with a staff meeting and a morning assembly where crews of students would lead skits and learn about different jobs. Then, the day continued into several blocks of classes and electives, study hall, and crew time, which gave Kuwada an opportunity to bond with her group of students.
The inspiration to work with students from underserved communities comes from Kuwada’s personal experiences and knowledge of the education system. She is also motivated by her desire to make a positive difference in the lives of these students. “I think I’ve just worked with a lot of different communities and I’ve seen the disparities, I’ve seen the inequities that lie within education, but I also see the opportunity that I have as a teacher to make change and to produce change-makers in the classroom,” she says.
Much of the knowledge that has prepared her for this work has come from her Child Studies and Psychology majors at SCU. These two majors are intertwined in several ways and helped to provide Kuwada with the skills she needed during her fellowship. “In child studies, I get to use the theories and research done through psychology, and that informs the practice I learn about,” she explains. In addition to this, Kuwada is involved in the Future Teachers Project in the Child Studies department which supports students who wish to teach in urban and underserved communities. Along with the knowledge from her studies and the support from the Future Teachers Project, the REAL program provided Kuwada with the resources she needed to use her skills in a real-world setting. “The REAL program is really good about supporting their students,” she says. Throughout her fellowship, she would provide updates to the program about her experience. “It made it all the more enriching because I got to sit down and think about what I was doing and reflect on it,” she says.
Kuwada wishes for her classroom to be a space where all identities can be accepted and explored. “As a student of color myself, I’ve seen the discrimination and prejudice against students of color.” Kuwada explains that several privileges come with her identity as a Japanese-American. While her experience doesn’t equate to those of black and brown students, she says, “It has made me more empathetic and made me acknowledge and try to understand their experiences as well.” Kuwada believes that the classroom should be a place where this kind of understanding is practiced and encouraged. “Everything within society and within education is about looking at everyone’s different identities, looking at lived experiences, and trying to promote equity,” she explains. “That’s my goal as an educator—to transform the classroom into this place where students can come in, learn about their identities, learn about other identities, and then learn how they can be empowered and use their voices to enact change and make their way to success.”
About the REAL Program
The REAL Program provides paid experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students in the College of Arts and Sciences. Developed to allow students to discover their interests, gain a rich understanding of a particular field, discern their career goals, and explore future employment fields, the program has distributed nearly $1.7 million to more than 300 students across all majors since its inception in 2018. Placements range from non-profit and community service organizations to research labs, governmental organizations, and beyond.