INSIGHT: Finding Affinity in the Learning Center

By Jamie Andrus, Learning Support Coordinator

It was challenging to articulate what was missing from Learning Support during EPS Remote. We were still meeting with our Guided Study Hall students, coaching them through assignments, helping them to communicate their needs to their teachers, and developing study skills. We were still meeting as a team to plan professional development and discuss how best to support student needs. We were still reaching out to students who encountered obstacles and problem-solving with them. But it wasn’t the same. We missed each other, and we missed our space. It was during the rollout of affinity groups by our Equity, Inclusion, and Compassionate Leadership team that I realized what had been missing. Ms. McKinney and Dr. Castro explain that affinity groups “provide a space for building community, celebrating joy, sharing successes and common challenges.” Our students had our support during remote instruction, but they didn’t have each other. They didn’t have access to the community and connection that students develop by being with other students within the learning center.

Some view learning differences only as disabilities, but there is power in recognizing that learning profiles are an essential part of identity. The learning center has always been an affinity space on campus, perhaps the first affinity space, where students can feel safe to take risks, try and fail, celebrate successes, and bond through hardships. Our students have the courage to understand their strengths and acknowledge their challenges because they are secure in their belonging. We pride ourselves on our relationships with our students. However, those relationships don’t take the place of the camaraderie students experience when working through shared experiences in a shared space.

We are grateful for the technology that allowed us to stay connected and healthy during the beginning of the pandemic. But the return to campus and to our home, the Friel Learning Center in TALI, has restored our community. What a pleasure it is to see students build confidence through learning together and supporting one another once again.