By Samantha Duckworth

In August, Touchstones welcomed two new members to its staff: Brittany Usiak and Samantha Duckworth, the second being myself. Brittany is a former teacher, and I am a rising junior at St. John’s College. Brittany joins the staff as our K-12 & Adult Programs Manager. She has been teaching for the past eight years, where she has always tried to use a philosophy of student-based learning and democratic education in her classroom. She said this is one of the reasons she was drawn to Touchstones; its work combines many of her beliefs about teaching into a program where the students truly drive the learning.
Brittany is looking forward to seeing these principles implemented on a broader scale. Her vision is that teachers who don’t know about Touchstones but want a proven discussion-based program can learn about Touchstones and implement it. She said a lot of teachers, including herself, feel strongly about empowering students by letting them direct their own education while supporting their social and emotional learning. Teachers, she says, that share these values would value Touchstones as a resource for developing essential skills— just as she would have.
While Brittany is well on her professional path, I am still discovering my own interests. I spent the summer as an intern for Touchstones, and after completing that I joined the staff as the Project & Office Coordinator. I found my internship incredibly rewarding, and I’m looking forward to continuing my work here. In reflecting on the summer, I see that I learned some important things. Among them is my understanding of effective leadership— both in discussions and outside of them. This greater awareness also helped me learn about myself and what I can do to cultivate constructive environments.
This has been very empowering for me because it has helped me understand the effects that any person, including myself, can have over a group. I’m excited to further my development at Touchstones. My time here has already allowed me to see firsthand how Touchstones programs help people grow. I believe that I will keep growing while working at Touchstones, as I strengthen a wide variety of skills and abilities that will greatly help me personally and professionally.