Emma Stewart ’19 | Contributing Writer
At the Kensington International School in Springfield, Mass., 23 Smith tutors are working with children from nine different countries. Around the classroom you can hear students and tutors speaking several different languages. Tutors are encouraged to learn some basic phrases in Kiswahili and Arabic, such as “osha mikono” (“wash your hands” in Kiswahili) or “ma asmak?” (“what’s your name?” in Arabic).
This year is the Kensington Program’s tenth anniversary. It’s one of Smith’s more hidden gems; there, students can break out of the traditional classroom setting and get hands-on experience working in the education field. The Jandon Center, based in the lower level of Wright Hall, runs the program.
For Lily Lee ’19, a government and education double major and an international student, the Kensington Program caught her eye early on. As an English language learner herself, she felt that she could relate to and help these young students. She feels the most passionate when describing the challenges her young charges face in the American public education system and is frustrated that she finds herself complicit in a system that she feels doesn’t work to help students learn or succeed.
“I want to get involved in education policy — learning about the U.S. education system makes me want to get involved to fix these issues and struggles. I want to be the one dealing with all these problems because I see it and I feel [that] it’s so unfair for the children.”
Addressing economic and educational inequality is a priority for the Jandon Center. Statistics gathered by The New York Times show that school districts with a high population of students of color receive 15 percent less funding per student than their white counterparts.
In Springfield, the median household income according to 2016 census data was $35,742, and the poverty rate was almost 30 percent. By contrast, Northampton’s median household income was $61,813 and had a poverty rate of just under 16 percent. In Springfield, over 40 percent of the population is Latinx, 30 percent is white, and just under 20 percent is Black. In Northampton, 80 percent of the population is white.
The Kensington School is a microcosm of these realities. But for Smith students, the story doesn’t have to stop there. With the relationships they build and the connections they make, each hour volunteered makes a crack in the socioeconomic cycle that perpetuates in our schools, and might just change a life.