How Cobb Elementary Transformed Me


Valeria Imendia, International Studies’18

I still remember receiving an email about a literacy internship opportunity during the fall semester of my junior year and thinking it would be a great chance for me to expand my experiences in education. As a student in the Dual Degree Program for Teacher Preparation, I decided to apply to be a literacy intern through Engage San Francisco but little did I know I would be embarking on an experience of a lifetime. I am now a senior, about to graduate this coming May, and I continue to learn so much about myself and my passion for teaching with every chance I get to walk the halls of Dr. William L. Cobb Elementary School.

From my very first day of the internship, I was met with nothing but kindness and support. My first impression of the school was more than I could have hoped for, and it continues to be a place of unique learning experiences for me. For one, every day at Cobb is different—whether it is because I have to work with new students and create activities for them on my own or because unexpected situations arise where I have to provide care for students. I first went in thinking of myself as a tutor for my students, but it was not long after I started my work there that I realized this job required a lot more than just academics. Every single student I have had the privilege to work with at this school has sparked so much passion for teaching within me, and I continue to think about them in everything I do as I pursue my teaching credential.

Alongside my students, my mentor at the school and my internship supervisor always go above and beyond to ensure that as interns we are being supported and guided in the best way possible. It has been thanks to their warmth and guidance that I have been able to feel like I have agency in my position as an intern. From day one, I have felt like I am a part of the school community and that is because I have been given the tools and the trust to bring my perspective into the work I do with my students. Hence, this program has been crucial in my journey as a future educator because it has shown me first-hand that there is a lot of work to be done in the classroom. It has likewise shown me in practice what my responsibility as a woman of color going into this profession looks like in order to ensure I am doing my best to advocate for our youth. My students have therefore opened up new possibilities within me and they have taken me by the hand and walked me through their life experiences and their passions, which is something that will be forever engraved in my heart. I am honored and humbled to walk the halls of Cobb and get hugs from students I have not even worked with yet and to get high-fives from the older kids who normally like to tell me they are “too cool” for doing reading activities with Miss Valeria. My students give me so much joy with all their unique ways of showing me love and affection, and I have come to understand that with this care also comes responsibility. I strive to honor these demonstrations of trust by making sure to always keep my students and their rich knowledge and individuality at the forefront of my teaching practices.


My time at Cobb has helped transform me in only the best way. I have been challenged by difficult situations; I have been put to the test as I have had to come up with solutions without much time to prepare, and I have most importantly been shown the most genuine and pure love from my students. Being at Cobb and experiencing the day-to-day routines and witnessing what my students go through both as students and as individuals with their own interests and stories has allowed me to step back and think about the privileges I hold in that space and also as I think about my own future classroom. My students have taught me to be humble and to understand that this work is in the service of every single person in my classroom, particularly of those whose voices have historically been left out. My students—all of whom are not older than eleven—have taught me far more than I could hope to learn from a textbook. I am grateful to have wonderful teachers who push my thinking and hold me to high standards, yet it is my students at Cobb who push me even further and keep me accountable in everything I do.

I continue to be grateful for every single day that I get to be a part of this literacy program because it means I am being challenged to question the ways I engage with this work in education. Regardless of the official expectations of my position or of any titles, this work goes beyond what can be seen as purely academic at a surface level. This opportunity has allowed me to immerse myself in hands-on experiences in teaching and given me a new sense of purpose. I have wanted to go into the teaching profession because I believe our youth has invaluable lessons to teach us and because they deserve to know that their voices matter. I know that this work is difficult, but we owe it to our students to show up for them and allow them to be visible in every way that makes them who they are in order to disrupt practices that have silenced much of our youth—particularly our youth of color— for far too long. This internship has therefore allowed me to work on the skills that make this ideal a reality and I am humbled to be able to experience this with the wonderful mentors I have gained and the students that make this journey worthwhile. This journey is a constant learning experience and I am grateful I got that email and decided to apply all those months ago because now I have a new community that has given me the best gifts: a renewed sense of purpose and a greater love for teaching.



Planting Seeds of Change Together

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Melissa Tang, Director of Programs, CommunityGrows

As San Francisco is dealing with the consequences of unequal economic growth and gentrification, there is a greater need for communities to band together in solidarity.  

I work for CommunityGrows, a small grassroots youth development organization grown out of the needs of residents from the Western Addition.  Twenty-three years ago, residents came together to reclaim green spaces in the Western Addition. CommunityGrows cultivates gardens with over 1,300 youth each year in low-income diverse communities.  


What I love about working for CommunityGrows is our emphasis on collaboration and building bridges with partners.  Community development takes time, presence, persistence, active listening and patience.  Being a small organization, we understand we need to depend on the strengths on our partners in order to achieve our overall mission. It’s through the Mo’ Magic Collaborative that organizations create and develop programming that address the needs of children, youth and their families in the Fillmore District and Western Addition communities.

At the Mo’ Magic meetings, we developed long term relationship and I know I can ask McCarthy Center staff for resources or to collaborate on community-wide projects. McCarthy Center staff attends all our community meetings and listens to what partners need.  Here’s just a few ways how our impact is amplified through our partnership with McCarthy Center:

  • Environmental Studies students and staff worked with us to maintain a garden at New Liberation Church and to develop workshops for our teen program.    
  • We partnered on joint community events like the Mind, Body and Soul health pop-ups, where we led a healthy cooking demo and gave away veggies from our gardens to residents we normally wouldn’t reach.   
  • We are recipients of USF’s Retired Technology program!  For a the last two years, we were able to provide a workstation for each staff member and dedicated our funding towards programming.



