But to Serve

Julissa Mota’s passion for global studies came into focus during her sophomore year at Taft. 

“We were learning about workers’ rights, immigration rights and systems created to suppress them in my AP Human Geography class,” Julissa recalls. “It was so interesting to me, and it felt very important.”

Now in her senior year, Julissa is a candidate for Taft’s prestigious Global Studies and Service (GSS) Diploma, a demanding course of study that requires students to not only complete specific coursework with a broad, global view, but to engage in service work locally and abroad. Determined to meet those requirements at a time when a worldwide pandemic made the latter nearly impossible, Julissa found a way to serve young students in Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia last summer as an online English language teaching intern.

“I worked with young learners between the ages of 7 and 13. I love that age group—they’re very energetic!” Julissa says. “The students I worked with were entering at the very first level of language learning, meaning we worked on simple conversation tools—‘Hello, how are you?’ ‘I’m fine, how are you.’—and things like colors and shapes.”

As a member of the Hartford, Connecticut, Capitol Squash program, Julissa, who is bi-lingual, has worked with young learners in the past, though more as a bridge and translator between players, coaches, and parents than as a teacher. 

“Outreach 360, the organization I worked with over the summer, supplied teaching guides, books, and lesson plans,” Julissa explains. “There was an orientation period up front where teachers helped us with general teaching skills and strategies, and well as tips for engaging students in a virtual learning space, which adds a whole different component.”

Each day before class, Julissa met virtually with other teachers and program leaders to review the day’s material and lesson plans, and to practice delivering the content. There were circumstances, however, that were both eye-opening for Julissa and challenging for the young learners.

“During orientation we were told that some students would not have a private or quiet space to learn,” Julissa says. “Even knowing that going in, actually seeing students taking care of their siblings during class was unexpected for me. Some were learning in small rooms with other siblings running around, making it very difficult for them to focus. It made me so proud of them; they were so dedicated and so resilient and so committed to learning, even under those challenging circumstances. And learning a whole new language, that’s something to praise—that’s incredibly hard work. It was really amazing.”

To fulfill the local service requirements for her GSS Diploma, Julissa worked passionately to impact food insecurity in Connecticut. In partnership with fellow Taft senior Angel Chukwuma, Julissa hosted fundraising events for the Connecticut Food Bank while working to educate the Taft community about the disparities that exist among racial groups and geographic locations across the state. Through that work and her teaching internship, Julissa was continually reminded of one underlying philosophy.

“Something a teacher said during orientation really stuck with me—it is something we always hear in GSS as well. We were reminded that we aren’t helping, we are serving, and that there is a difference. What we are doing is not charity work, it is taking skills we possess and offering them in service to others,” Julissa explains. “I didn’t learn English until I was in first grade, but I feel so blessed to be almost a native speaker. I grew up understanding that speaking English is such an important tool. Being able to share that in service to brilliant, strong, determined, resilient, mature young learners was such a rewarding experience.”

Julissa’s Outreach 360 teaching internship was made possible in part by a Poole Grant. Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole '50, a member of Taft’s faculty from 1956 to 1962, Poole Fellowships are awarded each year to enable Taft students to engage in summer travel and projects.