Campus & Community

‘Being good for something’

4 min read

Undergrads spend summer teaching

In her classroom, Sherri Geng ’09 has put up a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.”

Being good for something and thereby becoming an agent of change is an idea she wants to get across to her students. “If you’re truly invested in what you’re doing,” she says, “you can have an impact on the world.”

Geng is one of several Harvard students teaching in Summerbridge, a program of the San Francisco-based Breakthrough Collaborative. She has been spending her days at the Kennedy-Longfellow School in East Cambridge teaching literature to eighth-graders and leading another group of youngsters in a community service project.

The project involves clearing the banks of the Charles River of non-native invasive plants such as purple loosestrife and mile-a-minute weed. Geng has found that the project is an effective way of connecting classroom study with service to the community. It is also a good way of showing youngsters that they can change the world.

“One of the students said that in the beginning she didn’t think that we could make a difference, but now when she drives by the river she can see the change we’ve made.”

The experience has had an impact on Geng as well. Before working for Summerbridge, her goal was to become a doctor. She hasn’t given up that dream, but the excitement of molding young minds is not something she is willing to give up once the summer is over.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself and about connecting with students. I know that at some point in my life I’m going to teach.”

Julia Griffin ’03 is an alumna of Summerbridge. She taught in the program during her senior year at Harvard, and the experience had a profound effect on her choice of a career. After graduation she took a job teaching at a private school in Cleveland and has been there ever since.

“I got into teaching because of Summerbridge,” she says.

This summer she has returned to Cambridge to serve as a mentor teacher, working with undergraduate volunteers to develop their teaching skills. She says the experience is making her a better teacher as well.

“Being a mentor has clarified things about teaching for me and has made me more reflective about what I do.”

Charles Bridge, a Belmont native who will enter Harvard as a freshman this September, has also gained a lot from his experience as a Summerbridge teacher. Bridge has been teaching a math course for 6th-graders and a course on the American Civil War for students in the sixth and seventh grade.

“It’s been great,” he says. “It’s very tiring. I’m working harder this summer than most of my friends, but it’s also very rewarding. You have to put a lot into it, but you get a lot out of it.”

Bridge says he has always thought of himself as “a math and science guy,” but he has found teaching the Civil War course to be particularly challenging as well as personally transforming.

“The one thing they all knew about the Civil War is Abraham Lincoln. They love anything about Lincoln. He’s the guy on the penny, which is a cool thing. But to go beyond that, you have to awaken their curiosity with something really engaging, and that takes creativity and planning.”

Bridge says that as a result of his teaching experience, he has been considering the humanities as a possible area of study when he arrives at Harvard in the fall. He is also looking forward to returning to Summerbridge next year.

“I think I’ll be able to do it better next time.”