Graphic by Brynne Barnard-Bahn

Senior’s internship at local special needs learning center increases her interest in studying psychology in college

Senior Yumi Moon has juggled school and an internship for over a year.

Moon interns at Learning Solutions (3031 C St.), which aims to enhance the quality of life, social interactions, communication, self-care and inclusion for children with special needs, according to the company’s website.

Moon began the internship the summer before her junior year.

“At the end of the year, Valerie (Velo, assistant to the head of high school) sent an email with internship (opportunities),” she said. “I read through that, and I was like, ‘This summer I’m staying in America (instead of going to South Korea or Japan), so I might as well do something useful.’

“I was interested in (psychology), too.”

Moon said there were no qualification requirements.

“After I joined, they read me the rules they expected me to follow, like the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act),” she said.

Moon worked a three-hour shift on Tuesdays and Thursdays during the summer and a two-hour shift on Tuesdays and Thursdays during her junior year.

“Even if I had conflicts with school, I prioritized my internship,” she said.

On days when she couldn’t attend, such as during school trips, Moon said Learning Solutions was flexible.

She has the same schedule during school as last year and works with two groups: high school students and children as young as 2.

“With the little kids, I act as a teacher’s assistant,” Moon said. “I make sure they don’t hurt each other and they’re (not learning) bad words.”

With younger kids, she said she adjusts to what they want to talk about.

With older students, Moon said she acts as a friend, or someone they can grow accustomed to outside of their social group. She talks with them about school and their social lives, such as school dances or other activities they’re participating in.

Moon said every group discusses the “highs and lows” of what happened during the week.

Regardless of what they’re discussing, she said she’s always involved.

“(I’m) showing them what appropriate behavior looks like in an engaged conversation,” she said.

She also keeps logs of students’ behavior.

Moon said not knowing how to approach a situation is the hardest aspect of the job. While she has a paper with instructions, not every situation fits the guidelines she is given.

“The teachers know how to handle most situations,” Moon said. “(But) when unexpected things happen, I get nervous. In the first few weeks, there were many surprising situations, mainly just because I wasn’t used to them.”

Over time, she said she learned to adjust quicker to challenging situations and remain calm when caught off guard.

“The first time I talked to someone,” Moon said, “they asked, ‘Why are you friends with the people you are now, and why have you broken off friendships?’”

Moon said that, at first, she was flustered by the question.

She said one thing she can always improve on is her interactions with students.

“I realized they take every single word I say to heart,” she said. “Then they repeat what I say. It made me want to try harder.”

Despite not receiving academic credit, volunteer hours or a salary, Moon said she enjoys the work.

“I always seem to be learning new things,” she said. “I discovered more similarities than differences between the students and me, like in behaviors, thoughts or ideas we have.”

She added that she has a broader mindset than when starting the internship.

The internship has also increased her interest in psychology, which she wants to study in college.

 “I’m interested in why we behave the way we do,” Moon said.

She said the experience opened her eyes.

“Today there’s a lot of stigma (around) mental health,” Moon said. “I feel like I was a part of that (having a stigma) before I started interning.

“But after I was introduced to that new environment, I was able to open up more, which is really important in today’s society.”

By Ethan Monasa

Originally published in the Oct. 15 edition of the Octagon.

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