Insights on Abby

Abby wrote the following “statement of purpose” essay as part of her application in pursuit of her Master’s of Social Work Degree (MSW). Applying to six graduate schools: UC Berkeley; NYU; Columbia; Hunter College; the University of Chicago; and the University of Texas at Austin—Abby was accepted by all six—choosing to attend the latter. She was to have begun her MSW program there in the Fall of 2011, shortly after her death.

“As I sat on the floor and painted a picture with Ana, a sixth-grade student who immigrated to Texas from Mexico after experiencing traumatic gang violence, she said to me, “Miss, ya me siento como me has sacado un peso”: ‘I already feel like you’ve helped lift a burden.’

Abby with girl“Her words gave me a boost of optimism and energy after a tiring day. As a full-time AmeriCorps member with Communities in Schools (CIS) of Central Texas, each week I meet one-on-one with twenty middle-school students who are at risk of dropping out. The quiet moments of connection, like the one I experienced with Ana that afternoon, reaffirm my desire to pursue my master’s degree in social work. Through working directly with children and families from low-income, minority, and immigrant populations in the United States and Argentina, I have seen firsthand the many factors that can block a child’s path to personal growth and success. By pursuing my professional education in social work, I hope to gain both theoretical knowledge and the practical skills that will allow me to more effectively “lift the burdens” of educationally underserved children and families, particularly within the Latino community.

“My decision to specialize in Child and Family Services is a product of my years of experience working with this population. As a high school student in the New York City public school system, I interned at Advocates for Children of New York, a nonprofit organization that helps low-income and minority students gain access to educational services. This early exposure to social work offered a glimpse of the challenges of negotiating within a complex bureaucratic system. As a Child Development major at Tufts University, I completed a community field placement internship at the Parents’ Center in Brighton, Massachusetts, where I worked directly with infants and toddlers who had experienced child abuse or witnessed domestic violence. While studying abroad in Argentina, I witnessed children and families living in abject poverty and decided to volunteer at LIFE Argentina, where I worked with youth in the slums of greater Buenos Aires, providing free educational tutoring, technology courses, and recreation. These volunteer experiences prompted me to take the next step in designing my own program in order to address a specific population. During my senior year at Tufts, I completed a Capstone project in Latin American Studies, with a focus on using visual art to encourage higher education. I implemented an original curriculum with Latino youth at the local Boys and Girls Club, in which they made a collaborative mural with Tufts students. Through painting, I asked students to reflect on the legacy they hope to leave behind and how higher education could help them to achieve their goals.

“After graduating from Tufts, I was elected as a Cesar E. Chavez fellow and became an AmeriCorps*VISTA member with the National Farm Workers Service Center in San Antonio, Texas. I directed the Si Se Puede! Learning Center, which offers educational enrichment through an interactive afterschool and summer program for low-income youth. My service as a VISTA reinforced my belief in the power of education to help end the cycle of poverty, and I decided to complete a second year of AmeriCorps service with Communities in Schools of Central Texas (CIS). When I learned about CIS, I was immediately drawn to the program structure, which provides in-school social intervention to address each student’s mental health and home-life circumstances, recognizing that these factors directly impact the student’s education. During my two AmeriCorps terms, I have honed my skills in providing students with the support necessary to succeed in their education and have broadened my understanding of the multiple factors involved in creating or blocking paths to achievement. I believe that my ability to effectively communicate with young people through empathy, humor, and honesty has allowed me to form meaningful relationships with my students. Years of experience working with youth from diverse backgrounds, as well as my fluency in Spanish, have helped me to deepen these interactions and to develop sensitivity to each student’s unique cultural experience.

“Through my various work and volunteer experiences, I have become increasingly aware of the numerous challenges that children and families face within the bureaucratic and often daunting social systems of our country. I plan to use my master’s degree to work directly with disadvantaged children and their families to provide equal access to social services, encourage educational achievement, and foster a sense of self-pride and ownership over their lives and their communities. Furthermore, my background in child development led me to pursue research involving parenting and how family dynamics can influence a child’s behavior. Through my volunteer experience with the East Boston Project (through Tufts University) and the Supporting Father Involvement Project (through Yale University and UC Berkeley), I have become familiar with research techniques and intervention methods used to address the needs of Latino families. During my graduate education, I hope to research the parent characteristics that influence middle and high school dropout among Latino youth, including education level, literacy, English proficiency, and immigration status. I also wish to acquire more extensive training in how to treat mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, and now to effectively help children and parents who have experienced trauma. In addition, I recognize that while numerous social services are available to low-income and immigrant populations, these services are often confusing and stressful for families to access on their own. As an MSW student, I hope to increase my understanding of welfare law within our country, so that I can better analyze the effectiveness of federal and local policies and play an active role in shaping them.

During my studies in social work, I hope to combine my two main passions: education-based social welfare and the study of Latino and immigrant populations. My current work with CIS in Texas has heightened my interest in education-based social work. Furthermore, my experience working with low-income Latino and Latin American immigrant communities has made me acutely aware of the dire need for Spanish-speaking social workers in the United States. The availability of courses that specifically address the concerns of Latino populations, immigrants, and refugees and will welcome the opportunity to participate in an active dialogue with professors and fellow students who are also focused on this field.

“My experiences have made me aware of the injustices in our society, where students like Ana, at the young age of eleven, have already experienced gang violence, death of loved ones, incarcerated parents, and drug abuse. Students like Ana provide me with optimism that it is possible to make a difference. As I quickly eat my lunch between student meetings, I hear an urgent knock at the door. Ana has come to find me with her friend, who is visibly upset. Ana quickly explains that her friend has a problema and she was hoping I could give her advice. As we sit down on the couch and Ana and her friend dive into conversation to explain their predicament, I can’t help but feel a warmth and hope that by actively seeking help to solve one problema at a time, a difference is already being made.”