A course paints a picture of community advocacy

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Anna Canales ’23 helped plan and manage the EASEL Arts and Science Experiential Learning Summer Program for students in grades 1-5 at Eastside Youth Strong
Book Cover for Community Building Internship Recipient Anna Canales Says
An art history major who wants to teach art before becoming a children’s advocate, Anna Canales ’23 concluded her community development internship with Eastside’s Arts and Science Summer Program Youth Strong by writing a children’s book about his experiences.
Portrait of Anna Canales '23
Anna Canales ’23

For Anna Canales ’23, the desire to help out in the community was often limited by the need to work to stay financially stable, while attending school full-time.

This summer, a Community Development Internship (CBI) across the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) enabled Canales to serve in his community and discover a potential future path. Each year, the CCE and the Career and Professional Development Center offer K students the opportunity to apply for CBIs in a wide variety of local organizations. Positions typically last six to eight weeks, and interns work 30 to 40 hours per week while earning a stipend.

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, near the border with Mexico, Canales saw many families separated due to immigration cases and other reasons. She herself spent time in foster care as a child and was adopted when she was 13. These experiences shaped both her desire to volunteer and her plans for her future.

Canales has been heavily involved with the CCE, where Deputy Director Moises Hernandez ’17 served as a mentor for her, and several of its partner organizations. She has worked with Kalamazoo El Sol Bilingual Elementary School, El Concilio Latino Community Foundation, and foster care organizations.

Majoring in art history, she plans to teach art for a few years before going to law school to become a child defense attorney.

For her CBI, Canales helped plan and manage the EASEL Arts and Science Experiential Learning Summer Program for students in grades 1-5 at Eastside Youth Strong. The organization aims to help young people from the Eastside neighborhood in Kalamazoo graduate and develop their social and emotional strength.

“When I read Eastside Youth Strong’s mission statement, I was really emotional about it,” Canales said. “I cried during my interview and she was like, ‘It’s okay. It’s good that you have a passion for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and from diverse backgrounds. Being with children outside of school traditional was important to me.

Thanks to the CBI, Canales was able to observe different teaching styles and also practice advocating for children’s rights.

“There were two different teachers in the program and they had completely opposite teaching styles and ways of interacting with the kids,” Canales said. “I could pick and choose what I thought worked and what I didn’t think was a great strategy for me personally. It was almost like observing in a classroom; it was a lot of comments about how I would like to run my own class.

In addition to helping with lesson planning, Canales was responsible for ensuring that the physical, social, and emotional needs of the students were met.

“A lot of it was about making sure everyone felt comfortable, everyone was respectful, everyone was having fun while learning,” Canales said. “While the teachers were teaching, my job was to make sure the kids felt like they were heard, they were seen. If they needed anything, it was me who called the parents. , like, ‘Hey, does your kid need shoes? We can get them shoes. Or, ‘Your kid said he can’t eat XYZ, we’ll work to get him lunch on the condition that he can eat with his dietary or religious needs.’ Making the children feel supported was my role.

While Canales was initially intimidated by the role, by the end of the program she found herself connecting with the families and thrilled to have made a difference. Many parents expressed their appreciation for his efforts, and some asked him to babysit or tutor their children.

Watching the kids who started the program shy and reserved blossom in confidence was Canales’ favorite part of the internship.

“It was so special to see them grow and have more confidence,” Canales said.

Canales learned a lot about supporting the social and emotional growth of students through CBI.

“A lot of what I was learning was about the social emotional stages that children are in, never get upset or show you’re upset about something, no matter how stressful the children’s behaviors can be” , she said. “I was always trying to come up with a solution and be the one controlling the tone, the mood, everything, and figuring out where these kids were coming from.”

Canales hopes to stay involved with Eastside Youth Strong in the future.

“I really appreciate that a lot of people are women or people of color and have programs year-round,” she said. “You can really tell they care where these kids are coming from and where they are going.”

In addition to the CCE, Canales has been heavily involved in K with the Pre-Law Society, Women of Color Alliance, Anime Club, and K Desi, and this year she will serve as an interfaith leader. She worked at the library, where Collection Services Librarian Leslie Burke and Digital Services Librarian Ethan Cutler especially mentored her with helpful conversations about life after college. Art and art history professor Christine Hahn and assistant professor of Japanese Brian White were also mentors for Canales.

“I feel like so many people at K have touched me,” Canales said.

She is grateful to have the opportunity to hand this over to the young students on the east side.

“As a full-time student who has to work, I don’t always have time for everything I want to do,” Canales said. “But I do my best to help when I can.”

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