Staff Interview: Willa Deitch, Language Arts Teacher

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Ms. Willa, center, at this year’s MLK Day service project.

How did you end up at YouthBuild?
I grew up in the Philadelphia area, and after I earned my master’s degree in teaching I came back to Philly and was looking for a way to use my teaching degree and draw on my experience with community service and working towards social change. I landed an AmeriCorps position at YouthBuild as a Community Projects Coordinator, during which time I taught a class on homelessness. At the end of that year one of Language Arts teachers was leaving YouthBuild, so I applied for the position and got it. That was three years ago and I’ve been here ever since!

What is your favorite part of working at YouthBuild?
Seeing students get excited about learning and growth and change.

What is your favorite part of your curriculum?
My ethnography project. Students in my class choose a place that they are a part of that they feel connect to and they study that place closely throughout the year through different assignments, angles and lenses that I have assigned to them. In March we’re going to hold our very own ethnography conference and share our projects with the wider school community.

Tell us about the YouthBuild Teacher Fellows.
The YouthBuild Teacher Fellows is a selective cohort of about eight YouthBuild instructors from various YouthBuild programs around the country. I was thrilled to be chosen for this year’s cohort. We meet twice a year for retreats where we talk about professional development and curriculum design. We also work on creating templates that can be used by YouthBuild instructors from across the network. We communicate through a Facebook page where we encourage each other and ask each other for advice.

What have you learned from Teacher Fellows?
At our first retreat in Boston we spent a lot of time learning about group development, shared goals and team bonding. We did this activity where we came up with six group norms, the things that we really wanted to focus on as a group throughout the year. We came up with hand motions and slogans and a symbol to go with each norm. Those norms are the things that are now part of our emails, almost like inside jokes.

This exercise really helps to build team camaraderie, so I’m thinking about bringing that to the academic team at YouthBuild Philly starting next year. It’s also something that I can do to build classroom community starting next year.

What is your favorite animal and why?
My favorite animal is the panda bear. You can’t help but smile when you look at them.

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