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Columbia Spectator Staff

Reading the Spectator's recent news and opinion coverage of the upheaval at the Double Discovery Center has made me think back to a day this summer when I recognized the significance and impact of this program on campus. The entire summer was record-breaking in the heat department, but one particularly sweltering rush hour commute stands out to me. To combat this quite literally sticky situation, I put up an artificial barrier between myself and the other passengers in the form of iPod headphones and the New Yorker. Preoccupied, I was startled when I felt someone poke my back between the 79th Street and 86th Street stops. "Do you tutor for Double Discovery?" three high school aged girls sitting behind me asked. Placing the girls' faces, I responded that, yes, I had tutored them for the past two years at DDC. We proceeded to chat about our summers, and they told me that they were living in John Jay while participating in the DDC summer program. For those who aren't familiar with it, DDC, which was started in 1965, serves high-achieving, first-generation college-bound students from low-income families. Housed in Lerner, the program provides daily after-school tutoring, SAT prep classes, extra courses on Saturdays, help navigating the college application process, and a residential summer program for its students. Columbia students make up many of the volunteers, and a number of DDC graduates have gone on to study at Columbia as well. When the three DDC students and I got off at the Columbia stop that day, they asked me if I would be volunteering again this fall. Hearing the girls talk about which colleges they wanted to visit and sensing their excitement and comfort walking into their dorm on campus, I couldn't say no. During the past two years, tutoring DDC students has significantly shaped my identity as a Columbia student by giving me a greater sense of what it means to be a member of the Morningside Heights community, which encompasses much beyond the Columbia gates. Getting involved with one of the many programs that enables those at Columbia to interact with others who live, work, and study in this area—whether it be through tutoring, teaching public health, or gardening—is one way we can assuage tensions between Columbia and our neighbors. The ultimate goal of DDC is to get an often underserved population of youth to college. Allowing these middle and high school students to spend time on the Columbia campus and engage with college students in academic and social situations helps improve our image as a welcoming place. It can also teach us a thing or two. While helping a frustrated student with pre-calculus, I told him I also found that course tricky. While editing a girl's paper on "To Kill a Mockingbird," I asked her what she thought of Atticus Finch. On a more basic level, I've swapped pizza restaurant recommendations, subway-service-change horror stories, and friendly Red Sox-Yankees banter, while at the same time sharing a passion for learning with the students. 8 percent of eighth graders in the New York City schools were held back this year—representing a fivefold increase compared to last year. This statistic has to do in part with the fact that passing standards were raised on the state level based on the idea that performance on these tests is an indicator of performance in college. Clearly, students at Columbia understand and appreciate the importance of a college education. For that reason, this campus is ripe with role models and helpful resources for students aspiring to go to college. Walking up just a few blocks to Fairway, it's hard to miss the billboard condemning Columbia's Manhattanville expansion. Regardless of political stance, however, interacting with others in Morningside Heights is one way to cross that divide. Given Columbia's identity as an academic metropolis, engaging with local schools or with younger students on campus can send a powerful message about a genuine commitment to education. Furthermore, connecting firsthand with those unaffiliated with the university provides insight into the concerns, needs, and perspectives of the diverse population that makes up our niche between the Upper West Side and West Harlem. Jessica Hills is a Barnard College junior majoring in political science and French language. She is a former associate news editor. Class Notes runs alternate Thursdays.

DDC academic opportunity