Updated: Mar 1, 2021
By Drazen Medina
Many of us pass through these years at our respective schools wondering what mark, if any, we have made on our peers and the surrounding community. Some of us stop at this thought and choose to boil our time down to a academic degree, a piece of paper among many others. However, Sofia Petros, a senior in Columbia College, believes that time is invaluable; to her, in even mere seconds, a life can be changed and a new thing learnt. Sofia grew up in Queens and Rockland County, making the complexities of this bustling city, like the subway system, “embedded in who [she is],” and allowing her to think even more critically about her environment. Sofia’s personality has a vigor and a tenacity that reflects her experiences as a teacher willing to adapt to different situations. Petros initially opted to study Environmental Biology, but slowly transitioned into American Studies and Education, implementing concepts of Environmental Biology in her structure for a transformative “classroom.”
While Sofia was a freshman, she volunteered at Harlem Grown, an “urban farming non- profit” focused on solving problems of food injustice and serving as an education resource for the surrounding neighborhoods. This organization focuses on teaching students how to garden, cook, and work with nature cohesively. Branching out from this type of work, Petros went to Tasmania, Australia, where she worked at a forest-based nature school for six weeks. Sofia also mentioned how some organizations she has worked for in the past did not utilize their resources properly, forcing her to take matters into her own hands. Instead of abandoning the organization, Sofia, on her own account, took “pounds of organic produce” back to her Hartley Hall dorm and gave out this food to her peers for free. She touched on her work experiences at a rock-climbing gym, the Patagonia store, Rocky Mountain National Park and the list only goes on. Sofia seeks experiences that are outside of her comfort zone and sometimes this means approaching an experience with a completely different perspective. Sofia returned to Harlem Grown her senior year, placing it at the center of her Senior Critical Inquiry Project. After having known the organization and its staff for almost four years, she found it pressing to return to these roots and find deeper connections in its successful methods of teaching.
Illustration by Rea Rustagi
For many, placing “doubt” into the work environment is a recipe for miscommunication at least, but it is easy to see that Sofia’s overwhelming acceptance of doubt in her teaching model is what allows both herself and her students to flourish in so many areas. Even with topics such as the Core Curriculum, Petros believes that “regardless of their virtue, [they] have built the structures of where we are today, and informed modes of thinking,” so “is it not appropriate that we understand them, and then question their validity, veracity, or application?” Sofia does not believe that we should totally eradicate some systems already in play, like Columbia’s Core, which is an easy but possibly disastrous solution; but to doubt the viability of these structures and find a different, broader perspective on why these systems work and where they are failing. Sofia focuses on a much more cohesive student-teacher model that teaches reciprocal learning instead of it being one-sided, like it is in most traditional school settings. Sofia believes that education of young people “often can’t be distilled…it really has to be sat with and stewed,” which can lead to a better understanding of how we all learn. Sofia is also aware that “K-12 was [was probably not] made to benefit black, brown or Indigenous children,” which makes her teaching even more effective, critically responding to structures that may harm more than heal.
After graduation, Sofia plans to work in Chile, specifically in Coyhaique, a region where her mother’s family is from, at a community-based school writing curriculum that implements methods of learning outdoors. Sofia Petros recognizes her “education that is a privilege,” and that she must “[expands its benefits] beyond [herself].” To Petros it is important to “be humble in what you do and don’t know, and commit yourself to a goal.” No matter the topic, this mindset will always lead to discussion, and from this fruitful discussion, effective learning may take place.