Center for Community Engagement

Internship Postcards: Roshard Bryant '14E

Photo by Rob Mattson/Amherst College, Office of Public Affairs

August 2012—Story by Jenny Morgan, photo by Rob Mattson/Amherst College, Office of Public Affairs

If you spend time with Roshard Bryant ‘14E, you'll quickly learn three things: he has infinite reserves of energy, an effortless ability to work with people, and genuine passion for everything he does. Not a bad combination for someone who thinks he wants to be an educator.

Bryant, a black studies major from the Bronx, New York, teamed up with eight other Amherst College students this July to intern with the Vela Scholars. The program, which will begin its seventh year this fall, is a year-round partnership between the Amherst Regional Middle School and Amherst College. From the South African language Xhosa, "vela" means to rise and grow. During the school year, volunteers tutor middle school students in a daily after school program. During the summer, Amherst interns partner with middle school teachers to facilitate a three-week enrichment program for rising seventh and eighth graders. According to Bryant, the summer enrichment program can make a significant difference for students who might have fallen behind during the school year. "If students are already struggling, they have a lot of learning loss over the summer," Bryant explains. "[Vela] works to fill in those gaps so students are up to speed with their peers during the school year."

Bryant's passion for teaching and working with youth was a natural progression. A star basketball player, Bryant has always considered the sport his first love. Yet long before he considered career options, he thought about the problems in public education: growing up, Bryant struggled to find an educational model that fit him. "I jumped between six different schools between starting school and getting to Amherst," he says. "I realized something is wrong with this system— I know it's not me. Why I am constantly changing schools to find the right academic institution that will suit me?" When a knee injury and subsequent surgeries kept Bryant away from Amherst for a semester, he made a decision that would bring education into focus. Bryant volunteered for New Heights, a New York City non-profit dedicated to inspiring students to excel academically through basketball. “[They] use the sport to offer kids more educational opportunities," Bryant explains. In high school, Bryant played basketball with the organization, but he’d always placed out of the academic component. Through administrative work, fundraising, and helping to plan the summer academy, Bryant “became really passionate about education." This summer, Bryant got his first taste of standing at the front of a classroom.

The Vela Scholars summer program is structured like a school day— with a twist. The day begins at 8:30 with a 50 minute math enrichment session, led by a pair of Amherst interns. For the next two hours, students have two class periods: one for math and science and one for social studies and language arts. Each intern is paired with a teacher from the middle school, and it’s during this time that the Amherst interns occasionally take the helm. For Bryant, having the opportunity to teach— not tutor— was significant. "It was my first summer really getting to take on the role of teaching," he says. “The teachers have been open to allowing us to share our input and help model the lesson plans. Working with the teachers has been really rewarding.” After classes, the students eat lunch, attend enrichment activities coordinated by interns, and then enjoy free time before leaving at 2:30. It’s during the enrichment activities that Bryant can unleash some of his boundless energy. “During the enrichment activities, I teach performance arts. I'm taking a lot of things I've learned from courses at Amherst— I've led a lot of improvisational and vocal performance exercises.”

For Bryant, who describes himself as “the kid who went back to camp to be a counselor the minute I could,” learning when to take a step back has been his biggest challenge. “I learn a lot from [when] I watch how others lead,” he says. Bryant has also struggled with how to respond to racist jokes or comments. “You see a lot of different things around race. My work with the Center for Community Engagement has helped me learn how to have these conversations with college students, but how do you talk about race, identity, and gender politics to 11- and 12-year-olds?” Putting ideas into practice in the classroom has been, by far, the most rewarding part of his internship. “There is a way that things come together,” Bryant says. “You do all this research and you write a thesis. Seeing how some of the teachers have used popular education and social justice work that I'm learning about in the black studies and sociology departments is [like] seeing my work at Amherst come to life.”

This summer, 182 students interned in 13 countries, 12 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico through the Center for Community Engagement’s summer internship programs. Each day this week, we’ll share a different internship postcard. Today's postcard is from Roshard Bryant '14E from the Bronx, New York. Bryant interned this summer for the Vela Scholars in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Jenny Morgan is  a staff writer for the Center for Community Engagement. She welcomes comments or questions at jmorgan[at]amherst[dot]edu.