Volunteer Spotlight: Roxana Arjon

At the beginning of her freshman year at Stanford University, Roxana Arjon received emails—a lot of emails—from the High School Support Initiative (HSSI), a program through Stanford’s Haas Center for Public Service. HSSI connects Stanford students with high school students from historically marginalized local communities as tutors and mentors. Roxana soon found herself placed at East Palo Alto Academy (EPAA), enthusiastic to learn from this new experience. "I decided that it would be a great opportunity because it’s education-related, which is a field that I’m interested in."

As a first-generation Latina college student who attended underfunded schools in Kansas, Roxana lived the realities of educational inequity. These experiences motivated her to stay involved in community efforts for educational equity and learn more about East Palo Alto’s context.

Once a week since October 2018, Roxana has supported EPAA’s after-school tutoring program. Arriving at the tutoring center a few minutes before the end-of-day bell rings, Roxana catches up with the volunteer coordinator and hears more about what’s been happening at EPAA - from upcoming events to student successes and challenges. And as students start to trickle in the tutoring center and find seats, Roxana eats snacks with them, hears about their goals for the day, and helps them to meet those goals. Throughout the year, Roxana has developed strong relationships with a group of students who attend almost every after-school session, and they intersperse their work time with lively discussions about politics, anime, and everything else in between.

The students here are really interesting, insightful, and funny.

Roxana's time at EPAA has featured both highs and lows. At the beginning of her volunteer work, Roxana recounts that it was nerve-wracking to approach students and ask if they wanted academic support. High school students tend to be cautious about accepting help from someone new, so it took time to develop trusting relationships. Roxana also experienced the gap between, for example, knowing how to do a geometry problem and knowing how to explain the concept to a student. However, as she continued to volunteer, she developed new approaches to sustaining warm relationships and scaffolding academic concepts that has allowed her to successfully support EPAA students.

Recently, Roxana supported two sophomores in developing personal statements for their applications to Girls Who Code (GWC), a summer intensive that teaches tech skills and fosters young women’s leadership. Because GWC offers stipends to low-income students, the program is accessible to EPAA students who might otherwise need to work a food-service or retail job over the summer to help their families. A few months later, the students stopped by the tutoring center to share some good news: they had been accepted with full funding!

Compared with previous volunteer experiences, Roxana appreciates that her placement at EPAA allows her to form genuine relationships and see the impact of her support over time: “It’s made a big difference to volunteer at EPAA for a whole year because of the relationships that I’ve built with staff and students. I’m able to see the progress that students are making, and that increases my motivation to stay involved.” It's safe to say that the staff and students of EPAA are very glad that Roxana opened those many emails from HSSI and got placed with us!

Here at EPAA, we are deeply grateful to Roxana and our other dedicated volunteers, and the significant impact that they have on our students’ learning. In the coming year, we welcome you to get involved in a variety of different opportunities. To learn more, please contact Co Tran at ctran@epaaf.org; we would love to get connected with you!