Student Voices: USchool | Work of Arts
Student Voices: USchool | Work of Arts

Student Voices: USchool

Aboriginal student Kayla Lar-Son regards her volunteer work with USchool, which fosters learning in socially vulnerable youth, as one of the best experiences of her post-secondary education.

Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and point of views of current Arts students around campus. Get to know our creative and passionate students through their “voices” and get a snapshot of life as an Arts undergrad. The views and opinions expressed within these student voices posts are solely those of the author.

Being in university has given me the opportunity to give back to my community in multiple ways. Through the years I have been involved with different events and programs that pertain to Aboriginal issues and with Indigenous people on campus, but none of these experiences compare to the satisfaction that I get through volunteering with USchool.

USchool is a program that is supported by the University of Alberta Senate, which allows students from grades 4 through 9 to visit the U of A campus and be involved in various academic programs on campus. USchool runs through the fall and winter semesters. The program is set up like a typical classroom and is run by amazing USchool teachers. Volunteers for the program can choose to do presentations based on their field of study, or can spend half a day as a classroom mentor to the students, accompanying them to the different presentations.

Volunteering for USchool

USchool-COLOURA new volunteer position was developed in 2014 that allows USchool students to interview university students and staff about who they are and what they do. I really enjoy volunteering for this role because it is not a huge time commitment and interviews only last about an hour and a half.

I have also filled the volunteer roles of presenter and classroom mentor. As a presenter, I found that the chance to educate students on the work that I have been doing at the U of A gave me a sense of fulfillment and made me feel as if I mattered. Educating others on what we study is highly important and is a valuable teaching experience, which can be useful after university is done.

Being a classroom mentor is one of my favourite volunteer jobs because it allows me to really get to know students within a class, as you have the opportunity to spend half the day with them. I’ve also gotten the opportunity to see presentations and participate in activities from faculties other than my own.

As a volunteer I have worked with students from all different walks of life — for example, students who are low income, disabled, or from reservations. I always try to let students know that they are important and that they can be whatever they want to be. Sometimes youth just need to have someone listen to them and be supportive, even if they’ve just met.

As an Aboriginal student, I try to work with students from reservations and Aboriginal student-focused urban schools. Often children that are from marginalized communities need the most support to help them advance, whether in an academic sense or on a more personal level. I remember sitting in on a presentation that was being given to a group of grade 9s from a reservation near Edmonton. The presenter left them with such a powerful message: no one asks to be born the way that they are but they should be proud of who they are and their indigeneity.

Seeing university through a different lens

20141216_102024I have begun to realize that working with youth through USchool has also allowed me to view being in university in a different sense. At times, mostly around exam periods, I find myself frustrated and confused about what my purpose is here. The stress of university can skew my view of how lucky I am to be a student and how amazing the U of A can be. When youth visit, they are often totally in wonder and filled with excitement about being on campus. Certain events, such as walking across Quad to different buildings, have become mundane events for me. But walking across Quad for USchool participants is like an exciting adventure.

Some of the best advice I have ever received came from students participating in USchool. Once I was volunteering for an interview session with students from Ben Calf Robe School. During the interview session I was asked if I ever get nervous at university. I responded yes, that there are lots of things that make me nervous about university. A girl in the class quickly responded that next time I feel nervous I should just follow her advice, take a deep breath and repeat “I believe in myself.” To have a student tell me that I needed to believe in myself was one of the funniest and most special moments I have had while volunteering.

One of the proudest moments I have had at the U of A is when I received a card from a school that I had mentored. The card was signed by the students and had words of appreciation. I proudly display the card above my desk and it makes me feel like I made a difference in some youth’s lives.

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About Kayla Lar-Son

Kayla Lar-Son

Kayla Lar-Son is Métis and a 3rd year Anthropology/Native Studies student in the Faculty of Arts. She grew up in Tofield, Alberta, and is currently an Executive on the Arts Aboriginal Student Council and works at the Métis Archival Project.