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Week one: My kids already stole my heart


Our first day at Markham was Wednesday, which was the first day of school for most of LAUSD. Marissa, Daniel and I got up at 5:15 a.m. and took the light rail at 6:15 a.m. We got really lucky with public transportation because a light rail stop is a 15 minute walk from our house and goes directly to our school in about 30 minutes. It’s really convenient and ironically less stressful than driving in early morning 110 traffic (amen to not having to pay for gas $$$).

The Markham team was a little nervous to go into the school full force with an early morning power greeting. For those of you not in City Year and have no idea what that means, it’s basically just having all the corps members line up alongside the front gate and chant, clap and do roll-calls. One of them is G-O-O-D-M-O-R-I-N-G, good morning, hey hey, good morning. So, instead our program manager and team leaders told us to just walk around the school to make a presence, smile and say good morning to the students. I walked around with my fellow corps member Melanie and we decided it would only work if we made eye-contact with students so we weren’t awkwardly yelling out “good morning” and scaring away our kids. The awkward Liz moment of the day was when I went up to a kid and said, “oh, so it’s your first day?” while Melanie rolled her eyes and started cracking up. I meant to say, “oh, so it’s your first day at Markham?” since the student was in the 6th grade, but it just came out wrong and it was an awkward mess. I’m allowed to have my Liz moments at times…maybe it’ll even get my kids to like me more if they can make fun of me.

First period through third period I am in my math and science 6th grade class. Although I’ve met my teacher before, I had not met the students yet. I walked into the classroom to find a bunch of little 6th grade munchkins. They’re so adorable and all still look so young because they haven’t hit that puberty age yet. I immediately fell in love.

To start things off, we played the name game. Well, of course I was Liz the Lizard. When my teacher had to use the restroom at one point and I watched over the kids outside, one of my little ones gave me a side hug (we’re not allowed to hug the kids unless it’s an awkward side hug) and said, “Let’s play the let’s get to know more about Liz the Lizard game!” I’ve definitely identified him as the teacher’s pet already.

It’s so funny to be back in middle school because I sit there and see myself, my friends and classmates of Cunha Intermediate School (my middle school) in these kids. Within one period I was able to identify the class clown, the teacher’s pet, the “popular” girls and the boys who are still in the elementary school mode. It took two days to learn all my students names, but now I know them (thank you, NSLC for making me memorize names within a day…oh, summer camp).

Both the teachers I’m working for have very different work styles, but both completely complement each other. I highly, highly doubt I’ll ever go into teaching. However, if I do, I can sure as hell say I am already learning a lot from their impressive teaching skills. My math and science teacher, for example, never calls out a student for misbehaving or says anything negative to his students. Instead, his way of discipline and behavior watch is to actually draw attention to the kids who are doing the right thing. When a student is listening after he asks them to listen, he’ll say the student’s name and thank the student for listening. Likewise, if a student raises his or her hand, he’ll thank the student for following directions. You’d think that wouldn’t be enough to handle a bunch of rambunctious 6th graders, but it really works well and I like that he treats the students with a lot of respect.

My English teacher is a little stricter, but strict in a good way. She will clap four times and make the students repeat until they’ve quieted down. As soon as she claps, they know to listen. She will tell a student it’s rude if they are talking or what not, but right after she proceeds to smile, laugh and still enjoy being with her students even if they’re pumped up on sugar right after lunch. She respects them as well – even if they act up – which I think is a key to teaching. She actually was a journalism kid in college too and is totally behind starting a 6th grade newspaper soon. I love how journalism follows me wherever I go, whether I am reporting or not.

