Connected in Service

Literacy Lab PreK tutor, Ling Gao, gained insight into the Northern Virginia community she serves as a Reading Corps tutor following a TedX Arlington event on “Connectedness in the Community.” Read to learn how Ling connected the discussion to her daily service.

Guest Contributor, Ling Gao, at her service site in Alexandria, VA.

As a Literacy Lab Pre-K tutor in Alexandria, VA, I have had the chance to expand my network and learn more about the diversity within Northern Virginia.  This year, in addition to my work with The Literacy Lab, I have the opportunity to enhance my experience as a tutor by attending events that shed further light on dynamics within Northern Virginia through an internship with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO). In October, I attended a TedX Arlington 2015 presentation and dialogue on “Connectedness in Northern Virginia.” The speakers discussed issues of diversity, race, and education within the Northern Virginia area. They connected to the audience and their community by discussing the way the community has impacted their family, education, culture, technology, athletics, and medicine.

The event opened my eyes to various experiences in Northern Virginia. People were gleaming with pride that their friends and family members felt the courage to speak about potentially triggering experiences. One of the speakers was a 16-year-old Chinese transgendered-man.  The student talked about how during his first day of high school, he went in front of the classroom and told his preferred pronouns and his name to seven teachers and a group of students. Their reaction to him was positive, and he felt accepted in his space of learning. Hearing of this awareness and acceptance for the transgendered student reminded me of how I want to treat my students with sensitivity and with an awareness of their different backgrounds that will allow them to grow into their own identities.

In my classroom, there are six vastly different languages spoken, varying income levels, and all of the students are from different backgrounds. I reflected on my own background in a conservative area that had little to no support for marginalized groups, such as LGTBQ-identified and people of color. After the TedX discussion in Arlington, I recognized how much more acceptance of change and diversity there is in the DC-Metropolitan area. I connected the speakers’ stories to how my students are going to grow up differently than I did, and how fortunate I am to see their growth impacted by my presence in their lives.

As a tutor, I am embedded into a PreK classroom and spend seven hours a day with 18 three-five year old students. I see their highs and lows, and I get to not only see their growth in literacy, but also experience their social interactions that consistently build their identities. I am privileged to be part of their lives and excited because as they grow, I grow into my own identity.

The Literacy Lab is emblematic of a huge stepping-stone in my life. My work as a tutor and events such as the TedX on “Connectedness” have exposed me to a wide variety of individuals. From people that want to start their own businesses, to an 11-year old that reminds us, as adults, to dream big and aim high; I am so thankful for my work with The Literacy Lab and with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization for exposing me to these motivational networks that inspire me to further pursue my interests and passions.