Steffi Colao ’19 is one of the most experienced volunteers in the Hop’s START (Students Teaching in the Arts) program, which matches Dartmouth student volunteers with local 1st-8th grade classrooms to teach core curriculum through the arts. Steffi has volunteered in five classrooms in a variety of subjects ranging from democracy to grit (like mental toughness).
What first attracted you to do START?
At my studio at home, I worked as an assistant instructor for children’s workshops and summer camps, so START seemed like a perfect fit. I was looking for a way to participate in arts-based organizations on campus since I knew I wouldn’t be able to take an art class every term, and I really found engaging kids in art to be really meaningful.
What kinds of art are you involved in on campus?
On campus I’ve taken a few studio art classes and I’ve continued working in my studio back at home. I try to work on arts-based roles in my other clubs as well, like doing graphic design for World Outlook or designing gear for Dartmouth Running Team.
What is your favorite classroom memory?
I had a term where the topic was the civil rights movement, and we were struggling with how to show the seriousness of the violence in that era while being conscious of the age group. To illustrate the bombing of the church in Birmingham that killed four young girls, we decided to focus on how they would feel if a space that they felt safe in was taken away from them. I asked the kids to think of a place where they felt safe and we spent 15 minutes sculpting this place out of clay. Then, I asked them to smash up their clay, and they were obviously upset and protested but they listened. Then as a class we talked about the way the community came together after the bombing and used it to fuel the movement further. To illustrate this community resilience, as a class we brainstormed a place we all came together, and the kids agreed on the classroom, and, using their clay remnants, each of the kids designed a component of the classroom that we constructed at the front of the class, to show how we could use what we had to come to together as a classroom community, and that really drove the point home for them, facilitating empathy for a movement that seems so far away for most of them.
What would you say that START has given back to you through volunteering?
START gets me off campus and thinking about people other than myself and Dartmouth. For the hour in the classroom I’m entirely thinking about the kids, who I really see build confidence and creativity as the term goes on. START gives them exposure to arts that they wouldn’t get in their school system, and I think it’s important to share Dartmouth’s resources with the surrounding area that isn’t nearly as wealthy as Hanover.
What is one piece of advice you would give to future and/or current volunteers?
It’s important take a step back and remember you are volunteering. START is super fun and it’s easy to think that START is also about enjoying yourself (which it totally can be), but you are there to volunteer for under-resourced kids and sometimes they will act out or it won’t be easy. It’s easy to want START to be just an hour of fun distraction for you, but it’s important not to write kids off as bad or troublemakers just because it becomes work for you. You have the opportunity to be another point of intervention in a kid’s life and maybe you can get them excited or confident about a project rather than just like being another adult that treats them like a problem, so it’s important to think about maybe why they’re acting this way and to work through it.