Tuesday, August 2, 2016
Interview by: Grace Tobin
Maureen Simen is not only a mother and local community leader, but also coordinator of America Reads through Oberlin Colleges Bonner Center for Service and Learning. Maureen earned her Master degree in Reading Education from Oakland University. She has worked in various college communities developing curriculum design and education technology. Currently, her work with America Reads focuses on inspiring college students to become involved with the Oberlin community by promoting literacy and volunteering in local schools.
Q: What words or images would you use to describe the community that you feel here at Oberlin?
A: Eclectic, engaged Im not going for alliteration here committed, struggling.
Q: What is it that you love about this community?
A: I was a teacher for many years and I was also a private tutor for many years so the power of literacy is just a part of my background. And I think what I like about this community even though I know that a lot of people think that there isnt that theres this College this town-gown divide Ive lived on four different college campuses and I think were the most integrated campus Ive ever lived on in terms of the community and the college. And I really like that. We cant have culture fest with just the community or with just the College. I cant have Doctor Seuss day without the College and the children showing up of course. And having the College students in the schools. Im very proud of the efforts of the community and College make to engage each other.
Q: How do you think you see your work interacts with the impact that the college and the community have on each other?
A: I think that the students who apply to America Reads tutors, they come from a place of wanting to give back to a community in the best sense of that phrase, not in a paternalistic or patronizing way. And they care about reading. So I think they are an excellent face of the college and they are in a public school working with kids and talking to teachers and interacting with parents, so I think that they do a to promote what is just so wonderful about the college while also providing a much needed service for the teachers and the students. Schools cant afford to have private tutors come in and provide extra assistance.
Q: How do you see the work America Reads affecting the larger picture of things?
A: What I would hope is that the students, at a very basic level, are improving their literacy skills because that is the foundation of everything else. If you dont have strong literacy skills your success in school is going to be compromised. And so I hope, in some way these America Reads tutors are providing the children with a means to enable themselves to be more successful in school and thus be better contributors to the world around so that they can do what they want to do.
Eclectic, engaged Im not going for alliteration here.
Q: What do you think that Oberlin college students gain from the experience of working with the Oberlin community specifically?
A: Ive had tutors tell me that they didnt necessarily understand how hard teaching is. And they didnt understand how difficult it can be to help a struggling child. You know, youre just one student working with one child. Imagine being a teacher trying to deal with 20 other children who are also having their own individual challenges. Tutors have also shared with me just having a better understanding of how a school is structured in a particular community may be different than what they came from. Or they might find some similarities. So I dont know, you know, if there is a ground-breaking perspective going on, but they have shared with me that they just get a better understanding of a particular community and of a particular teaching situation.
Q: What you feel that you have learned working with Oberlin College students?
A: Yeah, Ive learned a lot about managing expectations and the importance of adjusting and adapting communication styles. How I need to communicate to college students is different than managing a teaching staff. Being organized is key. And also being an advocate for both parties and trying to be a liaison between the two. That there are actually, that there are concerns, that both have in common actually. Both parties are very much concerned with how the other perceives them. And so just showing them that common ground has definitely benefitted me in helping me understand the way that the College and the community do come together. I dont think I wouldve had that deep appreciation had I not taken this job. The college students have challenged me on ideas and ways to approach working with children and Ive always welcomed that for sure I hope they learn some strategies of how to help children learn to read. And to understand that reading is a complicated process and that that can then be translated to other areas of life, that things can be broken down into these very dry but real and necessary steps.
Q: What do you feel stands out to you about Oberlin? What makes Oberlin feel like home to you after being here for four years?
A: I like the size of it... I dont need a big exciting city life experience anymore... Im an older parent I need a smaller tighter-knit community. But I also need differences. I need to see student with blue mohawks walking around barefoot. I need to hear people practicing their jazz trio behind the Kaun. I need free plays to go to. So the college provides that. But I need that security that if I walk into a coffee shop Ill see a couple of people I know. That I can be involved in a community on different levels.
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