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Week 16: budget cuts are toying with my future plans

Slowly but surely, we got through our first week back at Markham after a month. The week dragged on because none of us were really ready to go back, but we have to get back in the motion of things because we’re not getting a break anytime soon.

My students weren’t ready to be back at Markham either. When I asked them how their breaks were, all of them said, “boring.” I asked them what they did, all of them said, “nothing.” That’s still better than being in school though, right?

The LAUSD common assessment is coming up for my students in their English class, so all week we worked on writing assertions. My English teacher merged her history lesson on ancient Egypt and writing assertions into one lecture (ancient Egypt is pretty darn interesting). My teacher and I are trying our hardest to get the students to understand that an assertion can be a really, really simple sentence like: “The ancient Egyptians believed in the after-life.” Instead, the students tend to write just a sentence about anything that has to do with Egypt. They also write sentences that are too detailed to be an assertion and then have trouble finding two details from their textbooks to prove the assertion. No matter how many times I tell them (or my teacher lectures) that the assertion is the main idea and to treat it like a topic sentence, I sometimes think they just don’t listen. Let’s hope the hours of work my teacher and I have put into going over assertions with them (we’ve been discussing this topic for about a month now) will translate into our student’s scoring “proficient” on the common assessment.

My math teacher decided to group students after the break based on skill; the higher performing students sit together and vice versa. I’m very happy with this decision because a lot of the students screw around in this class and don’t listen, which affects the students who do want to listen and learn. This seating arrangement also makes it easier for me to provide whole-class support (which is what I’ve been doing all year) because the kids who need my help the most all sit in close proximity. Now I won’t hear students scream, “MS. LIZ COME HELP ME” from across the room, but instead, it’ll be right in my ear.

This week I plan to go over complete and complex sentences with my students. I’ve decided I’m going to start a “complete sentences” chart and give points to students who have written all their English work in complete sentences. I’ll probably give candy as a prize (or even hot Cheetos…). Hopefully this will get them in the habit of writing complete sentences every time they write. I know they know how to write a complete sentence, but they just rush through their work and write gibberish.

My teammates and I really got the “welcome back” we were waiting for during sixth grade lunch on Wednesday. A total of six fights broke out (one of my sassy students claims it was seven. I don’t believe him). The fights involved boys and girls, some were in the bathrooms, others smack dab in the lunch area.

Fights don’t even phase me anymore. However, what was hard to watch was that every time a fight broke out, literally all the sixth graders would stampede over to watch it, over and over again. I tried to stop some of my students from watching the fights, but there’s only so much sense you can knock into a sixth grader, especially when watching is “the cool thing to do.” Even if my teacher or I tell the students it’s stupid to sit on the sidelines of these fights because they could get hurt, ultimately they’ll still watch. And no, I’m not just talking they could get punched. I’m talking they could get shot by a stray bullet. You never know if weapons could be involved.

One of my favorite girls was all pumped up after that lunch period and said how cool it was and she will fight someone eventually. This is my little student who wears bows in her hair and is such a caring girl! My response to her after she said that? “Don’t you dare even say that…not under my watch will you!” it just sucks that this is the school environment that these students are in and that it affects them regardless of how adorable, fun and loving they are. I hope my student was kidding.

There were also “rumbles” at lunch and during passing period, which means that the “village boys” (students who are in a gang) beat up random students. Hearing about the rumbles and witnessing the sixth grade fights has encouraged me even more to start working on a “Peace in Watts” week-long event with my middle school and two of the feeder elementary schools. The event will be promoting art as a way of expressing pride and peace in Watts instead of violence. The event is spearheaded by Miss Jadine, a co-worker who serves at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary and put on this peaceful event last week. More details to come, but we’re planning to host the event in April.

Remember how I mentioned in my Peace Corps update post that I was looking into applying for a second year at City Year Los Angeles as an external relations project leader?

Well, that’s no longer happening. I just found out this week that that position was cut because of AmeriCorps funding cuts. I’m pretty bummed; I was stoked to potentially start working with media again outside of this blog.

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So, now what’s my LACY (Leadership After City Year) plan? I have absolutely no idea. It’s looking like I’ll just have to move home (gag me), work at a restaurant and save money until I leave for the Peace Corps. Hey, I’ll still be “Liz in Service” serving tables (sarcasm alert)!

Just last week I was emailing my Peace Corps recruiter about how I was considering a second year at City Year and to potentially move my availability date back to summer 2013 instead of as soon as possible. She said she could, but I told her that I’d make the final decision in March to move my availability date or not because by then I’d know if I was offered the external relations position.

Instead, I had to send her this email today:

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What’s ironic about all of this is that the reason why I haven’t got my actual Peace Corps nomination yet is because of funding, which is why I looked into serving with City Year for another year. I never thought my future would be directly influenced by government budget cuts, but hello, now it has.

However, I can still try to make a difference by getting my word out there on the National Peace Corps Association’s 2012 Day of Action and contact my Capitol Hill reps.

I can also look into other AmeriCorps programs, but I don’t want to have to leave City Year just yet. I love the work atmosphere at this organization and see how much potential it has to grow (I had ideas, too!) My roommate asked me at dinner tonight if I was “mourning” the loss of the office position. Yeah, she was right. I’m mourning. I just wish I had a definite nomination for the Peace Corps right now so I didn’t have to frantically look for alternatives.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King’s birthday. Our students and other Americans get this day off, but it’s a “day on” for all of us at City Year because we are celebrating MLK’s legacy and ideals. MLK called for all Americans to act together in peace, which is what we will be doing tomorrow at our largest service day (with ~1,000 people) at a middle school in South LA, Los Angeles Academy. I’m writing the post about it for CYLA’s blog. Blog post and pictures of the murals we paint will be posted tomorrow!

Good night and good luck,
Ms. Lizard

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