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Volunteer Spotlight: Jonathan Lopez

The Power of Transformative Education

Once a week, Jonathan Lopez takes a pause from his project support position at the UBC’s Office of the Provost and is an Aunt Leah’s Place teacher with our Supporting Education For Foster Youth (SEFFY) program. SEFFY’s mission is to support long-term education planning for foster youth and former foster youth in care, primarily between the ages of 16 to 24. He works in partnership with foster youth and other caring professionals in their lives to promote education permanency, with specific focuses on advocacy, resources, reducing barriers and career planning.

A year and a half ago, when Jonathan came on board as a teacher, he initially thought that he was going to teach Math, English and get students to post-secondary education. His work has proved to be infinitely more profound. “I’ve come to understand it as trying to demystify the post-secondary landscape to youth who don’t really have support otherwise.” Jonathan helps them understand what these sorts of things mean in their academic trajectories, in their lives and help make it less scary.

Jonathan came to Aunt Leah’s Place through Frontier College, a national charitable literacy organization that works with volunteers and community partners to give people the skills and confidence they need to reach their potential and contribute to society. He was put in contact with staff from the SEFFY program. What drew him to the role, was helping participants move into the next chapter of their life and how pivotal of a time it is. It was a very unique fit Jonathan explains, “because of my experience transition from secondary to post-secondary education and all the associated questions that come with the uncertainty of making a big life decision.” Jonathan is usually the final step in a long process that the participants have invested in.

“I often see participants after they’ve gone through all the other services they have at Aunt Leah’s Place. That is, they are positive they have secure housing, they have food security, they have all that stuff, and now they can think about education, so I really do need to thank [Aunt Leah’s Place] for putting participants in the position to seek out this kind of help.”
What does learning with Jonathan look like?

What does learning with Jonathan look like?

Jonathan is tasked with making learning exciting and accessible. “If they see me getting excited about , I hope to project this upon them and to show them that this stuff may not be as fun as video game, it’s certainly interesting.” He has to ensure that he’s engaging participants so that they can get the most out of the program. “I try my hardest to try to make the content relevant to the students to make it not some sort of esoteric or arcane knowledge that’s just a hoop for to jump through.”

Jonathan hopes to empower participants through education and . He’s pleased that there are support mechanisms to make education accessible our provincial government extend tuition waivers. He works with students to build confidence in their abilities. Often participants have an ingrained belief that they aren’t smart. The traditional educational system has often been harmful because it leaves them underserved. Participants can feel they didn’t succeed because of a personal failing. Jonathan is firm that “they are perfectly bright youth, but they’ve had a really hard time.” He recalled sitting with a student teaching math and recognizing the problem immediately. Her reply was, I guess I’m not dumb.” Jonathan was overcome with emotion, “I almost started crying…because she had confidence.” This student was always told she was bad at math, but she clearly wasn’t. “At the end of the day, I didn’t really care that she understood the Pythagorean theorem, but her understanding that she can learn things in her life, that is what I think transformative education is. That’s real.”
Has participating in this program transformed Jonathan?

For Jonathan, change in the classroom works both ways, “It’s massively changed how I approach teaching…I very often have to employ adaptive teaching, I try to relate the material to more so than I would in any other context. Jonathan has learned as well to appreciate and approach each student more holistically to accomplish transformative learning. “This can be as small as hey this student hasn’t slept well in the past couple of days. She wants to work on stuff, but keep that in mind before going on with the lesson. There are other priorities here.”

When asked about why he thinks it is important to volunteer, Jonathan says “I remember when I was young, I had a very idealistic worldview. We need to change the system. And I found out I don’t need anyone’s permission to change stuff. I can make small changes in the things that I do every day. So that i this.”

During COVID19, Frontier College is working with Aunt Leah’s to provide an online platform that allows students to continue working together on their educational goals with Jonathan’s invaluable support.

Special thanks to storyteller and writer, Tami Gabay for volunteering her time and talent to write this story.