Safe Haven

Kaitlin Ip ’23 is a recognized leader on Taft’s campus. She is also a leader on the global stage, having served as a Young Ambassador and volunteer for the Changing Young Lives Foundation (CYLF) since she was in eighth grade.

“I have taught English lessons, volunteered at school fairs and fundraisers, and travelled to rural parts of Mainland China in service to local children,” Kaitlin notes.

CYLF serves underprivileged children and marginalized youth in Hong Kong and the Mainland by offering no-cost, center-based and outreach programs that support education, identify and develop individual talent, and increase self-empowerment, all with the goal of maximizing opportunities for local youth at school and work, and inspiring them to live their lives to the fullest. Over the summer, and with help from a Robert Keyes Poole ’50 Fellowship, Kaitlin helped CYLF advance their education initiatives in Hong Kong.

“I was working in the Hong Kong branch of CYLF, around 45 minutes away from the city. I traveled to the CYLF center three to four times a week to teach English to Kindergarten and primary school-age students,” Kaitlin says. “Because the students only speak Cantonese in their homes, there is very little opportunity for them to speak or practice English during the summer months.”

Kaitlin led classes ranging in size from 10 to 30 students for a few hours each day. Formal class time focused on grammar, structure, and vocabulary, and was followed by periods of play and casual interaction, during which their new language skills could be put to work.

“The main goal was to make them feel more comfortable understanding and speaking English,” Kaitlin explains. “But throughout my four weeks at the center, I also taught the students about different cultures and countries across the world.”

Each evening, Kaitlin prepared plans and supporting materials for the next day’s lessons, which she presented to center leadership for approval each morning before starting her workday. And while CYLF provided a list of topics for Kaitlin to consider, she was afforded full creative control over the lessons.

“I usually started with a warmup activity to engage the body with the mind and to release any energy and tension. Then, I would begin my presentation, showing students pictures and videos of new material, and asking questions about their personal experiences,” says Kaitlin. “Finally, the students would take a quiz on the information covered that day.”

It was in the less structured moments that the children shared more about their personal lives with Kaitlin, allowing students and teacher to establish a deep mutual trust and bond.

“It was more than ‘school,’ it was a safe haven where I could connect with children and better understand what their lives were like outside of the classroom,” says Kaitlin. “These children, seemingly innocent and ignorant of the harsh realities of life, have been through much more than I ever have. Their resilience, humility, and optimism is truly inspiring, and something I continue to carry with me.”

Established in memory of Robert Keyes Poole '50, Taft faculty member from 1956 to 1962, Poole Fellowships are awarded each year to enable Taft students to engage in travel or in projects consistent with Mr. Poole's lifetime interest in wildlife and the environment.