Menlo News October 03, 2023

A Summer Well Spent

Four Menlo students got as much as they gave out of their Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula Summer Internships.

There are myriad ways high school students can spend a summer—from travel and adventure to work and internships; sleeping in and hanging out with friends to taking classes and volunteering for a good cause. For four Menlo students—Lauren Rukavina ’27, Aakarsh Mohan ’26, Gabriel Gil ’25, and Anya Patel ’24—it was a summer of fun, growth, learning, and self-discovery.

As Summer Teen Interns for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula (BGCP), Lauren, Aakarsh, Gabriel, and Anya supported BGCP staff and credentialed teachers with the implementation and operation of their summer academic and enrichment program, designed to improve school outcomes and fuel students’ interest in learning. As youth mentors, interns also received extensive training based on BGCP’s values of ethical community engagement, on topics from classroom management to the root causes of inequity. The real lessons, however, came later.

“Training doesn’t prepare you nearly as well as learning through first-hand experience,” said Anya.

Interns were paired with a BGCP staff member and assigned to a class of about 20-25 students whom they supported throughout the course of the program. The days were busy and action-packed with STEAM-related activities, hands-on projects, building, creating, playing, and more.

“Being a summer intern for BGCP was the most meaningful and fun activity that I have done over the summer,” said Lauren.

But, as Anya recalls, it wasn’t all fun and games. She was often tasked with mediating disputes between students and coordinating bus transportation for 70 kids (complete with nametags displaying their designated stops). “I definitely got to learn leadership skills and develop them in an immense way,” she says.

Dan Kaczanowski, Anya’s supervisor at BGCP’s Costaño Elementary site, remembers Anya as a “standout intern.” “I could trust her with elevated responsibility…she was a huge team player, easy to work with. She got along great with the kids, established relationships with them, and they loved her! She always walked into Costaño with a smile,” he shared.

Meanwhile, at Garfield Elementary, Lauren found the experience eye-opening. “The relationships I formed allowed me to understand the kids are all unique in their lives, personalities, and needs, but they are all incredibly bright, and there are unfair barriers preventing them reaching their full potential.”

Spencer Haar, Lauren’s supervisor at Garfield, was impressed by her level of maturity, receptiveness to feedback, and willingness to learn. As a co-lead intern, Lauren was responsible for checking in with the younger or less-experienced interns who may be hesitant to ask questions of the site director and instead feel more comfortable talking to a peer.

Mr. Haar also served as Gabriel Gil’s supervisor and described the Menlo junior as a “kid magnet” whom BGCP students at the Garfield site loved and looked up to. “Gabriel’s biggest positive was his connection with the kids,” Haar said. “He’s a great athlete, and all the kids wanted to play soccer with him. He was also flexible…always cool about going wherever he was needed.”

Taft Elementary School supervisor Demetrius Hill had similar praises to sing about Menlo sophomore Aakarsh Mohan, whom he called a “solid volunteer.” Aakarsh supported a classroom of rising third-graders, helping them with assignments and working closely with small groups to ensure they had at least second-grade reading skills before moving on to third grade. “The kids loved him and always played with him at recess,” said Demetrius. “It was a joy to have him. He was also a leader within the intern group—when he volunteered for something, others would follow.”

It’s clear that BGCP relies on high school interns with enthusiasm, community spirit, and leadership skills to support teachers and BGCP staff in providing a high-quality summer experience for its students, but the benefits are most definitely mutual.

“I had so much fun fostering new relationships with both the kids and staff, and it was incredibly rewarding that I could do more than help to provide them with a safe space, but also support them as they grew,” Lauren recalls. “It was a summer that I will never forget.”