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Week eight: we’re all in this together

On Friday, it was our turn to serve breakfast for all the teams in the South Los Angeles Never Doubt pueblo. We made pancakes, bacon and eggs “family style” because at Markham, we are like a family.

We accidentally introduced the breakfast theme as “Markham in Bed,” which got a good laugh going.

My roommate and teammate Marissa came up with the idea and put it all together, so props to her!

During team time on Friday we had had an open discussion about the past two rough, rough weeks at Markham. This Wednesday, five fights broke out at 7th grade lunch. The cops had to break it up, handcuff some students and escort them out. I wasn’t at the lunch because I attend 6th grade lunch, but apparently it was like a mini-riot. We can’t say that what we’ve gone through in the past weeks is the worst because instances like this will keep happening. It’s only the beginning. We’re all in this together. A teammate said that each one of us reminds him of someone from his family. Coming from a not very family-oriented background (divorced parents, no siblings and minimal contact with other family members), I can say that I get the family feel I’ve longed for from my team. It was the same feeling for me with my summer camp team (miss you guys). I find family in my teams and friends. They give me that cohesive unit I lack with my blood relatives. Family helps you get through the worst of times and that’s exactly what the Markham team will do for each other. Our program manager told us we’re all at Markham for a reason (like personal strengths), but not because we would have all got along well. It just came together like that, which makes this team as strong as it needs to be for this particular school.

And although we can’t control what happens outside of the school or the gang presence at our school, we CAN control what our students do in the classroom.

A lot of the work we have been doing with our students so far is just homework and in-class work help, which helps the students at the moment, but does not get to the root cause of why they are having trouble with the work. Most of the time it is because students do not have the fundamenal blocks to build on, like knowing alphabet sounds or the multiplication table.

The Markham team is going to focus on individualized intervention plans for our students that pin-point exactly what fundamentals the students are struggling with. For example, one of my students has an extremely hard time spelling so I need to have lesson plans that teach the sounds of the English language.

We got our first five students from our focus list on Friday. These are the first five students we will be planning interventions for and spending a lot of time with them this year. I agree with most of the students City Year put on my focus list, but they left one out that I’ve been working with a lot. I petitioned to put him on my list because I know he wants my help and can benefit greatly from it (he is the student I’ve recently mentioned that has a very hard time with spelling). Moreover, one of my “little buddies” is on my list. I call her my “little buddy” because she comes to the front of English class every day and always has to sit with me. She’s a very motivated student and a lot of fun to hang out with, but once again, she needs help with her English writing.

What is frustrating me the most about this process is that I also have to focus on math with my students. This isn’t because I hate math (or feel like crying in frustration when I can’t understand how to list fractions on a number line), but because there are other students in my English teachers other class that NEED my help in English. This ESL class could really benefit from having two City Year corps members in the classroom. However, I’m probably going to be stuck in my math class. Most of my students are good at math and the ones that are scoring poorly on tests are doing so because they rush through their work or are lazy and just circle multiple choice answers. I know this for a fact because this is what my students have told me. For the students that really are having a hard time with math, I honestly think it’s because math isn’t their thing. Math for me was always challenging, no matter how many different ways my dad tried to help me with it. So, why focus on math when it might not help them when I KNOW focusing on English WILL help them?!?!

Now that I have a little less on my plate, I’m using the time to start reaching out to staff at Markham about getting a student newspaper started. I talked with one of the teachers, Ms. Webster (who is also an Annenberg j-school alum, rep it!) and she gave me the idea of making a digital newspaper that teachers can print out and post in the classroom. Moreover, they can also pass the newspapers out in class. I would host the club every Tuesday after-school for any student that wants to join. The first step, which I will be completing on Monday, is putting a letter in all the teacher’s mailboxes about the club.

My students are starting their expository writing unit next week. I’m super stoked for that because it’s my kind of writing!

