At A Place Called Home, we know that being a motivated scholar begins with a passion for learning, and a belief that you can control your own destiny. Instilling those traits is at the core of every literacy program, tutoring service, and learning regimen we provide for hundreds of young people every day.
We spoke with Iovani Dominguez, Instructional Coordinator in our Educational Services department. A South Central native, Iovani shares how he makes learning fun for our members and is realizing his dream of making an impact in the community through his work with APCH.
“I wanted to be a catalyst for change in my community. I knew that if I could impact the youth I could accomplish that. APCH has given me the freedom to create exciting classes and incorporate empathy into my lessons.”
Tell us about the Educational Services department’s offerings and goals.
The department’s goals are to enrich and elevate the academic careers of our members. We strive to embrace our members’ educational needs and meet them where they are academically. Educational Services offers various English and math classes, where students are challenged to improve their grades if they are struggling in school. Instructors are also encouraged to incorporate their personal passions into our Friday elective classes. We’ve offered lessons such as studying hip-hop as a foundation for writing poetry and meditation techniques for learning.
What member challenges or needs do you address in your classes?
Educational Services wants members to connect with the work they do in our classes. We have more flexibility than traditional school classrooms to present material on subjects they are invested in. Our staff selects stories with characters or situations our members can relate to, such as growing up in South Central, struggling with gang life, navigating relationships with friends, or coping with a parent suffering from drug addiction. A lot of the books I choose highlight resilience – they show that you can overcome adversity. We create our lesson plans with the intention to connect, engage and ultimately bring about a passion for learning.
What is your favorite class to teach? Why?
My favorite class to teach is definitely my Superhero Analysis class. Superheroes lend themselves to explore concepts that aren’t covered in school. On the surface, it is a class that covers superhero character origins and story and publication histories. On a deeper level, members explore superheroes’ cultural significance; for example, how Wonder Woman reflects the feminist movement or how the relationship between Batman and Joker echoes the duality in nature. Because the class is a lecture, members learn note-taking strategies and at the end of the class we have a quiz. If they answer the questions correctly they win a comic book about the superhero we studied that day. After every three heroes, there’s a broader quiz that resembles a game of “Jeopardy!”, which allows them to win even bigger prizes. I think I enjoy being Alex Trebek at least once a month.
“Our staff selects stories with characters or situations our members can relate to, such as growing up in South Central, struggling with gang life, navigating relationships with friends, or coping with a parent suffering from drug addiction. A lot of the books I choose highlight resilience – they show that you can overcome adversity.”
What attracted you to this work?
I grew up in South Central. A huge piece of my identity was molded here. My experience growing up in this neighborhood wasn’t the best. I lost friends along the way, some to violence, others to substance abuse. I wanted to be a catalyst for change in my community. I knew that if I could impact the youth I could accomplish that. APCH has given me the freedom to create exciting classes and incorporate empathy into my lessons.
How long have you been on staff?
I began working at APCH on October 13, 2009, so that would make it a little over 10 years now. I have seen so much change and growth since I began, and I’m really excited about what the future brings to APCH.
Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?
There was a member that I worked with very closely when I first started working at A Place Called Home. I remember them being very defiant and angry, but you would also see kindness in them sometimes and strength. No doubt a leader with their peers. But when you see that anger and hurt you know there’s a story behind all that. The staff here would wrap around this member as much as possible. We tried every which way to make sure we were there for them. Then, once they graduated middle school, we started seeing them less and less. One day, we got the news that they had passed away tragically. I don’t want to remember them that way, but it hurt. It hurt a lot. I carry their memories with me.
“Classes like Map to the Future and Bridge to Success teach important soft skills that aren’t typically covered in the members’ schools. Members learn how to communicate, show empathy and advocate for their educational needs.”
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of? Why?
I am very proud of a lot of my work at APCH, including the Be Kind Rewind Project (inspired by the movie of the same name starring Jack Black and Mos Def) I started with a colleague in the Digital Media department nearly a decade ago. BKR, one of APCH’s first cross-departmental collaborations, is now an annual event, where our members recreate popular films under the guidance of our Digital Media staff. I am also happy about the transitional classes I lead. Classes like Map to the Future and Bridge to Success teach important soft skills that aren’t typically covered in the members’ schools. I teach members how to communicate, show empathy and advocate for their educational needs in the high school system. But the thing I am most proud of is when members who I’ve worked with grow up, go out into the world, find happiness, and then come back to APCH and tell me all about it.
What has surprised you most about working at APCH?
The way staff here connect and bond. I can say that I have met the greatest of friends here at APCH. When you meet people who are on the same mission as you, it’s easy to find connections and camaraderie.
What do you find most challenging about working in Educational Services?
Building trust. In order to teach effectively, you have to build a relationship with the members you are serving. With that comes a challenge on how to build that relationship. Not every kid is the same, they all come with their own unique story, their own unique experiences. What I have found to be most useful is to simply play, which means taking moments to get to know them outside of teaching, like shooting hoops during free time. At the start of each term, we spend the first two weeks of class on community-building activities.
“In order to teach effectively, you have to build a relationship with the members you are serving. What I have found to be most useful is to simply play, which means taking moments to get to know them outside of teaching.”
What do you do when you aren’t teaching at APCH?
I am a huge coffee drinker. You will find me obsessing over the best recipes to brew a cup of coffee; finding new tools and gadgets for coffee brewing. I am also one of the founding members of the underground Coffee Club at APCH. We usually meet on Wednesdays.
I also like to illustrate. I’ve been illustrating since the 3rd grade, when I started drawing Power Rangers for my friends. Now I sketch anything from portraits to superheroes. I also had the honor of illustrating the first Comic Arts & Literacy Expo poster for APCH, which was a blast!
What cartoon do you still watch?
The only ones that have carried into my adulthood are the 90’s X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons. Those cartoons are the reason I got into comic books, which ignited a passion for reading.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can support Educational Services at A Place Called Home, contact [email protected]!