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.



First Semester Tips


Monica Bejarano, M.A. Urban and Public Affairs, ’19

I did it. Turned in my last paper and finished my last presentation. My first graduate semester is over! Tired and rather chronically exhausted and all I want to do is lay on the floor and veg out to Netflix for an ungodly amount of hours. But, what do I do with all the information of the past four months? After the first semester, what do I take away to improve the subsequent semester in my academic journey? How does graduate school change me?

Well, just four months ago, I began my academic journey at the University of San Francisco Masters in Urban and Public Affairs Program. I walked in to my first class holding the book Imperial San Francisco by Gray Brechin, determined to unfold the array of questions I had after reading the introduction. I am not originally from San Francisco, but I knew by attending Urban and Public Affairs graduate program I would be fascinated by the roots of politics, activism, and urban change of the city. In this short amount of time I have come to realize that graduate school does not only teaches one new things, but it teaches one to question everything.

No longer is one learning about how history has changed the urban politics of the city, but one learns ways to question how it happened and how it was done and how it is affecting us today. I realized that I am not here to regurgitate information, but to be part of the conversation that creates it. This was a big step for me during my first semester.

I cannot emphasize enough how hyper-organized this program made me. After eight to nine hours of  classes each week, an internship at City Hall, and a part-time job I definitely understood the importance of time management. One learns valuable planning skills of when one can go out and have a drink and when one has to hunker down over a book for three hours for a paper due next week. Although graduate school has taught me to ask questions and be extremely organized with my time, I’ve also found it important to say “yes” to opportunities and take time to relax.


Branching out into new areas of higher education can help one discover her interests, ignite new passions, and keep a career fresh and exciting. I learned that employers may also prefer a well-rounded resume. The more responsibility one takes on, the more one will be able to learn and gain experience. In the first semester, one will learn to juggle graduate school, homework, internships, and a personal life. It’s about finding a balance between all commitments to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Make time to relax. Graduate school should not be one’s entire life. You are an individual and should prioritize your own personal health and well being first. Make time in your schedule to relax, spend time with friends and family, pursue your hobbies, etc. I find it helpful to schedule breaks during the day, even if they are only five minutes long. Being happy and healthy will boost productivity.

Everyone’s experience is different, but the experiences I’ve had thus far in the Urban and Public Affairs graduate program has prepared me for the next chapter of my academic journey. I had my ups and downs this past semester, but nothing that will stop me from continuing my education.  My passion to formulate equitable policy solutions for the community of San Francisco has been invigorated and I know it will only grow stronger as I continue this program.

Reviewing 15 Years


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One month ago we celebrated our 15th anniversary. As part of the festivities, we created a photo collection of some of our most memorable moments over the years. The process allowed us to reflect on how many students, faculty, community partners and staff have contributed to our success. The photos capture moments ranging from our students traveling to Bolivia and India with the Privett Global Service-Learning program, interning at senate offices with USF in D.C., to protesting at the Women’s March in multiple cities, to inviting some of the most influential leaders of the day. The slideshow highlights our commitment to preparing students for lives of ethical public service and the common good. Thanks to all of our generous sponsors who make our work possible!


Reflecting On 2017


Professor David Donahue, Director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Sankofa, the African word that means we need to know and understand our past to head intelligently into our future.  Sankofa is usually symbolized by a bird whose feet are moving forward but whose head is looking back.  Sankofa is an apt metaphor for the McCarthy Center as we head to the end of 2017.  This year marks our 15th anniversary.  It also marks a year of strategic planning to chart the course for the next five years.  


As with Sankofa, there is much wisdom in the McCarthy Center’s past that can inform what we value: integrity, knowledge, and service.  Recently, we have been conducting oral history interviews with some of the people who knew Leo McCarthy well. Over and over, we hear about Leo’s humanity, his compassion for those who were marginalized by society, and his commitment to doing what is right. At our 15th anniversary celebration on November 9, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi described Leo as a person who could see the “divinity” in everyone.  If only this generosity of spirit were the norm in politics now.  In the meantime, it animates the kind of community we create in our programs at the Center.

Leo’s values speak to us as we look ahead.  We began this new school year with a sense of heaviness and anxiety as racism and white supremacy, which have always been part of the history of this nation, became especially visible and were given permission to manifest by our nation’s president. That heaviness has as women have come forward to tell their stories of sexual harassment, including by our elected officials.

As 2017 ends, we are resolved to engage for racial, gender, and other forms of justice.  Our strategic planning process will give us direction toward those goals as we support students eager to engage in their community and in political life.  We are developing a new program for next year to connect USF students with community organizers and advocacy organizations.  We hope to engage students in city government as we continue to recruit students for state and national government internships.  Since the start of the fall, we have registered over 800 USF students as new voters who are ready to make their voices heard.  Early in 2018, we will launch our gubernatorial speakers series, bringing candidates for the “second most important office in the nation” to campus so they can engage with students, staff, and faculty.

We are eager to hear your ideas about what you see as strategic directions for the McCarthy Center.  Please feel free to share your thoughts with us any time.  Our efforts are stronger when they reflect a collective vision.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section here or email