Another club I’ve been working on with two of my other teammates is an environmental club. Right now, we’re decorating boxes with students before school that we will later distribute to classrooms for recycling. We want to then collect and cash-in cans. We’ll use he funds to host an environmental awareness day or week next semester.

Another initiative I hope to work on soon is addressing gang violence. A corps member at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary, the elementary school down the street from our middle school, brought in an intern from the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program to her school. He had the students discuss how they felt about the recent gang violence in the neighborhood. One of the students at her school was a sibling of our seventh grade students that lost their father two weeks ago. A lot of them said they are tired of the killings.

I want to work with her and create a gang awareness day or week at her school, Markham and the other elementary school, Compton Avenue Elementary, that is across the street from Markham. I would love to get a former gang member, probably someone from Homeboy Industries, that went to Markham Middle School. I can assure you there must be at least one homeboy or homegirl that did.

Next week is the time to really buckle down and start planning interventions for our students. Apparently there’s a huge manual that has specific issues students have (for example, confusing Es, As, and Us) and different interactive lessons that can be used with the students.

I’m in a really weird funk this weekend. It’s not that I’m discouraged, but just have been thinking about a lot. I was taking with one of my roommates this morning (yes, at the crack of dawn, I can’t sleep in anymore) about these past few weeks. We’re both serving in ESL classrooms. Most of our students have high expectations and want to attend college. They know that they have to do well because their parents want to give them the life they didn’t have (most of my student’s parents work two jobs and did not graduate high school). But even if these students have their mind in the right place, it doesn’t mean that they have the skills to attend UCLA or USC (the two schools everyone wants to go to). Point blank: they’re behind. One student out of two of my English teacher’s classes is at a sixth grade reading level. The rest are in the third-fourth grade range. College is getting even more competitive, especially public California schools because of funding. Will these students make it over all the competition? The competition of all the Los Angeles students that can afford private schools and don’t live smack-dab in the projects?

This is America. Aren’t we supposed to be a leading nation in education? Equal rights? Equal access to education? We thrive off of these ideals, but they were really true, then why would I even be thinking about this? I guess it gives me just one more reason about why I’m at Markham. I want to give these kids the skills they need to succeed in the future how they want to.

On a side note, I started reading “That Used to be Us” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum today. It’s about America’s declining role as a superpower in international politics.

One quote I got from it that I liked was said by US Sec. of Education Arne Duncan:

“We are like the 40-year-old who keeps talking about what a great high school player he was.”

I agree. America is arrogant. We boast about our educational system because it used to be top in the past, but look at it now. I see how it’s declined every single day.

My roommate told me my life just sounds sad when I describe all I do is, “eat, sleep, blog and sit on the couch.” It is pretty true. Therefore, I’ve made a list of personal goals for the year:

1. Read the LA Times and international section of the NY Times daily.
2. Read The Economist weekly.
3. Read one international-related book monthly or bi-monthly (hence my book choice I just mentioned).
4. Blog once a week (hahaha).
5. Try to run every week.
6. Text or call friends at least once a week.

I have to take some time to invest in the other things I’m interested instead of constantly thinking about my students and City Year.

I’m getting lunch with my best friend from college tomorrow, who I haven’t seen in ages, so that should be another good non-City Year event to help me get out of my funk.

I really should stop blogging, since that’s practically my life. It’s time to go enjoy some Los Angeles sunshine.

Here’s a few pictures from our Staff Appreciation Breakfast we hosted on Wednesday, which turned out to be a great success!

Picture LOL of the week: my boss Damien playing ultimate rock, paper, scissors at sixth grade lunch

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Oh, and to add to our lockdown tally. We’re now at five lockdowns. This Pueblo Friday, however, the lockdown was at Gompers Middle School. Gompers is the other middle school in Watts.

I just got an iPad to replace my broken computer, so I should probably also apologize for all typos in advance. A real keyboard > touch screen.

Happy Halloween!
Liz

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