During my time as a graduate student at USF (Masters of Nonprofit Administration, ‘16), I heard USF’s motto: Change the world from here.  Through these partnerships, not only are students learning how to change the world in the neighborhood that surrounds the campus but they engage them in real problems that affect real people, people who happen to live directly next to the campus.  There are a lot of dedicated folks who are doing great work to make changes in the Western Addition but they can’t do it alone. USF partnerships will strengthen the work of these organizations and provide education to students that a book can’t teach you.  So when USF asks students to change the world from here, the change is not on USF’s campus, but right here in the neighborhood—in the Western Addition.     


The Legacy Of Art Agnos

Kick-off Cocktail Reception for the 15th Anniversary of the Leo T. McCarthy Center at USF

The Foghorn’s editor-in-chief, Ali DeFazio, a McCarthy alumnae who participated in the the USF in DC program, recently interviewed former Mayor Art Agnos, who is the recipient of the inaugural Leo T. McCarthy Center award for Public Service. He is being honored at this week’s McCarthy Center’s 15th anniversary on November 9th.  His former colleague, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, is the special guest speaker for the event. Both of them were mentored by Leo T. McCarthy. Ali and Mayor Agnos discussed his impressive career, which included fighting the AIDS crisis in the city, standing up against housing developers and promoting diversity hiring, appointing people of color and LGBTQ individuals to key leadership roles in his administration. The interview highlights why Mayor Art Agnos is a model for public service and the common good. Read the full interview here.

Save the Date – Nov. 9 for Our 15th Anniversary

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On November 9, 2017, friends and supporters, alums, faculty and currents students will celebrate the Leo T. McCarthy Center and 15 years of training a new generation of ethical leaders. It’s an evening of recognizing the vision and legacy of co-founder Leo McCarthy, former San Francisco legislator, California Speaker of the Assembly and Lieutenant Governor.

We’ll mark this milestone by celebrating the continuation of Leo McCarthy’s values of service for the common good through the current programs of the McCarthy Center with students who have participated locally and internationally through the Privett Global Scholars, USF in D.C., McCarthy Fellows in Sacramento, Advocates  Community Engagement and our graduate degree programs in Urban and Public Affairs.

The night will begin with a reception followed by the presentation of the inaugural Leo T. McCarthy Award, to be given to the The Honorable Art Agnos, former San Francisco mayor, assembly member and regional head of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 

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Today more than ever, the world needs future leaders who think critically and respond compassionately. Join us in preparing the next generation of ethical leaders and the programs that serve them—by becoming a sponsor or attending. Visit or email Leslie Lombre, Associate Director at or call (415) 422-2983.

Save The Date

Global Privett Scholars Summer Update

The 2017 Global Privett Scholars are spending the summer in Bolivia and Argentina working on community-based sustainable development projects. Our students are cultivating an appreciation for their responsibilities as global citizens and developing personal skills, professional competencies, and values consistent with the mission of the University of San Francisco.

Scholars in Cochabamba, Bolivia  

 Gio Paganini – CeDRUS (Centro de Desarrollo Rural y Urbano Sustentable)

“I’m really excited about meeting my host family in Bolivia. I’m from South America and can’t wait to be able to see how other countries in the continent live. Working side by side South Americans is a priceless experience.”

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Natalia Caprile – Vivo en Positivo

“I’m looking forward to meeting people in my host family and organization, and to start growing in community with them. After learning so much about the social, political, and historical contexts of Bolivia, I’m ready to jump in and start to experience life there!” 


Juliet Baires – Pro Mujer Bolivia

“I will be working with Pro Mujer, a nonprofit organization that works to support women who are living in the conditions of socioeconomic exclusion. I am excited to be a part of a movement that supports women with their small businesses, while recognizing and including women’s values and potential, opening the door for women to have an active role in their own personal and community development.” 


Diego Jones – Tukuy Pacha

“I’m really excited about three things: meeting my new family, working at my internship, and taking cool pictures of Bolivia. I’m really looking forward to also meet the rest of the U.S. students who will be working with the Foundation for Sustainable Development (FSD) this summer.” 


Carter Santini – Martadero

“I’m filled with both excitement and nerves. My job placement at Martadero seems like a gift from the heavens as it aligns all my interests in music, community development and public service. I’m excited to throw myself into a new place and give my all.”

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Rosa Olascoaga- Performing Life

“I am super excited to be an intern at Performing Life. I can’t wait to work with young people and to be surrounded with the beautiful culture in Bolivia.”

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Rachel Starling- Asociación Amigos del Árbol, Bosques, y Parques Nacionales

“I’m hoping to learn more about the role of community engagement in development this summer.  I’m looking forward to the challenge that working in another language presents, and I’m excited for the chance to work in my community with the issues that are important to me.”


Kaitlin Chassagne- Caminar Con Valores

“Although I was nervous for the language barrier with my rusty Spanish skills, my host organization has done a wonderful job integrating me into their community and making me feel both needed and welcomed. I’m excited to apply my perspectives as an outsider raised in other countries and schools to their newest project focused on gender perspectives.”


Elizabeth Spears- CeDRUS (Centro de Desarrollo Rural y Urbano Sustentable)

“I’m most excited to be in a position to learn about how the local people of Salta understand their relationship to the non-human world, or the rest of the environment. Also, I am looking forward to seeing how the relationships between people and their environment differ between a community in city of Salta, San Rafael and an indigenous community farther north in the province, Pichanal.”


Janelle Nunez- Caminar Con Valores

“I am looking forward to putting into action everything I’ve learning in the classroom. I’m excited to participate in a cultural experience unlike any other and I look forward to all the new amazing relationships I make along the way.”