After reading over some of the assignments my students have had in English and math, I can already identify which students I will pick for my focus list of 10 or so students that will one-on-one tutor with me soon. The students don’t have a strong vocabulary. Therefore, their reading comprehension isn’t up to par. They can read, but they get bored easily because they don’t understand what they are reading. Some of the students leave out letters in words. In the word ’cause’ they spell it ‘caus’ or ‘because’ they spell it. Another student likes to spell “se” instead of “he” and most miss a lot of S’s, C’s, H’s, silent I’s and either miss it completely or mix up U’s and E’s. My English teacher told me that most of that is a language problem, since my students are all English intervention students and are near the end of being done with ESL classes. Most of my student’s families came from Mexico or Central America and Spanish was their first language. The students spell words like they think they would be spelled in Spanish. I’m good at grammar and punctuation, but explaining how to spell certain words based on English is going to be a challenge. I have to figure out a way to tutor my kids to navigate away from the recurring English issues they have because let’s face it – I could even end up teaching English with the Peace Corps. Gotta find those solutions soon. The good thing is most of my students like math, but hate reading and writing. That group of kids came to the right person! I hope I can get them to like English and then not have to tutor as much in math if they’re good at it (just another hint of how horrible I am at math: I completely did the math wrong for our most recent cable bill, so although all 13 of my roommates paid me, I still only had $3 left in my account after paying the bill because the math was off…).

The teachers told us to do a power greeting on the second day of school. I thought the kids would think it’s really lame and make fun of us. But some of them got involved! We did some chants like “My name is Liz and you know what I got? What do you got? I got a school that’s hotter than hot! How hot is hot? Batman and Superman can’t do it like…Marissa can!” Then Marissa would dance. We eventually got the students names and called them out to dance and imitated them, even if they were being stubborn and didn’t want to dance. Although we got some wannabe high-fives (i.e. a student going for a high-five then moving his hand when we try), it still means they love us enough to interact with us. Thanks to Melanie, we played some games at lunch and the students got involved again. They were having a great time laughing and cheering with us, even though some of them were embarrassed. I call that success. One student actually asked my roommate Daniel how we don’t get embarrassed doing chants and games like that. Daniel responded that as you get older, you end up caring less what people think of you. And that is true.

On Friday, we were back at the office and had training for our school role positions. I am working on outreach (kind of like public relations) with my roommate Daniel, which will be a dream team in the making. Example: I met someone today who teaches inner-city kids how to surf (I think for free, or so I hope). After work on Friday I stayed in the office for a while to talk with the communications team at City Year (Hi, Phil!) about the project my teammate Dylan and I will be working on up until November.

Dylan and I will be working on “Why I Serve” profiles about corps members with interesting stories to tell. We’re joining with the Save Service movement and hope to bring these final pieces before Congress in November to lobby to save AmeriCorps. I am SO SO SO stoked to be working on this project. Two of my favorite things: reporting and profiles.

Dylan will be doing more of the video/editing stuff and I’ll be doing actual written profiles on the corps members. That makes sense, considering I had an ongoing tally last semester on my refrigerator of “Broadcast v. Warden.” Every time broadcast gained a point on me (radio equipment running out of battery, editing software freezing on me, radio equipment not recording, noisy sound bites you can’t hear, really bad voice over and so the list goes on). I would add a point to the tally. However, whenever I got a good story, or editing actually worked out, or I made deadline without yelling at a computer, I gave myself a point. At the end of the semester, I showed my professor Judy Muller. She died of laughter, but then later told me, “I hope it’s not written in your blood.”

In other words: Dylan and I will make the perfect team.

I started reporting at our 9/11 service day at Newton Police Station in South Los Angeles on Saturday. I already got some awesome potential corps member’s profiles. One corps member, who will definitely be a profile sooner or later, was actually a student of a high school I spent a lot of time interviewing and writing about last semester. Can you say small world? I got overly excited when we discussed this. I am really, really looking forward to writing the profile about this corps member and the rest of ’em.

I did another 9/11 service day with the Peace Corps today and met a bunch of really interesting RPCVs and people who are about to leave or in the same position like me and still applying. I plan on submitting my application in a week or so! The day has finally come!

This is too long – I’ll blog again later this week when I have energy. It’s my turn to make Sunday night dinner for the 14 person house, so I am making the only thing I can good: enchiladas.

Yours in service, as always,


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