This profile of Alysha Bains is part of a series exploring the impact of SFU Semester in Dialogue alumni on our local and global communities.
By Justin Wong
Alysha Bains, (Fall 2012) is a Literacy Programmer for the Writers’ Exchange, where she designs and delivers fun and accessible literacy programs for inner-city youth in East Vancouver.
“I realized that one of my students was hesitant to write because she was very self-conscious about her writing,” says Alysha.
“We talked a lot about music, so I convinced her to write about a different genre or band every week that the world should know about…being passionate in whatever it is that you do is very important. If you care about what you do that’s when the wheels start to turn. She was practicing her literacy skills while being immersed in something she loved.”
Alysha’s favourite part about working with youth is “watching them grow and discover their own talents and interests. Watching the kids be passionate about their work is remarkable. Giving them a safe space to do this makes me feel like I have the best job in the world.”
Alysha attributes her teaching style to Mark Winston, the founder of the Semester in Dialogue program. “He is such a powerful listener, which had a huge impact on me. The teacher-student relationship was just different in Dialogue. They were more like mentors that guided us.”
Alysha learned in the Semester in Dialogue the importance of feeling a sense of community and how community engagement is absent from most curricula.
“You must be a part of a community in order for social change to happen. You have to know your community, be involved in ways that are meaningful to you and not [just do] what is expected of you.”
Her community health project in Dialogue gave Alysha a real sense of being a part of her community. She presented to the Writers’ Exchange a proposed program that educates young girls on media literacy. In her media literacy plan, she used pop culture to introduce learning concepts to inner-city youth from her community.
The community engagement aspect of the project changed Alysha’s approach to creating literacy programs for youth. “Dialogue has given me a multi-dimensional lens. I take more of a community perspective when I do research. I am also more aware about how public systems connect to one another.”
The experience of hosting politically influential thought leaders in her class was very insightful and meaningful for Alysha.
“You get to see them as people and not just their title. Everyone is human and everyone has a story. That definitely impacts where you see yourself going and what kind of work you become involved with.”
This observation has encouraged Alysha to pursue a Master’s Degree at McGill University, where she hopes one day to play a major role in influencing education policy to look beyond simple learning outcomes.
“We need to include media education, social justice issues, and, most importantly, community perspectives in the way we go about education that gives kids a safe space to learn and grow.”