This is Why I’m H.O.T.

By Marissa Osato

Travel a few miles up the 55 North and the prim, polished, perfectly planned community of Irvine transforms into the graffiti-ridden, overpopulated metropolis of Santa Ana. According to School Data Direct, a service of the Council of Chief State School Officers next door to one of the most affluent, first-rate research universities in California, the Santa Ana Unified School District stands as one of the lowest-ranked school districts in Orange County. We remain aware of these curious socio-economic contrasts, yet the question remains – what can we do?

H.O.T., or Humanities Out There, seeks to answer that question. It is an educational outreach program in which UC Irvine undergraduates visit Santa Ana high schools once a week to teach English literature or history lessons devised by graduate students. Each undergrad tutor leads a small discussion group and is given the freedom to alter lesson plans to address individual students’ needs.

UCI English professor Julia Lupton founded H.O.T. 10 years ago to allow undergrads to share their knowledge and build relationships with local community students, a unique enterprise that would bring university education to public school classrooms. UCI’s School of Humanities and the Santa Ana Unified School District established a strong partnership in hopes of improving these students’ academic aptitude and inspiring them to go to college. The idea was that students would feel more motivated to finish high school and pursue a college degree if they interacted with university students.

In contrast with science, math and remedial reading, humanities subjects like history and literature remain highly neglected in educational partnership programs. Fundamental questions presented in humanities topics about society and human nature can, in fact, be highly engaging and relatable to young teens. For students in public schools facing major economic and cultural problems linked to immigration and poverty, like those in Santa Ana, these questions prove especially pertinent. Fluctuating immigration populations make it difficult to track H.O.T. students’ progress; sometimes, class roll sheets change completely from September to June. Nonetheless, Professor Lupton attests to H.O.T.’s enduring impact.

“Hundreds of UCI undergraduates have had a chance to put their knowledge into action, to practice civic engagement, and to learn through teaching,” Professor Lupton said. “Many of them decide to become teachers as a result. Others decide that they want to work in urban environments.”

If you’re seeking to enrich your UCI experience, look no further.

Erin Walsh joined the H.O.T. team last quarter because she wanted to make her life about more than just pursuing a Ph.D. in English. She had taught introductory English literature and composition classes at UCI for five years, but was ready to branch out into another kind of teaching experience.

“H.O.T. allows all of the groups involved to break out of their usual academic and professional boxes,” Walsh explained. “The program takes grad students and undergrads into a community they might not otherwise visit. And they bring pieces of their campus experience to the kids in Santa Ana. I’ve found that the high school teachers, like their students, really appreciate the change of pace and the infusion of new ideas and energy into their classrooms.”

As a student with idealistic ambitions, my only pedagogical experiences before this program had been teaching dance to children and teens. But dance is a voluntary activity; high school is not. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make 19th century literature as exciting as loud music and funky choreography. Luckily, I got placed with four very enthusiastic girls who enjoyed sharing their opinions on literary and poetic analysis. Unlike a few of my fellow tutors’ students, who were way too cool for school, my girls realized I was there to help them. We became a team trying to unearth the deeper literary messages together rather than teacher vs. student. Each girl analyzed information at a different pace and level, but I learned to let them help each other. By the fourth session, they were bouncing ideas off one another and asking the questions instead of relying on me, just like a real college discussion group.

H.O.T. reminded me why I had considered a teaching career back in high school. It is extremely satisfying to see your students become intellectually and emotionally engaged in the material. I was able to show them how relevant these canonical works still are in present-day society, and how the themes resonate in their own lives. I got to know my girls personally and connected with them on a level beyond academics. We talked about college and boys, and I even went to watch two of the girls’ dance team performance. They freaked out when I showed up backstage, and I knew it meant a lot to them that I supported their lives outside of the classroom.

Dulce, one of the program’s 11th grade English literature students, loved that H.O.T. enabled her to interact with classmates she had never previously spoken to.

“My tutor was really fun and she always encouraged us to voice our opinions … on anything,” Dulce said.

H.O.T. tutors come from all over the university; lessons are developed in such a way that any university student can teach them.

So you don’t have the resources to volunteer or teach abroad? No worries! H.O.T may be a viable alternative.